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Wide Right & Natty Lite Q&A: Brock Purdy’s performance key for Cyclones

To get insight on the Iowa State Cyclones heading into Saturday’s matchup, we caught up with our friends at Wide Right & Natty Lite.

Iowa State v Oklahoma State Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images

Saturday’s matchup between the Texas Longhorns and the Iowa State Cyclones is as close to a must-win as either team has played all season. A win means another considerable step towards the conference championship game, while a loss essentially ends all hopes of a Big 12 title.

Texas managed to snap a two-game losing streak last weekend by holding off the Texas Tech Red Raiders, while Iowa State has won five straight thanks to the performance of quarterback Brock Purdy.

Purdy got the start against the Oklahoma State Cowboys and has been on a roll, while teammates David Montgomery and Hakeem Butler performed up to their usual standards keeping the offense moving. However, the Cyclones will be without Montgomery for the first half against the Longhorns, as he was ejected following a fight in the Cyclones win over the Baylor Bears.

So what will Iowa State bring to the table Saturday as both teams potentially pull out all of the stops to get the win? To answer that question and many more, we brought in Levi Stevenson of Wide Right & Natty Lite to help provide some insight. To get more Iowa State coverage, you can follow Wide Right & Natty Lite (@WideRtNattyLt) on Twitter.

Burnt Orange Nation: One of the biggest storylines surrounding this game, at least for the start, is the suspension of starting running back David Montgomery. Because of a second half ejection against the Baylor Bears, he will miss the first half of the game with Texas. What does the Iowa State offense look like without that key piece?

Wide Right and Natty Lite: We actually have already seen the Iowa State offense without David Montgomery, as he missed the Oklahoma State game with a shoulder injury. The running back role will be filled by committee, just as it is even when David is playing, but Kene Nwangwu, Johnnie Lang, and Sheldon Croney will simply see a slightly larger role. In the Oklahoma State game, in which the Cyclones put 48 points on the board, the running backs combined for 75 yards on 17 carries for a respectable 4.4 yards per carry. Not going to blow the world away, but effective enough to get the job done. Matt Campbell has a ton of confidence in all four players that see regular action at running back, so the offense won’t really look much different than when Montgomery is playing. Now that we’re later in the season, the staff has likely added some more wrinkles to get Nwangwu and Lang out in space on jet sweeps, screens, etc., so we may see some new stuff. True freshman quarterback Re-al Mitchell is currently sitting behind Purdy on the depth chart, but there’s been lots of talk about getting him some dedicated packages to utilize his game-changing speed (10.67 sec 100m dash in high school). Mongtomery is obviously a great player, but I don’t expect the offense to change much, if at all, for the first half.

BON: Brock Purdy has been a force to be reckoned with since taking the reins against Oklahoma State, completing 68 percent of his passes gaining 15.84 yards per completion. What has been the key to his success as a passer this year?

WRNL: The easy answer is his running ability. He’s got three rushing touchdowns in five games, and has done some serious damage to defenses both on scrambles and designed runs. He’s surprisingly elusive and it utilizes an absolutely deadly pump fake that’s claimed the ankles of multiple defenders already. If you haven’t seen it yet, watch Purdy give this poor Poke defender the okey-doke on his way to a long touchdown run.

However, I would argue that the most important things Brock Purdy brings to the offense is the confidence and intelligence he plays with. This comparison is a bit cliche, but he really does have a lot of Baker Mayfield in him. He has supreme confidence in himself and his teammates, and the guy just loves playing football. He’s completed a couple passes this season that looked pretty ballsy at the time, but a quick review shows that he made the right read and delivered an absolute dime. He’s shown a ton of maturity in knowing when to take the short dump off to the running back, wait just a little longer for that receiver on a deep crossing route to get open and get the first down, or pull it down himself. Most importantly, he takes care of the football.

BON: It’s impossible to talk about the passing game without talking Hakeem Butler. A year ago teams had to account for both Allen Lazard and Butler in the passing game, while in 2018 Butler has been the go-to guy and has not seen a drop off in production. How has he maintained that level of production while having greater pressure on him defensively?

WRNL: One thing Hakeem has really improved on is his route running. He’s gotten much better at creating separation with defensive backs without relying on his athleticism, when he never really had to worry about last year. In 2017, he often lined up in the slot and was covered by a linebacker, so he could just use raw athleticism to just run past his slower defender. Beyond that, Purdy clearly has a ton of faith in Butler. He’s totally comfortable with throwing the ball up to Butler in basically any one-on-one situation, knowing that his size and hands turns most of those 50/50 balls into 60/40 or 70/30 advantages.

It also helps that while Butler has replaced Lazard’s production from last year, guys like Matt Eaton, Deshaunte Jones, Tarique Milton, and Charlie Kolar (a real life pass-catching TE!) have been consistent receiving threats that don’t allow defense to place much emphasis on Butler.

BON: The Cyclones currently sit first in the conference in scoring defense and total defense, despite already playing Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Texas Tech. How has this defense managed to neutralize three of the best offenses in the country?

WRNL: First and foremost, Jon Heacock’s development and implementation of the base dime package that Iowa State has been so successful with over the past season. That defensive scheme has been so good against the Big 12’s air raid offenses that pretty much everyone in the conference (including Texas) has copied huge chunks of the scheme for their own defense, and there’s good evidence to show that it might be the start of an entire shift in offensive philosophy in the Big 12. Not long ago, basically everyone in the Big 12 was running some form of the Air Raid offense and nobody could stop it. Since the introduction of Iowa State’s base dime look, more and more teams are getting away from the air raid. Teams like Texas Tech and TCU have made significant shifts towards more offensive balance. West Virginia’s offense still probably most resembles the traditional Big 12 air raid look, but the Cyclone defense absolutely obliterated Will Grier and the high-flying Mountaineers.

Beyond the scheme, the versatility and depth of Iowa State’s defense has been an enormous strength. In multiple games this season, we’ve seen 22-plus players register a tackle on defense, and we saw seven sacks against both Oklahoma State and West Virginia by seven and six different players, respectively. The linebackers have been running four to five deep all season with three freshmen playing the middle linebacker spot. The secondary runs 4-5 deep at cornerback and three deep at safety, but the Cyclones actually used an extra cornerback at safety against the Mountaineers to account for their speed at receiver.

Those are really the calling cards of the defense. Depth and versatility.

BON: What is the key matchup, part of the game or statistic you’re watching for Iowa State Saturday?

WRNL: I think the most crucial matchup of the game will be the Iowa State secondary against the Texas receivers. If Brian Peavy, D’Andre Payne, Datrone Young, Anthony Johnson, Greg Eisworth, and Braxton Lewis can limit the impact of Duvernay, Humphrey, and Heard, I think Texas could struggle considerably to get chunk plays and sustain long drives down the field. The defense played a “bend, don’t break defense” against Baylor to eliminate long passing plays, and it largely work. The scheme worked pretty well, as we held Baylor 15 points below their scoring average, but did surrender a lot of yardage in the process. Texas is certainly capable of hitting those deep balls, but it’s not necessarily a focal point of the offense like it is for Baylor. For that reason, I expect Jon Heacock to dial up a slightly more aggressive defensive game plan, similar to what we saw against Oklahoma State and West Virginia. Charlie Brewer and Sam Ehlinger are very similar quarterbacks from a play-style perspective, so they’ll be able to take some lessons from last week.

BON: What’s your score prediction?

WRNL: I don’t see this looking much at all like the defensive showdown we saw last year. Iowa State’s offense is a really good spot right now, averaging just over 34 points per game with Brock Purdy at the helm, and Texas’ offense is looking more and more dangerous by the week behind the excellent play of Sam Ehlinger. I think there’s a good chance Texas carries a 7-10 point lead into halftime. However, on the back of a fresh David Montgomery and a few halftime adjustments on defense, the Cyclones really start tightening the screws on the Longhorns in the middle of the third quarter. With the Cyclones carrying a one touchdown lead into the last four minutes of the fourth quarter. Texas is forced to get a little more impatient and air it out, allowing the Cyclone defense to drop eight into coverage and make Ehlinger throw into tight windows. After a couple quick first downs, Greg Eisworth steps up and makes an interception on a deep post to Humphry, giving the Cyclones a chance to run the clock out. Then, David Montgomery takes over and converts a couple first downs to give the Cyclones the road win, and a very real shot at making it to the Big 12 Championship game.

34-27 Cyclones.