High-powered offenses set to take center stage in Alamo Bowl

Washington State Coach Mike Leach answers questions during a press conference Dec. 27.

Aaron Marner

SAN ANTONIO— Iowa State has faced some tough offenses this season, especially during Big 12 play.

The No. 25 Cyclones (8-4, 6-3 Big 12) could be facing their toughest challenge yet when they face off with No. 12 Washington State (10-2, 7-2 Pac-12) Friday at 8 p.m. in the Valero Alamo Bowl.

Washington State’s offense averages 38.3 points per game, good for 15th in the nation. Iowa State ranks 83rd at 26.8 per game, but since freshman quarterback Brock Purdy took the wheel against Oklahoma State in Iowa State’s fifth game, the Cyclones have averaged 31.5 points per contest.

“I think the best thing [Purdy] has done impressively is he’s been effectively able to take the reins at a young age and elevate the players around him,” said Washington State coach Mike Leach. “I think that’s the hardest thing. I think sometimes a young guy doesn’t feel entitled to lead because everybody has been there longer than they have, things like that.

“It appears to me just watching film from the outside, he’s kind of embraced that role as being the guy that guides the offense there.”

The Cougars have quite the quarterback of their own. Redshirt senior quarterback Gardner Minshew II became one of the nation’s most prolific passers this season, finishing fifth in voting for the Heisman Trophy. Minshew II threw for 4,477 yards, 36 touchdowns and nine interceptions this season.

The good news for Iowa State’s defensive unit is that the Cyclones have already faced two quarterbacks (Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray and West Virginia’s Will Grier) who finished higher in Heisman voting than Minshew II. Defending an elite quarterback will not be a new challenge for Iowa State.

“It’s still different, I mean everybody’s [offense] is different,” said Iowa State defensive coordinator Jon Heacock. “They’re different than West Virginia because everybody has different players. I think the thing you see about [Washington State] is they’ve got so many guys, so many wideouts catching the ball, tailbacks catching the ball, there’s just so many different weapons.”

Iowa State redshirt senior cornerback Brian Peavy compared Washington State’s air raid offense to Big 12 foe Texas Tech. Iowa State defeated Texas Tech 40-31 at Jack Trice Stadium this season.

Against teams like that, Peavy and redshirt junior linebacker Marcel Spears Jr. said open-field tackling is critical. Defenders often find themselves isolated against the ball-carrier against offenses like Washington State, which focus on spreading the field.

“It will be absolutely huge,” Heacock said. “The yards after catch on Friday night will be the telltale factor of it all. We’ve gotta be able to run and tackle. But very similar to teams that we play, it’s just a different version of what that is.”

Peavy agreed, and said Iowa State has faced a similar quarterback already this season.

“When you talk about their quarterback, I think of Will Grier,” Peavy said.

Regardless of which quarterback Minshew II reminds the defense of, the task at hand is clear: keep the ball in front as much as possible, make open-field tackles and get the ball back in the hands of the offense.

“I think sometimes in our conference there’s one or two guys you go into the game and say ‘man, that guy is the guy,'” Heacock said. “I think [Washington State] has a couple of those, but when you look at the ball being distributed, it’s almost in double digits, it’s crazy.

“You better play team defense all over the field.”