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Peterson: Iowa State’s offensive line — yes, the offensive line — is playing at high level lately

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Iowa State’s offensive line has played better than any Cyclones offensive line in a long time
Randy Peterson, rpeterson@dmreg.com

AMES, Ia. — No one, I repeat, no one knows the improvement Iowa State’s offensive line has made better than Brock Purdy.

From Oklahoma State in 2018 to TCU in 2019, the nifty quarterback has lived an up-close-and-personal existence with the big guys he says he owes so much, that he might have to hit up his parents for money.

“I need to take them out for steak and sausage,” Purdy said Tuesday.

We Iowans know steak and lobster, steak and shrimp and Steak n Shake, but steak and sausage? Perhaps it’s a thing back in Purdy’s home state of Arizona.

The message is clear, regardless of the possible entree choices: 

Iowa State’s offensive line no longer is a liability. The Cyclones’ line has become a very solid unit, that’s as much responsible for the team’s success, as Purdy passes and rushes.

Iowa State offensive line is no longer a liability

“They were great against TCU,” Purdy said. “They understand who they’re blocking with, and who they’re blocking for (either a running back or a quarterback). They say they like it when I can extend plays and get out of the pocket.”

That’s happened plenty this season. That type of offensive line play must continue during Saturday’s 3 p.m. game at West Virginia, and then to the next game at Texas Tech and then back home against Oklahoma State.

It’s something that’s not been seen a lot recently around Iowa State football, so to say this line is playing as consistently well as most any Cyclones line has played recently — it’s not hype. It’s reality.

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“That’s kind of been the deal here at Iowa State,” center Collin Olson said. “The last couple years, the offensive line has been criticized. We know what we’re capable of.”

The Cyclones have reached 400 total yards in each of the first five games, a school record. Iowa State’s 8.4 yards per play is 13th nationally, the 487.2-yard per game total offense average is 15th and the 327.6-yard per game passing average is seventh.

Sure, a lot of it is the result of Purdy’s versatility, but a lot of it is line-related as well.

Against TCU, for instance, right guard Josh Knipfel, had an eye-popping postgame grade sheet that included 10 knockdowns (of defenders). “He’s been an anchor,” Campbell said. “He’s what you want an Iowa State offensive lineman to look like and feel like. He was our offensive player of the (TCU) game.”

Iowa State’s best offensive lineman is Josh Knipfel

Furthermore, Pro Football Focus figured that Knipfel didn’t allow Purdy to be pressured on the 33 snaps in which TCU tried to heat up the quarterback.

“It’s fun blocking for Brock,” Olson said. “It’s difficult, but it’s easy sometimes. Sometimes when you’re blocking a guy, you think you have him locked down, and then Brock goes outside and your guy starts going the other way.

“There’s times when your guy beats you — when Brock’s able to escape and get away. There’s pros and cons, but it’s easy to block for a guy like that who can create on his own and do a lot of special things with his legs.”

Six linemen have started this season. Five have played at least every snap the last two games — and that included all 73 snaps during heat and blazing sun at Baylor, and all 61 plays last week against TCU.

“I didn’t feel good the next morning, but that’s football,” Olson said, referring to both games. “It’s tough, going into games nine, 10 and 11 if you’re playing every snap. Having depth is powerful.”

Olson knows depth — he moved from guard to center when Colin Newell sprained a knee in the third overtime in the season-opening game at Northern Iowa. Olson also knows that the depth will improve, considering Newell is likely to play a few snaps Saturday at West Virginia … but at what position?

The tackles Julian Good-Jones and Bryce Meeker, guards Knipfel and Trevor Downing, and Olson the center just played their best game. Does Campbell go back to the way it was in the opener — with Newell at center, Olson at guard and Downing, a redshirt freshman, on the bench?

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Does he rotate, considering as Olson says: “We’ve got five guys that I think can play pretty much all five positions. We can mix and match.”

It’s a great situation to be in, if you’re a coach. Six quality linemen who can play a multitude of positions — and that’s been as rare around Iowa State as three eight-win seasons in a row.

“This group has really started to do some good things, but we know that Colin (Newell) can be an anchor for us,” Campbell said. “We need to find out what the right rhythm is for this team, and make sure that we don’t mess up the rhythm of the offensive line. But getting Colin back only strengthens.”

Randy Peterson is the Iowa State columnist for the Register. Reach him at rpeterson@dmreg.com, 515-284-8132, and on Twitter at @RandyPete. No one covers the Cyclones like the Register. Subscribe today at Des Moines Register.com/Deal to make sure you never miss a moment.

Source: Des Moines Register