Football

Longhorns cognizant of Purdy’s progression, Cyclones’ unique offensive personnel

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Iowa State sophomore quarterback Brock Purdy had the worst game of his freshman campaign against Texas almost one year ago.

The Cyclones scored three points through the first 58:27 of the game, and the final score came as a result of a touchdown run by David Montgomery. Purdy was no longer in the game by that point and finished 10-of-23 for 130 yards with an interception.

Purdy never attempted more than 27 passes during his first season in Ames. In the 10 games he appeared in, he completed 20 or more passes only once. The 2018 offense asked more of Montgomery and Hakeem Butler, two players selected in the most recent NFL Draft, than it did of Purdy. This year, Purdy is the driving force behind the Cyclone offense.

Purdy is sixth nationally in passing yards with 2849. He’s thrown a touchdown pass in every game, completed 20 or more passes six times, and tallied 19 completions in ISU’s other three games.

On Monday, Texas head coach Tom Herman noted Purdy had a lot of moxie and an ability to make plays. He’s observed a comfort from Purdy in Cyclone head coach Matt Campbell’s offense, and one of Herman’s assistant coaches even compared Purdy’s freshman-to-sophomore jump to the one Texas QB Sam Ehlinger made from 2017 to 2018.

“The one thing that’s really similar about both of them is they’re just ferocious competitors,” Texas defensive coordinator Todd Orlando said Wednesday. “They never get rattled. They’re always trying to make a play, and then he’s got accuracy. He gets the ball out of his hands really, really quick so it’s hard to get to him. He’s grown up.”

Over the last two games, Purdy is 58-of-92 for 664 yards with six touchdowns and three interceptions. Five of those six touchdowns came against Oklahoma, who was a failed two-point conversion away from suffering a rare loss in Norman.

One of Purdy’s favorite targets over those last two games with 10 catches for 117 yards and two scores is sophomore tight end Charlie Kolar. At 6-foot-6, 250 pounds, Kolar and the rest of the Cyclones tight ends present difficult matchups for opposing defenses.

“We played against them last year, and who do you put on them?” Orlando asked. “If you put a DB on them that weighs 190 pounds in the box, they get boxed out. You put a linebacker on him, maybe he’s a little bit too slow, and they expose those matchups.”

Texas’ defense ranks in the hundreds in total defense, passing yards allowed, and falls in the 90s in scoring defense. They are average against the run, ranked No. 54 nationally in rushing defense.

The Longhorns tend to do well against teams who operate with multiple tight ends on the field and attempt to win the game, or at least a certain play, in the box rather than in space. However, Iowa State’s multiple tight end personnel presents a different problem for the Longhorns due to the receiving ability of Kolar and others.

On Thursday, Herman said he emphasized to his defenders in the back eight how they needed to be ready for the physical challenge of playing the Cyclone tight ends.

“We’ve made sure our nickels, our safeties, and our linebackers know just how physical those guys are in the pass game,” Herman said. “They use their bodies really well. They get away with a lot because they are big guys that can push littler guys around. We’re going to have to stand our ground regardless of who is covering them, linebacker, safety, whatever.”

That isn’t to discount the skill of the ISU receivers, including Purdy’s favorite target Deshaunte Jones who has 56 catches for 604 yards on the year. However, the skill of Purdy and the collection of tight end talent in Ames is a unique wrinkle within the Big 12 that Texas will have to consistently make note of on defense this Saturday.