Dec 5, 2020; Ames, Iowa, USA; Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy (15) hands off to Iowa State running back Kene Nwangwu (3) during their football game at Jack Trice Stadium on Saturday. Mandatory Credit: Brian Powers-USA TODAY Sports
The word most often used to describe Iowa State star quarterback Brock Purdy is “efficient.”
But there are plenty of more positive e-words to sprinkle in, such as effective, explosive and elite.
Bottom line is Purdy, a former three-star recruit from Gilbert, Ariz., has simply been unwaveringly consistent down the stretch of this historic season. Nothing more, nothing less. Just exactly who the No. 7 Cyclones need him to be as they prepared for their first-ever appearance in the Big 12 title game on Dec. 19.
“I think I’m just playing my game as far as not overthinking things, keeping it simple, trusting what coaches are calling, and understanding that I’ve got really good guys around me,” Purdy said after last Saturday’s 42-6 win over West Virginia. “All I’ve got to do is trust in them, get them the ball and they make the rest happen. That’s what I’m focusing on right now.”
That and winning. Again.
ISU (8-1, 8-2) will need to knock off No. 11 Oklahoma (7-2, 6-2) for the second time this season in order to officially secure its first conference championship since 1912, but is fully poised — behind Purdy and standout tailback Breece Hall — to make history again at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas nine days from now.
Lot of reasons. A great defense. An efficient and explosive offense. The team-wide belief that this is their time.
Now, having a healthy Purdy throughout the season, of course, has helped significantly.
Last season, some chronic minor injuries curtailed his role in the run game.
This season, his ability to gouge foes on long third-down runs — often improvised — has helped the Cyclones average 34 points a game, which ranks first all-time in program history.
Purdy, one of 17 semifinalists for the Davey O’Brien Award, has completed 76.9% of his passes in the last 14 quarters for 903 yards, 10 touchdowns and zero interceptions.
He’s a true dual threat again and playing the best football of his career.
“Certainly it makes things easier, whether it’s being able to design a run for him here and there in a football game and then certainly even last week, him being able to make some plays that maybe you really didn’t account for because he’s an excellent player and he has some escapability,” ISU offensive coordinator Tom Manning said of Purdy’s wide-ranging abilities when fully healthy. “I think it helps sustain drives. It helps keep those things alive and I think Brock thrives in some of those environments where he can create a little bit with his feet. So certainly from his end, the mental side of feeling healthy is really big. It’s really important. But then on top of it, it’s allowed him to really help our offense, particularly on third down, to be bale to stay on the football field. He’s been able to make some great plays with his legs.”
Purdy’s ability to elude the grasp of defenders has helped keep him free of last season’s maladies, but an improved, yet mostly young, offensive line has been vital to his success, as well.
The Cyclones led the Big 12 in pass protection during the regular season, allowing just 10 sacks. No other team yielded fewer than 14 — and six teams allowed 20 or more quarterback takedowns.
Of FBS teams that played 10 or more regular games (like ISU), just two allowed fewer sacks. Those teams are (ahem) No. 19 Louisiana and No. 18 BYU. The Ragin’ Cajuns and the Cougars each allowed nine.
Slow, steady growth that requires patience and attention to detail has fueled the Cyclones’ dramatic improvement up front. Purdy, as well as Hall, has benefitted greatly from that uptick.
“I think patience is the great word,” Manning said. “But I think there has to be an understanding — and probably a whole understanding as a whole program and as an organization — that the offensive line position is very difficult for a to of reasons. The guys that you play against week in and week out, they’re grown men and they’re really good at what they do on the defensive side. And from just the Xs and Os standpoint as you come in as a freshman and you start to learn, it’s obviously more complicated and there’s more things going on than probably what you were privy to as a high school offensive lineman. Obviously the size and strength component — it takes a long time to get yourself to be in a position there. And there’s a lot of other challenges along the way.
“I think obviously having a head football coach (Matt Campbell) that has coached that position before, I think that helps because I think he does have great patience and I think he has a great eye for, ‘Man, this is where the young man is at right now, and this is what I think he can become.’ And I think that really helps having that kind of steadiness at the head coaching position where he understands that it does take a long time for those guys to reach their potential there and the work is never done. I think that’s the one great thing about that position. You can continue to improve and improve and improve each step along the way and certainly I think our young offensive line has done a really good job with that.”
So has Purdy, who has repeatedly said that last season he allowed the weight of expectations affect how he played at times.
Now the only weight he carries pertains to a commitment — to himself, to his teammates, to his coaches; to performing with consistency and efficiency. Two of the many glowing terms that have come to define him as a college quarterback.
“I think from the time that Brock Purdy went in against Oklahoma State (in 2018), he’s given Iowa State football a chance to win and be successful in every game,” Campbell said.