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Opponent Preview: Iowa State

Ehlinger, Longhorns look to avenge last year’s 23-21 loss to the Cyclones.

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NCAA Football: Kansas State at Iowa State Brian Powers-USA TODAY Sports

With three weeks left in the regular season, the No. 17 Texas Longhorns (5-2) host the Big 12 leading No. 13 Iowa State Cyclones (6-2) on Black Friday.

Tom Herman and the Horns look to keep their Big 12 title hopes alive against junior quarterback Brock Purdy and the nation’s leader rusher Breece Hall.

Matt Campbell and his Iowa State team are coming off a 45-0 demolition of Kansas State and enter Friday on a three-game winning streak. The Cyclones looking for their first win in Austin since 2010 — when Herman was the offensive coordinator — after defeating the Longhorns 23-21 on a game-winning field goal from Connor Assalley last year in Ames. So while you finish digesting pumpkin pie and stuffing, take a look at what Texas will be facing...

Not so Purdy

Brock Purdy has received a lot of hype this year, especially from the media. ESPN’s David Pollack compared him to Sam Ehlinger and said he’s the best quarterback in the conference. He might be a nice kid, but don’t believe the hype. Statistically, Purdy is fairly average compared to the other signal callers in the Big 12. He ranks fourth in passing yards (1,713), tied for second in passing touchdowns (13), sixth in completion rating (63.7), and leads the conference with six interceptions. Pro Football Focus ranks Purdy outside the top 100 quarterback with a 60.7 passing rating after posting ratings in the high 80s in his freshman and sophomore seasons.

Now don’t read this and tell people “that BON writer said Purdy sucks!” All I’m saying is that as long as you don’t throw four interceptions every game and let the nation’s leading rusher do the dirty work, you’ll probably win a few games.

Like most quarterbacks, Purdy plays better in wins verses losses (I know, it’s a wild concept). But those losses aren’t because Iowa State was unable to run the ball. In fact, Hall ran for 185 yards and 103 yards in the losses to Oklahoma State and Louisiana. The biggest difference in those games is that the opposing defenses focused on making Purdy uncomfortable rather than try to shut down Hall.

Brock Purdy

Passing Stats In Wins In Losses
Passing Stats In Wins In Losses
Yards Per Game 234.3 153.5
CMP% 69% 50.70%
TD/INT 12/4 1/2

Purdy did play one of the best games of his career against Texas last year — 30-of-48 passing for 354 yards, two touchdowns, one interception. Late in the game, he led the Cyclones on a nine-play, 63-yard drive to set up the game-winning 36-yard field goal.

He also threw a ludicrous 75-yard touchdown pass to open the second half after evading a Texas blitz, rolling out to his left, and completing a deep throw across his body to Deshaunte Jones.

While Purdy’s had his moments this year, he’s also had some “uh what was that” moments, too. One issue is that he’s prone to deciding where he’s going to throw the ball before the snap, a bold strategy that doesn’t always work for him.

He’s also responsible for my favorite play of the 2020 season.

I’ve watched it probably 200-plus times. And I’ll probably watch it a few more times after I finish writing this.

Purdy’s favorite target is Blinn College transfer wide receiver Xavier Hutchinson, who leads the Cyclones with with 518 yards on 41 receptions and four touchdowns.

Standing at 6’3, Hutchinson scored two of those touchdowns against Kansas State last week and is pretty darn good at making acrobatic catches and saving Purdy from throwing interceptions.

Oklahoma learned their lesson leaving their corner alone without any safety help over the top.

The Texas defense was shredded by Iowa State’s wideouts last year, giving up 144 yards to Deshaunte Jones and 100 yards to La’Michael Pettway. Both of players graduated after last season, leaving Purdy with Hutchinson and tight end Charlie Kolar.

Kolar is second on the team with 25 receptions and is tied alongside Hutchinson for most touchdowns with four.

The Cyclones have three tight ends with 10 or more receptions on the year — Campbell likes to get them involved. It might be a simple out route or a crossing pattern, play-action passes, or even a tight end screen here or there, but expect Purdy to try and get them involved early on.

Easy Breece-y

Instead of telling you how many times Breece Hall has reached the 100-yard rushing mark this season, I’ll you you the last time he did not break triple digits in a game: Dec. 28 in the Camping World Bowl against Notre Dame.

Here are his yards per game numbers this season — 103, 154, 139, 135, 185, 185, 185, 133, and 135. Hall leads the nation in rushing yards with 1,169 and averages 6.5 yards per carry. His 16 touchdowns on the year are second in the nation and six more than any other Big 12 running back. And he’s not just picking up yards untouched either, as Hall is leading the nation in most yards after contact with 606.

My favorite attribute of Hall’s is his vision. Look at these two plays and watch how Hall waits for the gap to open up and then takes off.

Take notice of how many blockers Iowa State will put in front of him as well. Usually it will be a minimum of six, sometimes seven, and even eight guys in front of Hall. The Cyclones might run a bunch set formation or Purdy will motion in one of his tight ends to help block.

The Horns do possess the second-best rush defense in the conference, allowing only 117.9 yards per game and after holding Oklahoma State star Chuba Hubbard to 72 yards rushing and West Virginia’s Leddie Brown to only 47 yards rushing. Hall did gash Texas for 101 yards last year, but under new defensive coordinator Chris Ash I feel more confident in their ability to limit Hall.

Bottom line: The Texas defense comes into this game on nearly three week’s rest with enough time for some of their key personnel to heal up. Plus, each week Ash’s defense looks more confident. And even with Hall back, Purdy doesn’t have the same playmakers that helped him torch Texas in Ames last year. If the Longhorns can slow down Hall and not let Purdy throw for 354 yards again, I like their chances on Friday.

Friday’s game is less about the Iowa State defense, and more about the Texas offense. In last year’s 23-21 loss, the Horns didn’t get on the board until 17 seconds left in the first half on a great catch by Brennan Eagles. They didn’t lead until the fourth quarter and after stopping Iowa State with four minutes left to play, the Horns went three and out and allowed the Cyclones to drive down the field and convert the game-winning field goal.

Like it has for most of this season, the Texas offense looked lethargic until halfway through the third quarter and the play calling was a mess. The Cyclones defense forced a three and out eight times. EIGHT TIMES!

The Horns rushed for only 54 yards, with quarterback Sam Ehlinger as the leading rusher with 27 yards. Ehlinger did throw for 273 yards with three touchdowns, but he didn’t really get going until the second half either.

Statistically, Iowa State has one of the top defenses in the Big 12, allowing only 23.4 points per game and giving up a total of 333.8 yards per game. They’re led by linebacker Mike Rose and defensive end JaQuan Bailey, two of the best defensive players in the conference.

Rose is second in the conference in total tackles (63) and Bailey is third in sacks with six this season. Bailey is one of the best at getting to the quarterback and when Campbell sends Rose on a blitz, it can be lethal.

Bottom line: Texas can’t go afford to go three and out eight times. They can’t afford to rush for only 54 yards. And they can’t afford to only have seven points going into the fourth quarter. Hopefully, three weeks of rest is enough to get Ehlinger, Whittington, Ingram, Moore, and everyone else healthy — the Horns need to come out firing on Friday and not rely on their defense getting stops or else, like last year, it may result in another loss to the Cyclones.