The TCU Horned Frogs and Iowa State Cyclones will play a football game Saturday, but one very different than what we thought it might be — and might mean — when the schedule was first released.
While the Cyclones are well in the bowl conversation, that’s far from the goal for a team that believed they were contenders for a Big 12 Championship and maybe a College Football Playoff berth. Instead, they sit at 6-5 and will play in a postseason game far less exciting than last year’s Fiesta Bowl.
That being said, this is a team capable of playing at a high level, and in Ames, on Senior Day, expect them to bring their best effort.
Brock Purdy will leave Iowa State holding nearly every QB passing record in the books, but that doesn’t mean that he is universally beloved. Purdy has completed nearly 73% of his passes for 2,722 yards and 16 touchdowns. But his seven interceptions and inconsistent decision-making has left fans wanting more. Purdy is tough — in the Max Duggan mold — and has played through aches and dings throughout his career. He can make all the throws but isn’t the most complete QB — but that being said, he’s more than good enough to elevate his program. For whatever reason, that hasn’t happened this year in the biggest games, but he is still the most accomplished player at his position in ISU history. And he has absolutely wrecked TCU over the years.
Behind him is a guy who is always consistent, running back Breece Hall. Hall has well over one thousand yards already (1,230) and has hit pay dirt 17 times. He is an elite running back that tends to get overlooked by bigger names in the Big 12, but he does everything well and should be playing on Sundays this time next year.
Purdy’s favorite target is big-bodied Xavier Hutchinson, who leads the team with 75 catches and five touchdowns, the scores matched by Charlie Kolar who has hauled 53 passes at over 13 yards per.
The Cyclones have a ton of weapons and when the offense is clicking it’s tough to stop — and I would fully expect an A+ performance in their final home game of the season.
The Cyclones are confounding on defense; nearly a sieve in the first half, few teams adjust better out of the break than Jon Heacock and Iowa State.
Will McDonald is an elite pass-rusher, one of the best defensive players in the country and a guy who is as good as anyone at getting to the quarterback. His 10.5 sacks lead his team and are a top ten mark in the country, and he is bolstered by Eyioma Uwazurike who adds 7.5. Mike Rose is still a great linebacker and Ish Young is one of the hardest-hitting defensive backs in the country and absolutely fearsome.
The unit as a whole allows just 21 points per game and holds opponents well under 200 yards passing, but has given up 120+ per contest on average — but less than four yards per attempt. They aren’t going to give opponents anything easy and they play a physical brand of defense that has given opponents fits.
Iowa State doesn’t have a special teams coach and let’s just say it shows.
The third unit has absolutely cost the Cyclones games this season — see the Baylor loss — by giving up big returns at the worst possible time and missing opportunities to flip the field. If there’s a place TCU can have success, it’s absolutely in this area.
Iowa State might be disappointing in 2021, but they’re still a really good football team when they execute. I expect a high level performance from them in what could be the end of an era.