'Go make the play,' Matt Campbell says of lack of dynamic moments for Iowa State's offense
AMES, Ia.— Matt Campbell was a bit uncharitable to his offense, but not by much.
“(Xavier Hutchinson’s) big play against (Northern Iowa) is the one time I saw us have a sense of urgency,” Campbell said Tuesday. “Go make the play.”
Hutchinson’s 39-yard catch against the Panthers hasn’t been the only big play for the No. 14 Cyclones this season, but it’s among a short list that has an offense full of stars looking for playmakers after a concerning start to the season on that side of the ball.
Iowa State is 1-1 coming off a 27-17 loss to then-No. 12 Iowa last weekend, and the Cyclones have managed just three touchdowns through two games much to the consternation of a team and fan base that were expecting big things this season.
“There’s got to be a sense of urgency for all of us,” Campbell said. “Do I think our sense of urgency is there? I haven’t seen us make that play.”
Offensively, big plays have been hard to come by for the Cyclones, who play at UNLV (0-2) this week at 9:30 p.m. in a game broadcast by CBS Sports Network.
They have just five runs that have measured at least 10 yards, and quarterback Brock Purdy accounts for 40 percent of those plays.
Running back Breece Hall, who entered the year with Heisman hopes, has just two runs over 10 yards, with a long of 16.
The Wichita, Kansas native looked to have a number of opportunities to break big plays against both UNI and Iowa, but was unable to convert the chances into big yards. Some of that may be due to the fact Hall was hampered by injury late in fall camp and is still playing catch-up physically.
“That’s part of our sport, and it’s part off the game,” Campbell said. “He’s working himself back into where he needs to be and where you want him to be.”
Through the air, Iowa State has hit four passes for at least 20 yards. Darren Wilson, Jr. Daniel Jackson, Tarique Milton and Hutchinson all have one such grab.
“It’s great getting those big plays,” tight end Jared Rus said. “It helps a lot with momentum, with confidence, getting the sideline going, getting the stadium going.”
Those plays have often led to the successful results one would expect. Of the nine “big plays” (runs for over 10 yards and passes for over 20), seven resulted on points at the end of the drive. Milton’s 34-yard catch that set Iowa State up with a first down on UNI’s 37 probably should have put points on the board, but repeated penalties pushed Iowa State back near midfield.
Only two of Iowa State’s scoring drives have not featured one of those big plays, and both of those drives ended in field goals.
"We have to sustain drives, so you have the opportunity to make some of those plays, and some if it is that we’ve got to make the play,” offensive coordinator Tom Manning said. “We had a couple opportunities down the field that we didn’t make, and I think overall, we have to execute a little better and play a little better as a group.”
Big yardage plays certainly are not the only plays that qualify as “big.” Charlie Kolar’s 15-yard catch on 3rd-and-nine against Iowa was big.
Nor are those types of plays limited to the offensive side of the ball.
Enyi Uwazurike’s sack of Spencer Petras on Iowa State’s 24-yard line was big.
Those types of plays have occurred, but not in the abundance Iowa State needs.
“It’s not just on offense,” Campbell said. “We’ve got to get the ball turned over. We’ve got to make a stop on third-and-14. We’ve got to catch the ball on the punt.
“You’ve got to go make the play.”
While a dearth of playmaking isn’t the only thing that ails the Cyclones, it could go a long way in alleviating pressure — both on the field and off it for a team that continues to have sky-high expectations despite the loss to the Hawkeyes.
“Some of that comes on the head football coach,” Campbell said. “Why is that sense of urgency not there? Why have I not gotten that out of us? I don’t know, but I haven’t done a great enough job to get that done.
“There’s got to be a sense of urgency to make that play, to swing the tide, get the momentum to create that rhythm that we’ve played with at a really high rate.”
Travis Hines covers Iowa State University sports for the Des Moines Register and Ames Tribune. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (515) 284-8000. Follow him at @TravisHines21.