Welcome to our 2021 Iowa State football position previews, where we’ll be spending the last two weeks of the offseason previewing each position group for the 2021 team. This week will be the offense, and next week will be defense. Let’s get things kicked off with the guys under (behind) center.
As will become a common theme in these position previews, there wasn’t a single departure from the quarterbacks room this past season. There already wasn’t anybody on the roster that was out of eligibility even under normal circumstances, with true junior Brock Purdy (and technically redshirt sophomore Blake Clark) being the eldest statesmen of the bunch, but now everybody also has a COVID year available to them as well.
At this point it’s not even a guarantee that we have departures even after the 2021 season. Brock Purdy is just a true senior, meaning he could still elect to take his COVID year and come back for 2022. Whether he will do that is anybody’s guess at this point and would likely depend largely on what happens this season regarding his draft stock and if he’s ready to move on to the NFL.
Largely due to a combination of the relative youth in the quarterback room, extra eligibility granted due to COVID, and the flipping of former Cyclone commit Charles Wright from Iowa State to Texas, Matt Campbell did not sign a scholarship quarterback in the 2021 class. Though after multiple recent classes with two quarterbacks, one had to wonder if there would be a class without a quarterback coming. After Wright decommitted, the staff decided that what they had was enough, and could shift their focus to a 2022 quarterback, which became Rocco Becht from Zephyrhills, FL.
The only additional name on the roster listed at the quarterback position is Ashton Cook, a true freshman walk-on from Iowa City Regina. Needless to say, the odds of him getting playing time this season are extremely small, barring an absolutely ridiculous run of injuries.
Leader of the Pack
For the third consecutive season, Brock Purdy is a foregone conclusion to be the starting quarterback in Ames, and at this point holds or shares 21 school records, which includes:
Passing Attempts (Game) - 62 vs. Oklahoma State, 2019
Passing Attempings (Season) - 475, 2019
Completions (Game) - 39 vs. Oklahoma State, 2019
Completions (Season) - 312, 2019
Completion % (Season) - 66.6%, 2020
Passing Yards (Season) - 3,982, 2019
TD Passes (Game) - 5 vs. Oklahoma, 2019
TD Passes (Season) - 27, 2019
TD Passes (Career) - 62
Consecutive Games Throwing a TD Pass - 12, 2019
Most Plays (Season) - 568, 2019
Total Offense (Game) - 510 vs UL-M, 2019
Total Offense (Season) - 4,231, 2019
TDs Responsible For (Game) - 6 vs UL-M and Oklahoma, 2019
TDs Responsible For (Season) - 35, 2019
TDs Responsible For (Career) - 80
Passing Efficiency (Season) - 169.91
Passing Efficiency (Career) - 151.9
300 Yard Passing Games (Season) - 6, 2019
300 Yard Passing Games (Career) - 12
Rushing TDs by a QB (Career) - 18
Brock is also likely to break a few more records this season, including career pass attempts, career completions, career passing yards, and career total offense, as well as any potential single game or single season records. Single game passing could theoretically be in play, given that he fell just five yards short of Austen Arnaud’s record 440 yards against UL-Monroe in 2019, though he may never get enough attempts to reach that number as long as Breece Hall is getting plenty of carries.
As I stated before last season, he’s the greatest quarterback in school history, and now he’s starting to put distance between himself and the rest of the pack. We’re now entering greatest ever Cyclone football player territory.
But that certainly doesn’t mean he’s been perfect and doesn’t have room to improve, which he certainly does. Let’s check out his season-by-season stats.
Brock Purdy Season Stats
As we can see, Brock’s passer rating has dropped each season he’s been in college. Now, that certainly doesn’t tell the whole story, as one can expect a quarterback to become less efficient as their number of attempts increases and as opposing teams see more film of the player. Not to mention, Brock’s been asked to do something a little different each season, and his usage depends on that.
One of the many reasons passer rating is such an imperfect measure of quarterbacks is that it relies on yards, touchdowns, and interceptions, all of which are heavily influenced by play-calling and personnel. If Breece Hall poaches goal line touchdowns, then Purdy doesn’t have that chance to boost his passer rating. Conversely, if a receiver runs a bad route or accidentally deflects the pass and the ball ends up in the defender’s hands, then that goes on Brock’s record as well.
If we look at ESPN’s QBR stat (which at least attempts to better quantify QB performance), Purdy posted season QBR ratings of 76.7, 71.2, and 78.8 in his first three seasons, respectively. His 2020 rating of 78.8 is particularly interesting, because while his counting stats did take a hit at least partially due to the emergence of Breece Hall and a reduced reliance on Purdy’s passing to move the offense down the field, his overall impact on the game remained strong, and last season was arguably his best yet.
Here’s where maybe the most intriguing part of the quarterbacks room exists. Behind Purdy is Hunter Dekkers and Aiden Bouman, both of which were talented signal-callers out of high school. Dekkers was significantly higher-rated than Purdy in recruiting rankings, and impressed in the snaps he took last season, including this absolutely spectacular throw to Joe Scates for a touchdown against Kansas last season:
@hunterdekkers with a DIME to extend @CycloneFB's lead pic.twitter.com/MNFl57rQKw— FOX Sports (@FOXSports) October 31, 2020
Based on playing time and the word coming out of camp, Dekkers is likely the clear number two after Purdy, and is widely considered to be the successor-in-waiting whenever Purdy does decide to finally call it a career at Iowa State. Dekkers is every bit of a dual-threat quarterback, and appears to have a ton of arm talent. However, barring an injury to Purdy, Dekkers will likely be limited to the same garbage-time snaps he saw last season.
Bouman is a taller, more traditional pocket quarterback that’s not immobile, but not the same type of run threat Purdy and Dekkers are, and is likely a clear number three, though I’m sure the staff would likely feel at least comfortable-ish should he be forced to take snaps.
Brock struggled a bit to start last season, especially in the Louisiana game, often forcing some difficult throws and trying to make too much happen on his own. He was good enough in the TCU and Oklahoma games to help come out with wins, but didn’t really find his stride until the second half of the Baylor game. From there on, he went on an absolute tear through the end of the regular season. He struggled again a bit in the championship game, but at least one of those interceptions was certainly not his fault.
Last season, six of Purdy’s nine interceptions came in just two games, meaning he threw just three interceptions over the remaining ten games. The film largely backs that up as well, in my opinion. As a general rule, turnovers come in bunches with him. When he’s playing loose and in a groove, he’s very good at limiting turnovers, but when he’s flustered and making bad decisions, the mistakes tend to pile up. Smoothing out those valleys and not letting mistakes compound on top of each other can be a huge point of growth for him this coming season.
In the end, the key for Brock in 2021 is largely the same as the keys for the team as a whole: no slow starts. If Iowa State wants to achieve its goals this season, it can’t afford to get off to the almost-trademark slow starts we’ve seen over the last few seasons, and the same goes for Purdy. As I’ve mentioned multiple times on podcasts and The Night Cap, Breece Hall can set the floor for this team very high, but Brock Purdy sets your ceiling. If Brock plays exactly like he did last season, then a 9-3 record is probably an extremely likely scenario for 2021.
However, if we get the Brock from the last 3-1/2 games of last season over the course of the entire 2021 season, then unprecedented success is certainly within reach for this program. So what changed in that closing stretch? In contrast to bulk of the season when he sometimes looked rushed and almost panicked, Purdy was loose and playing like a guy that was just having a ton of fun playing football. Instead of forcing throws, he leaned on guys like Breece Hall, Charlie Kolar, and Xavier Hutchinson, which obviously came to great success.
For my 2021 stat projection shown above, I factored in a moderate progression for Purdy in most areas. Specifically, I’m predicting a nice boost to his yards per completion and yards per attempt and a solid reduction in his interception rate. I think he’ll only see a moderate increase in attempts per game since I’m assuming Breece Hall will get plenty of carries this season. The boost yards per completion and attempt and the reduction in interception rate are largely based on personnel.
Last season, Xavier Hutchinson was very good, but it did take a couple games for him to get all the way up to speed and get comfortable, and Charlie Kolar missed the first game entirely. Between those two playing at high level right from the get-go, the expected emergence of a second and possibly third legitimate threat from the receiver room in the form of any combination of Joe Scates, Darren Wilson, Daniel Jackson, Tarique Milton, or Jaylin Noel, and what I assume will be an increased role for Breece Hall in the passing game, Purdy will have a plethora of reliable targets to find without having to force something into tight coverage.
For 2021, in my opinion, Brock’s will be best suited for his greatest success if he can be a slightly more dynamic version of what Alex Smith was for most of his NFL career. A game manager that makes a few plays with his legs and maybe a few more downfield throws to the speed guys like Scates, Milton, and Noel than we’ve seen in years past. Do that and keep finding guys like Kolar and Hutchinson along with handing the ball off to Breece, and we’re in business.