Cyclones face Longhorns in high-stakes matchup

Freshman Brock Purdy throws the ball during the 2nd Half of the Iowa State vs Baylor game Nov. 10. Iowa State Defeated Baylor 28 to 14

Aaron Marner

It’s been more a decade since Iowa State was in serious Big 12 title contention.

In 2005, Iowa State was one game away from heading to the Big 12 Championship game. The Cyclones had reeled off four straight wins to get to 7-3. The fourth win in that stretch was over Colorado, who was in first place in the Big 12 North.

Iowa State had the head-to-head tiebreaker over Colorado, meaning a win in the final game of the season — a game against the 5-5 Jayhawks in Lawrence, Kansas — was the only barrier between the Cyclones and a date with undefeated, No. 2 Texas.

Instead, Kansas upset Iowa State with a score of 24-21 in overtime. Iowa State held a 14-3 lead at halftime and a 21-14 lead with less than two minutes left in the game, but Kansas came roaring back for the win, knocking the Cyclones out of the Big 12 race.

Saturday at 7 p.m., when the Cyclones (6-3, 5-2 Big 12) take on Texas (7-3, 5-2 Big 12), the winner of the game will remain in the race for the Big 12 Championship.

“We have a great challenge this week against a team that’s playing really good football this year,” said coach Matt Campbell.

Iowa State has won five straight games to get to this point, thanks in large part to an improved offense under the leadership of freshman quarterback Brock Purdy.

Purdy has completed 68.6 percent of his passes this season (83-for-121) for 1315 yards. Perhaps his biggest contribution has been his ability to extend plays with his feet without the downside of turnovers, as his current touchdown-to-interception ratio is 13-to-2.

“You see us run the ball a little bit with Brock,” said wide receivers coach Bryan Gasser. “Certainly [we do] some things to play to his strengths and his ability to be a playmaker, some of the movement passes and those things. The fun thing with Brock is he can handle a lot of different things, he can do a little bit of everything.”

Purdy, however, has started just one game on the road before, a 27-3 win over Kansas on Nov. 3. He also played most of the game for Iowa State in a 48-42 win at Oklahoma State on Oct. 6.

Texas will not only be a tough opponent because of its talent, but also the toughest environment Purdy has faced at the collegiate level. Darrell K. Royal Stadium in Austin has a capacity of 100,119.

That number is nearly the same as the two away stadiums Purdy has seen — combined. T. Boone Pickens Stadium (60,000) and Memorial Stadium (50,071) are much different environments than what Purdy and the Cyclones will face Saturday night.

“It’s funny, you ask Brock ‘how do you feel about these plays,’ or ‘what plays do you like,’ and he goes ‘coach, whatever plays you call, I’m ready for,'” Gasser said. “That’s just his deal. I’ve never been around a quarterback at his age who’s done that … for what he’s done in this span of time, we’ve just got to continue to push him to finish that way.”

Defensively, Iowa State will need a big performance from the secondary to shut down Texas’ passing attack. The Longhorns, led by sophomore quarterback Sam Ehlinger, are averaging 33.2 points per game.

Ehlinger has 20 touchdowns through the air compared to only two interceptions, and he’s added nine rushing touchdowns to his resume as well.

“What you were watching early on is not the team we’re playing now, by any means,” said defensive coordinator Jon Heacock. “He’s taken over the offense … they’re playing with confidence and playing very well.”

Three Texas receivers — Lil’Jordan Humphrey, Collin Johnson and Devin Duvernay — have recorded 400 or more receiving yards and four or more touchdowns this season. The Cyclones’ secondary will have to stick with all three of them in order to slow down the versatile Longhorns’ passing game.

“They’re big bodies,” Heacock said. “That creates issues for everybody and everybody they’ve played so far.”

If the Cyclones can handle the Texas offense, Iowa State can keep its Big 12 Championship dreams alive for another week.