Showdown in Austin: Cyclones vs. Texas
By JIM VERTUNO
AP Sports Writer
AUSTIN, Texas — Ask Texas about Iowa State’s young quarterback Brock Purdy and the answers, from head coach to players, come quick.
“He’s undefeated,” Longhorns coach Tom Herman said.
“He’s mobile. He can throw,” defensive end Charles Omenihu said. “He’s 5-0.”
Purdy sure has been pretty running the No. 18 Cyclones offense since taking it over mid-season. The Cyclones (6-3, 5-2, No. 16 CFP) are tied for second in the Big 12 with a critical matchup at No. 13 Texas (7-3, 5-2, No. 15 CFP) Saturday night that both teams need to win if they hope to slide into the league championship game.
Iowa State had to dig out of an early 1-3 hole to get into the Big 12 title chase and set up arguably the program’s biggest November game since the early 2000s. Purdy has led the way.
Playing in front of 100,000 at Texas would seem unlikely to faze a young quarterback who has already out-gunned West Virginia’s Will Grier at home and won at rowdy Oklahoma State when coach Matt Campbell gave the offense to a quarterback who had just two snaps of experience.
“He’s got a ton of moxie,” Herman said. “It doesn’t matter the opponent, the atmosphere, the stadium. He’s got that ‘it’ factor.”
Win Saturday and the Cyclones still need help to get to the conference championship game. But they’d be in the conversation in late November, a rarity in Ames, Iowa, and something that looked out of reach after the bad start.
“Everything was at stake when we were 1-3, and it’s been that way every single week since then,” Campbell said. “It’s just a whole different type of adversity now. It’s the adversity of success, which is sometimes a lot harder to deal with.”
The Longhorns are fighting for their own title chances. Texas was in first place in the Big 12 less than a month ago before two straight losses. Quarterback Sam Ehlinger and the Longhorns turned that around with a last-minute win at Texas Tech last week.
The contest on Saturday night will be the final home game for a Texas senior class that hasn’t won a Big 12 title or more than seven games in a season since they arrived on campus. Texas has lost its final home game each of the last four seasons.
“I owe everything to these seniors,” said Texas sophomore quarterback Sam Ehlinger. “They have been through so much in this program.”
Some things to watch for when Iowa State and Texas play on Saturday night.
PASS PROTECTION: Ehlinger was sacked a season-high five times last week against Texas Tech as a line that’s been solid all season struggled with blitz protection. Purdy, while mobile, won’t have junior running back David Montgomery for the first half either as a relief valve or in pass protection. Montgomery has to sit out because he swung a punch at a Baylor player last week.
MINUS MONTGOMERY: Campbell didn’t appeal to the Big 12 to let Montgomery play in the first half and will likely turn to a committee of players to replace him. Kene Nwangwu, Johnnie Lang and Sheldon Croney average just 3.1 yards per carry in 69 attempts this year. Lang scored last week against Baylor after Montgomery was ejected.
BIG PLAYER RECEIVERS: Both teams have big receivers who make big plays. Iowa State’s Hakeem Butler is 6-foot-5 and leads the nation with 22.7 yards a catch and has eight grabs of 40 yards or longer. Texas has twin towers on the outside in 6-5 Lil’Jordan Humphrey and 6-6 Colin Johnson. Humphrey and Johnson have combined for 113 catches and 1,622 yards with 12 touchdowns.
ACHING SECONDARY: The Texas secondary has been shredded in recent weeks by the Big 12’s best offenses. Injuries have played a role. Freshman safety Caden Sterns was in concussion protocol part of the week. The Longhorns are hoping safety Brandon Jones can return after two weeks out with an ankle injury.
WHERE TO WATCH: The late-season matchup between ranked teams with Big 12 title implications can only be found on the Longhorn Network, the network partnership between Texas and ESPN. For Iowa State fans in particular, that will mean searching for LHN on area cable and national satellite providers or streaming services . The broadcast contract between the networks and the Big 12 allow Texas to have one league game on LHN per season. Both schools must agree, and Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte said he and Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard decided during the summer to have the game on LHN.