TCU Football will take the field for the first time this weekend, and, for the first time in a long time, their season opener will be against a conference foe.
Coming into town to open the revamped Amon G. Carter Stadium are Matt Campbell and Iowa State, the darlings of 2020 and a team that handed the Frogs a whooping in Ames last fall. A lot has changed in the months since, and the Cyclones — a dark horse contender for the conference title game — are already 0-1 after falling to the Ragin Cajuns of Louisiana in their opener. That means we will answer the question of “whether it is better to have played and lost than to have not played at all?” this Saturday, it seems.
To get the skinny on Brock Purdy and the Clones, we caught up with Levi Stevenson, Managing Editor of our infamous sister site, Wide Right Natty Lite. Levi and his crew do as good a job covering Iowa State athletics as anyone, and he’s a great dude and good friend to boot.
Frogs O’ War: What is the number one thing that went wrong in the opener that wasn’t special teams related?
Levi Stevenson: Well, the main thing that went wrong is we played a football game in the first place. As Iowa State fans have known for years, football is a dumb sport that only provides small, fleeting glimmers of hope amid an endless universe of pain and suffering on a scale even Dante Alighieri would struggle to comprehend. Alas, we continue to play this game of Russian roulette with a fully loaded revolver and incessantly shoot ourselves in the face until the heat death of the universe consumes us in a seemingly infinitely hot, but strangely familiar interstellar inferno that sends our weary bones into the embrace of the great beyond.
Apart from that, the offense really struggled to get receivers open and move the ball down the field via the pass. Louisiana-Lafayette is an athletic team that can keep up with most Power 5 schools from a purely physical standpoint, so they decided that instead of trying to beat Iowa State with a defense it sees week in and week out, they would play almost purely man-to-man defense and force the Cyclones to adjust their offensive gameplan on the fly and rely on their individual talent to propel them forward. Well, not only did Iowa State not respond well to the initial punch, the staff completely failed to make any successful adjustments throughout the game to counter the Ragin’ Cajuns defensive gameplan. On top of that, Brock Purdy played easily the worst game of his career to date, and made a hefty number of poor decisions, missed reads left and right, and wasn’t anywhere near accurate enough when he did make the right read.
And even on the occasions when Brock Purdy made the right read and delivered a good ball, the receivers decided the ball was a new track with some absolute fire lyrics and dropped that shit as soon as it hit their hands. All of those factors combined produced a wildly inept offense that will lose you a game ten times out of ten. Well, nine anyways (see 2017 ISU-TCU, also my apologies; I mean no harm by bringing up that game).
FOW: You told me after week one that Campbell’s teams tend to start slow. Why do you think that is?
LS: It’s hard to say exactly, but typically it’s due to the offense not being up to speed. Every year under Matt Campbell, the offense has been sluggish for at least the first few games. Aside from 2017 and UL-Monroe last year, the most points Iowa State has scored in any of its first three games was 29 points last year against UNI in an overtime game. Typically, the gameplan starts uber-conservative, which essentially forces Iowa State to play to the level of its competition, no matter who they’re playing. Two weeks ago, Iowa State ran the ball on first down on about 80% of its possessions. That kind of predictability will get you in trouble in a hurry.
FOW: Brock Purdy wasn’t great in the opener, but there aren’t many that don’t expect him to be a top QB in the conference this year. What will he need to improve on in game two against a really good TCU defense?
LS: Well, to put it simply, he needs to go back to being the Brock Purdy we’ve seen in most games up to this point. We need to see better poise in the pocket, better reads, and more accurate passes. One thing Brock has done extremely well up to this point in his career is knowing when to throw to the safety valve, and knowing exactly where that receiver is going to be. Two weeks ago, we saw him force a lot of balls into tight coverage that we haven’t seen him throw very often to this point. We need to get back to the Brock of old, or we might be talking about something else entirely in a couple of weeks.
FOW: Iowa State has had an identity of monster wide receivers and punishing running backs. But you have graduated a lot of those big names. What’s the offensive identity of the 2020 edition of the Cyclones and how will that benefit/hurt them against TCU?
LS: Well, 6’-6” Sean Shaw is expected to be a breakout receiver this fall, so he would be the obvious successor to Allen Lazard and Hakeem Butler in the Tall, Tall Trees Club, but Iowa State is actually trotting out quite a bit of size overall this year. Of the receivers that saw playing time last week, Tarique Milton was the only receiver under 6’-2”. Xavier Hutchinson saw quite a few targets a couple of weeks ago, and he clocks in at 6’-3”. Unfortunately, the offensive identity is largely unknown at this point. The last game provided us virtually nothing to point at and say “that’s what this is going to look like this year.” Charlie Kolar did not play, and the offensive line was down two starters, which certainly didn’t help matters.
However, per usual, expect Matt Campbell to get Breece Hall plenty of touches behind an offensive line that actually did get pretty good push in the running game, then use that to set up the pass. I would go a different direction if I was the offensive coordinator, but I am just a humble blogger sipping Busch Light while I type these answers. Using the pass to set up the run, as well as a quicker tempo, has been a significantly more fruitful plan for Iowa State the last few years, so it bewilders me that we continue to insist on trying to be a Big Ten team for the first few games until we finally realize that we need to score points to win.
FOW: The Cyclones win if...
LS: The offensive line continues to show promise, and Brock Purdy calms down and goes back to playing the game as it comes to him like we’ve seen him do for the last couple seasons instead of forcing passes into places they just don’t belong. Iowa State is a plenty-talented and athletic team that can beat just about anybody when it plays with the discipline and details Matt Campbell preaches about and plays to its strengths rather than trying to force some gameplan that old ass coaches told you is the “right way” to play football.
Fortunately, the defense actually applied real, consistent pressure to the quarterback for the first time in a long time, so I think they may consider dialing it up a little bit to throw a wrench in a Frogs gameplan that hasn’t actually hit the field yet.
FOW: The Cyclones lose if...
LS: The offense continues to be predictable, and the special teams continues to be a significant detriment to the overall effort. For some unknown reason, Iowa State has been without a dedicated special teams coach for three seasons now, and that third phase of the game has regressed pretty dramatically over that time period to become a legitimate problem, as we saw in the UL-Lafayette game which featured both a kickoff and punt return touchdown by the Ragin’ Cajuns. Teams like TCU, K-State, Iowa, etc. typically have very good special teams units, and those are the teams that always give Iowa State the most trouble. If you’re consistently losing the field position battle by 10 yards, you’re going to lose a lot of games.
FOW: What’s your prediction for Saturday afternoon?
LS: I’m having a really difficult time with this one. TCU is always a well-coached team, but they also haven’t played a game yet, while Iowa State has. And as any college football player or coach will tell you, the greatest amount of growth in a season typically happens between week one and week two. Beyond that, TCU’s quarterback situation is a tad iffy, though I do think Max Duggan will be taking snaps before the conclusion of the first quarter. No matter what, I expect this to be a low-scoring game between two very good defenses and two offenses with major questions. I’ve never picked against Iowa State, and I’m not about to start now, but I think this is a horrible, low-scoring game that ends up being pretty ugly for the duration. 17-10 Iowa State.
FOW: We went a long time without live sports, and many people found other ways to fill their time. What’s the weirdest/dumbest/best thing you did in the six months the sports world kind of shut down?
LS: Well, as an “essential employee” that’s been going to work like normal this entire time, I haven’t had as much of the extra free time as many other people to do lots of weird and dumb stuff, as much as I would love to the have the opportunity to do lots of weird and dumb stuff. However, if I did have the free time, I would have probably tried teaching my dog how to fetch a beer out of the fridge for me.
I suppose the weirdest thing that actually did happen to me was falling off a bridge. I honestly wouldn’t recommend it for anyone.
Thanks Levi! Try and stay on solid ground from here on out, okay?