Name a better place to be on a Saturday night than freezing cold Ames, Iowa? Okay, you can stop naming places but that’s where the Texas Longhorns (4-4, 2-3) will be as they face Matt Campbell and the Iowa State Cyclones (5-3, 3-2). The Longhorns won their first three matchups against Campbell, but have lost the last two by a combined five points.
Casey Thompson and Steve Sarkisian will get another fun road test at Jack Trice Stadium and try to avoid their first four-game losing streak since 2010.
Texas is a 6.5-point underdog, according to DraftKings.
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.
The gang is literally all back for Matt Campell’s offense as Iowa State returns all 11 starters from last year. Brock Purdy, Breece Hall, Xavier Hutchinson, Charlie Kolar, etc... Their yards -per-game metrics are just about on par with what they’ve done the past three seasons with Purdy, but analytics love this Cyclone offense.
They average nearly seven yards per play, per BCF, with nearly a quarter of their plays gaining 10 or more yards. Only six other teams this year have a higher percentage.
The offense revolves around their workhorse running back Breece Hall, who averages about 123 yards per game and 5.5 per carry. Hall leads the Big 12 in rushing yards and touchdowns because of runs like this:
Hall grinds out runs that may not pick up much yardage, but he tries to wear your defense down physically and psychologically, eventually leading to a breakdown. He has touchdown runs of 75 yards and 70 yards this year, including the run against WVU shown above.
If you remove that run from last week’s game, Hall rushed for 97 yards and averaged 4.2 yards per rush. With it and that jumped up to 167 yards and 7.0 yards per rush.
I thought West Virginia’s defensive line handled the Iowa State rushing attack pretty well in last week’s 38-31 victory, but broke down late because of Brock Purdy, all on runs that weren’t designed.
Texas did a good job of handling the Baylor rushing attack until Abram Smith’s 32-yard dagger touchdown to put the game away in the fourth quarter. Iowa State will try and replicate that on Saturday.
Campbell knows it will be a four-quarter game and right now the Longhorns can’t win them, especially against tough, physical offenses like Iowa State, Baylor, and Oklahoma State.
Hall helps open up the offense to run play-action out of the pistol, which is where Purdy is at his best:
Purdy is averaging the same number of passing yards per game (229) as he did last year, but his completion percentage is at a career-best of 73.3%.
It’s not a flashy, high-powered offense that will grab your attention with Iowa State averaging just 11.48 yards per completion (90th in the country). It is an effective offense and they play complementary football.
In Purdy’s last two starts against Texas — both wins — he’s thrown for over 300 yards. In 2018’s loss? 154 yards with one interception and zero touchdowns.
What makes Purdy dangerous is his ability to escape pressure and avoid a sack, one of the reasons he’s been sacked just 10 times this season.
Purdy also has the ability to run and even though he hasn’t gashed Texas on the ground, it’s important to pay attention to a potential quarterback keeper in goal-line or short-yardage situations. And if he breaks contain, he’s not afraid to tuck it and run.
I did notice that at times Purdy got happy feet in the pocket, maybe an effect from WVU’s pass rush getting to him and not trusting his offensive line.
Take for example this critical third-down play:
Purdy has multiple options on this play, including a wide-open Breece Hall, but panics when didn’t need to and instead throws it away.
It was a long, long time ago, but Texas was able to sack Purdy six times in their 24-10 victory back in 2018. Will the Longhorns be able to sack him six times this Saturday? Doubtful. But if Texas can dial up some blitzes to get Purdy uncomfortable without giving up big plays in doing so, it could turn the tide on Saturday.
PK’s “bend-but-don’t-break” style of defense will be tested by this Cyclone offense. Can they avoid letting up big runs late to Breece Hall? Maybe force a key turnover or two? Potentially, but it also comes down to what the offense can do against this stout Iowa State defense.
Much like the offense, Campbell returns a group of key starters on the defensive side of the ball, especially in the secondary. Campbell runs his famous 3-3-5 defense with an inverted three-safety look that helps stop the run.
They allow only 101 yards per game on the ground (14th best in the nation) and 3.07 yards per carry. Last week was the first time this season the Cyclones gave up a 100-yard game to a rusher after Leddie Brown finished with 109 yards and a pair of touchdowns. It was also the first game the passing defense gave up 300 yards to a quarterback with Jarret Doege tossing for 370 yards.
It was the most yards Doege has thrown for in a game since joining the Big 12, with his career best coming back when he was at Bowling Green.
But West Virginia’s passing attack wasn’t explosive plays against ISU like you would think. Campbell rolled with his classic defensive scheme and WVU and Doege countered with quick throws on out routes.
He averaged eight yards per completion, four yards fewer than his season average of 12 yards, but it was effective against Iowa State’s defense.
Doege only attempted three passes longer than 20 yards in the first half, all three incomplete, but when Iowa State adjusted at half-time, Doege was 3-for-3 for 105 yards and touchdown. WVU adjusted by moving Doege to an empty set formation and spreading out his wideouts. It worked.
West Virginia exploited IowaSt. w/ empty formation (only QB in backfield). WV averaged 12.6 yards per play (2 first downs & a TD) out of empty in the 2nd half vs IowaSt. This is good news for #Texas. The #Longhorns average nearly 10 yards per play out of empty. #HookEm #Horns— Rod Babers (@rodbabers) November 4, 2021
While opponents convert just 37 percent of their third downs against the Cyclones on the season, West Virginia went 9-for-15 (60 percent) with key conversions coming out of the empty set like shown above.
Another point of emphasis for the Texas offense will be on big-yardage plays, something the Cyclones prevent.
Just five percent of opponent plays result in a gain of 10 yards or more. Five percent. That’s seventh best in the nation and utterly ridiculous. Meanwhile, the Texas offense produces a play resulting in 10 yards more nearly 19 percent of the time. That’s just outside top 30 in the nation, but when you lower it down to seven yards or more, that percentage jumps up to 37 percent.
WVU recognized that and took advantage with quick out routes and then hit them hard in the second half with big plays. I’m sure Sark and Casey Thompson will test the Cyclone defense on deep throws early, but I’d love to see them use their wideouts just like WVU did.
So we’ve talked about how the greatness of Iowa State’s offense and defense. Their special teams? Not so much.
They rank 117th and 119th in kickoff and punt return defense, allowing one kick return touchdown to Trestan Ebner and Baylor that completely shifted that game in favor of the Bears.
Texas is below them in kick return defense, allowing an average of 27 yards per return, but are top 10 in the nation in punt return defense.
On the flip- side, Iowa State’s punt unit ranks 126 out of 130 with a net average of 33.67 yards. For comparison, Cameron Dicker the KICKER, who has been handling putting duties, averages 11 yards more per boot and ranks fourth in the nation.
Texas has struggled with field position this season but if they can take advantage against a poor Iowa State special teams unit, it could be what finally ends the Longhorns losing skid.