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Dissecting ISU’s disastrous loss to Louisiana

AP PHOTO - Iowa State wide receiver Landen Akers (82) misses a reception in front of Louisiana-Lafayette cornerback Trey Amos during the second half of a college football game Saturday at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames. Louisiana-Lafayette won 31-14.

AMES — It’s 2020, of course, but there’s not really a world where there are positive things to say about Iowa State’s game against Louisiana Saturday, is there?

Iowa State’s offense looked anemic, the defense held steady for the most part and the Cyclones gave up two touchdowns on special teams at critical points in the game. After hype from the national media about a possible conference title challenge, the 31-14 defeat dropped the Cyclones out of the rankings and vaulted the Ragin’ Cajuns to 21st in the Coaches Poll Sunday.

There may not be many — if any — positives to take from the game, but there’s certainly plenty to go over.

PURDY’S NIGHTMARE START

There’s no way to sugarcoat it — Brock Purdy had a difficult game against the Louisiana defense. The junior was 16-for-35 in the passing game for 145 yards, with his longest completion going for just 16 yards. He also threw one interception and didn’t register a touchdown. Purdy’s one pick could have been more, as he threw into coverage multiple times and was lucky to only have one turnover.

It wasn’t a sparkling game for the highly-touted quarterback who has garnered NFL Draft attention and is widely regarded as one of the best quarterbacks in the country. Purdy tried to make things happen and forced throws after Iowa State fell behind. Purdy was also hurt by a number of drops by Iowa State receivers and a lack of separation from the veteran Louisiana secondary, particularly as the game got tight in the second half.

Head coach Matt Campbell agreed that Purdy’s struggles were noticeably worse in the second half, as the game slipped away from the Cyclones.

“I think getting into a really good rhythm was hard to find in the second half,” Campbell said. “I felt like he was there for most of the first half.”

Campbell reiterated his faith in Purdy to bounce back. This was just one game, and Purdy has shown himself to be a quality player. But to start the year, it could have hardly been a less inspiring performance for Iowa State fans.

SPECIAL TEAMS WOES

The game twice turned on special teams — and neither time was in the Cyclones’ favor. The kickoff after taking a 7-0 lead in the second quarter, Louisiana returner Chris Smith returned it 95 yards for a touchdown to tie the game.

In the fourth quarter, leading 17-14, the Ragin’ Cajuns pushed their lead to two scores with an 83-yard punt return touchdown from Eric Garror. In a game where, despite offensive troubles, Iowa State outgained Louisiana 303-272, special teams made the difference.

Iowa State doesn’t have a special teams coordinator and Campbell has preferred it to be a group effort since 2018.

Postgame, he said the unit was out of its coverage lane on both returns.

“Hats off to them,” Campbell said. “From my end of it, there’s no excuse. It’s something we’ve really worked on, we’ve got good specialists and the ability to be good on special teams.”

Special teams have dogged Iowa State in the Campbell era. Saturday was just the latest example of a unit that’s still a work in progress.

WHAT’S NEXT?

After stagnating in the second half offensively and going without a point while the lead and the game slipped out of their grasp, the Cyclones made clear they’re not going to overreact to the defeat.

“I’m not in a panic mode by any stretch of the imagination,” Campbell said. “For us, it’s a long haul in mind, it’s going to be a long season.”

There’s still nine games left in the season and a full Big 12 conference slate ahead, starting with TCU on Sept. 26. This isn’t a season-ending loss by any means. But it is the second-straight season that Iowa State has laid an egg in the first game of the year. In 2019, the Cyclones were lucky to pull out a win over FCS Northern Iowa and then lost to Iowa before beginning to turn their season around.

Now with two fewer games on the schedule, it’s imperative that the Cyclones fix what’s wrong with the passing game as soon as they can. Redshirt junior and preseason All-American Charlie Kolar was out and will undoubtedly give the offense a boost, but finding another go-to at the wide receiver position is now more important.

Breece Hall’s 106 yards rushing on 20 carries was a positive sign — but the rest of a talented Iowa State roster will have to step up in order for this season to not be a disappointment.

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