Iowa State running back Breece Hall running the ball against Louisiana.
Photo Courtesy of Iowa State Athletics
By Cael Sleezer
Two years ago, Brock Purdy took over as the signal caller for the Cyclones. He led Iowa State to a 48-42 victory over Spencer Sanders and the Oklahoma State Cowboys in Stillwater, which kick-started the career of the freshman from the Sunset State.
Two years later, a preview of a probable Big 12 championship game would take place where Purdy’s collegiate career was born, and where it would face yet another tough test: attempting to upset the number six team in the country.
When the sun rose on Saturday, Iowa State sat at the top of the conference standings with Kansas State. With a win against the Cowboys, Iowa State would be in a good spot to clinch a Big 12 championship berth for the first time ever, taking multi-game leads over Texas and Oklahoma.
All eyes were on the two star running backs that have captured the eyes of many fans, analysts, and opposing defenses over the last few seasons: Chuba Hubbard and Breece Hall.
Hubbard broke the 2,000 yard rushing mark last season, and is regarded by many as the best running back in college football not playing at Clemson. Hall has gained a reputation for being a hard man to bring down. His patience and explosiveness has been a weapon for the Cyclones that led them to a Camping World Bowl berth last year, and he has been nearly unstoppable against opposing defenses this year.
Round one of this matchup went to Hubbard last year, as he outrushed Hall by 40 yards and led the Cowboys to a 34-27 upset over the then-ranked 23rd Cyclones squad. As Hall stated before the game against Oklahoma, he remembers the tough losses. He thinks about them almost daily. It drives him to beat his opponent the next chance he gets. He trounced the Sooner defense by running 139 yards and scoring twice back on October 3rd. He looked to do the same on a cool afternoon in Stillwater.
The Cyclones went into this matchup looking for their first 4-0 start in conference play in school history. The Cowboys looked to pick up where they left off three weeks ago when they beat Kansas by 40 points.
The game started off with a good offensive push from the Cowboy offense, but a good defensive play in the end zone by Anthony Johnson Jr. forced Mike Gundy to bring out his kicker to try and get his team on the scoreboard. Much to everyone’s surprise, Alex Hale missed his target, ending his perfect field goal mark on the season.
Purdy and the offense didn’t do much on their first drive, only converting 1 first down before Rivera came out and booted the pigskin an impressive 50 yards, pinning the Cowboys inside the 20.
The Cyclone defense came through on the first play of the drive with a tip-and-pick exchange by Greg Eisworth and Mike Rose. Purdy found his way into the end zone 3 plays later on an 11 yard run, and the Cyclones had the early advantage.
After an uneventful Cowboy push, Tom Hutton managed to pin the Cyclones at their own 5 yard line on a nice boot. Soon after, Breece Hall sliced through the Cowboy defense and wasn’t chased down until he gained 70 yards on one of his many big runs of the day. Unfortunately, the drive stalled, and Connor Assaley couldn’t convert on a 48 yard field goal attempt.
Spencer Sanders and his offense took advantage of their modest field position and struck quickly with gains through the air, topped off by a 34 yard touchdown grab by Jelani Woods.
On their next drive, the Cowboys lost their starting center Ry Schneider for a brief time. Soon after he left the field, his replacement snapped the ball out of the reach of Sanders, who somehow managed to turn the play into a first down. Soon after, Chuba Hubbard had a big run of his own and spun his way through the Cyclone defense for a 32 yard score.
The only other event worth mentioning in the first half was the sound the right goal post made when Connor Assaley hit it with the football, marking his second miss of the day. The Cowboys had a 14-7 advantage at halftime.
The second half started off with both Sanders and Purdy attempting to spark momentum with long passes that ended up in the hands of the defense. With a 3rd and 2 situation facing his defense, Mike Gundy chose to rush his defense to the right side to try and stop Hall from breaking through. Hall went left, and he went untouched in a 66 yard trot to the endzone, tying the game at 14 apiece.
Sanders answered with a 40 yard strike to Tylan Wallace, and then ran the ball in himself to give the lead back to Oklahoma State, 21-14.
At the beginning of the 4th quarter, the Cyclones were facing a 3rd down and needed to convert, being down by 10 as a result of an earlier Cowboy field goal. Purdy fired a pass right into the hands of Charlie Kolar, and the ball was uncharacteristically dropped by the reliable tight end.
Later in the 4th quarter, the Cyclones were pinned inside their own 5 yard line, desperately needing a touchdown. The Cowboys would hold them to a 3 and out drive capped off by a diving pass deflection by Tre Sterling. Oklahoma State managed to burn some clock before the offense got the ball back. With under 4 minutes left, Iowa State needed a miracle, and then some.
Purdy used his legs to elude the defense and converted multiple first downs. A juggling, toe-tapping catch was made by Charlie Kolar to help advance the offense to the red zone, where Purdy operates best. He fired a bullet to a diving Xavier Hutchinson in the corner of the endzone to put the Cyclones within 3 with under a minute to go.
To keep their chances alive, the Cyclones needed to recover an onside kick. The strategy was to get the ball in the air high enough so Iowa State could use their height to their advantage. The ball had the height, but it went just far enough to land in the hands of a player in a home jersey, sealing the 24-21 victory for Oklahoma State and giving the Cyclones their first conference loss of the season.
Although the Cyclones lost, Breece Hall won the rushing battle against Chuba Hubbard. Hall had 185 yards on the ground, which beat Hubbard’s total (140) by 45 yards. Hall now leads Hubbard in rushing yards and touchdowns when they face each other, with Hall leading 261-256 and 3-2 respectively.
Another player to note is Xavier Hutchinson. He quietly racked up 8 catches for 68 yards and then exploded for the late game touchdown. He has been a helping hand for Brock Purdy and the offense this year, totaling 19 catches for 217 yards and 2 scores in 4 games, averaging 11.4 yards per catch. He has stepped up with the departure of Deshaunte Jones, and has slowly been getting more targets from Brock Purdy to help balance the offense.
Iowa State showed they can contend with a potential national championship team, and this loss will help Matt Campbell and his squad prepare for the weeks to come.
The Cyclones look to bounce back after this loss against the Kansas Jayhawks in Lawrence on Saturday at 11 a.m.