Peterson: Bold move? What to make of Matt Campbell's decision to bench Brock Purdy vs. Iowa

Randy Peterson
Des Moines Register

AMES, Ia. — Was it a bold move for Matt Campbell to switch quarterbacks with a little more than 12 minutes to play and still a chance, albeit remote, to end a losing streak in the Cy-Hawk series?

Maybe, considering he benched one of the best quarterbacks — if not the best quarterback — in Iowa State football history.

More:Peterson's Cy-Hawk thoughts: Why is Iowa State's veteran offense playing so poorly?

A risky move? Maybe.

It's the first time something’s happened like that to Brock Purdy since maybe high school. (If even then?)

Yeah, but let’s look at it this way:

If Purdy responds favorably during next Saturday’s game against UNLV on the Las Vegas strip, then Campbell’s decision worked.

If the veteran is rejuvenated and leads the Cyclones to their second victory and a 2-1 record heading into the Big 12 Conference play, then you could argue Campbell's decision had something to do with that.

But ... if Purdy doesn’t respond positively during the next game, then switching passers will have backfired in a major, major way.

Campbell had to do something during what became a 27-17 loss, because with Purdy behind center, Iowa State’s offense was going nowhere. Mistakes were more prevalent than big plays, and there were zero signs of better things to come.

Thus, with 12:20 to play and the Hawkeyes leading 27-10, Campbell fetched lefty Hunter Dekkers from the bullpen for what we know will be just a temporary change.

"We believe in Brock," Campbell said. "Brock’s a tremendous leader in our football program. He certainly doesn’t want the end result of what happened. He’s worked really, really hard. If I know Brock Purdy, he’ll bounce back better than ever."

MORE: Matt Campbell gives Brock Purdy vote of confidence after benching him

That better be the end result, because the success of this season depends on it. Success depends on getting Breece Hall playing well, too, and the offensive line, neither of whom matched their preseason hype on Saturday.

Sure, Iowa’s defense is good. It’s the best Campbell’s team will face this season. But the Cyclones’ offense is supposed to be good, too. Explosive players everywhere. Supposedly the best line in school history. Not only depth, but talented depth.

To score just one touchdown in a season-opening win against Northern Iowa, and just one against Iowa before Dekkers’ scoring completion to Tarique Milton with 3:27 left? That just shouldn’t happen. It can't happen. And, like it or not, an offense's production usually starts with the quarterback, although Saturday, Campbell absorbed as much of the blame as he could.

"That responsibility does not lie on the kids; it relies on the head football coach," Campbell said. "I’ll certainly take the blame for it. We’ll have to figure this out. It’s not a seniors issue. It’s not a football issue. It’s a Matt Campbell issue."

MORE: Peterson: Where the heck is Iowa's veteran-heavy offense?

Is it really a Matt Campbell issue? Was there predictable play-calling? Maybe. What we’ve seen the past eight quarters certainly hasn’t been creative. That’s not on Purdy.

What, or who, is to blame for three interceptions during a day in which the senior completed 13 of 27 passes for 138 yards and zero touchdowns? Campbell wanted to look at video before answering that one, because there were tipped passes, deflected passes and drops.

Iowa State running back Jirehl Brock (21) runs for a first down as he gets tripped up by Iowa defensive back Jack Koerner (28) during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, in Ames, Iowa.

Purdy's career-worst passing yards was 130 against Texas as a freshman. How many more yards would he have had Saturday, if he’d not been replaced? Obviously we’ll never know, but it wasn’t like the guy fans affectionally call "BrockTober" was going to be good enough on this day to rally his team.

"My thought in the fourth quarter was to get Hunter into the football game, (and) let Brock kind of gather himself a little bit," Campbell said. "It was certainly great to see Hunter do some positive things."

But it’s still Brock’s team. If any player will rescue the offense from two lackluster offensive showings, it’s the winningest quarterback in school history. If anyone is going to get the offense playing like we’ve seen it play, it’s the guy who entered the season owning or sharing 25 school career records,

If any one player is going to pull the offense out of its funk, it’s Purdy.

Iowa junior defensive end Joe Evans sacks Iowa State senior quarterback Brock Purdy in the third quarter at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021.

"I would assume Brock’s going to be our guy," Campbell said when asked if his veteran would start next Saturday night. "From the perspective of, 'Man, do we put Hunter Dekkers in to challenge Brock’s position on our football team?' Absolutely not."

More:Instant analysis: Yet again, self-inflicted wounds doom Iowa State football vs. Iowa in another Cy-Hawk loss

Purdy has responded from adversity. Remember last season when he threw three interceptions against Baylor? He bounced back to beat Kansas State, Texas, West Virginia and Oregon.

Those Baylor picks, by the way, were in the first half. He went on to have a great second half, and a better rest of the season.

Campbell stuck with him all the way in that game. Saturday, though, he went to the backup. Not as punishment, Campbell says, but to give one of the team’s top leaders a chance to clear his head.

"What we put Hunter in to do was to allow Brock to gather himself, and really settle the game back down, and really try to go win the football game," Campbell said. "Even at that time in the fourth quarter, we felt like we could continue to stay in the game, and had opportunities to maybe do that."

Good or bad decision? We’ll see at UNLV.

Iowa State columnist Randy Peterson has been writing for the Des Moines Register for parts of six decades. Reach him at, 515-284-8132, and on Twitter at @RandyPete.