Three months ago, few people thought the Iowa State-Texas matchup would influence the contenders for the Big 12 title. But those are the stakes for both teams with only two weeks remaining in the regular season. A loss for either team would officially end any hope of a conference title, so it is more than fair to expect a slugfest on Saturday.
That being said, here are four Iowa State players to watch this weekend:
#15 Brock Purdy — Quarterback
Before the season began, freshman quarterback Brock Purdy found himself buried on the depth chart behind a sixth-year senior starting at quarterback and a sophomore projected to be at second-string for most of the year. But after Iowa State started its season at 1–3, head coach Matt Campbell turned to Purdy in hopes of revitalizing a struggling offense. The move has proven to be a masterful decision.
Since taking over the starting job, the freshman quarterback has led the Cyclones to five consecutive victories, during which they averaged 34.6 points per game. Purdy himself has thrown for 13 touchdowns and only two interceptions while maintaining a 192.0 passing efficiency rating in those contests. The Gilbert, Arizona, native also adds an additional element to the Cyclone offense, with his unique running ability. On the ground, Purdy has carried the ball for 320 yards and two touchdowns.
#18 Hakeem Butler — Wide receiver
The Longhorn secondary has been overwhelmed by some of the Big 12’s top wide receivers in its last three matchups. The task doesn’t get much easier this weekend with wide receiver Hakeem Butler coming to Austin. Butler has been the leading playmaker for the Cyclones’ offense, hauling in 36 receptions for 816 yards and eight touchdowns so far this season. And his 90.7 receiving yards per game also ranks fifth among all Big 12 wideouts.
At 6-foot-6-inches and 225 pounds, Butler possesses incredible size for his position, however, he’s also an exceptional route runner who can create separation at any level of the field. That separation allows him to routinely make game-breaking plays for the Cyclone offense. In fact, in seven of Iowa State’s nine games, Butler has had a reception that went for 20 yards or more, including touchdowns of 83, 57, 51 and 48 yards.
#13 JaQuan Bailey — Defensive end
In a conference known for its offensive fireworks and defensive shortcomings, Iowa State is one of the few teams in the Big 12 who consistently puts together a strong showing week in and week out. The Cyclones rank first in the Big 12 in total defense and have given up the fewest touchdowns this season. Leading that effort on the defensive front is junior defensive end JaQuan Bailey.
Bailey has been one of the most disruptive defensive lineman in the Big 12, registering 11.0 tackles and 5.5 sacks through nine games. And the Jacksonville, Florida, native is by far the most productive Cyclone in both categories, leading both departments by 6.5 and 3.5 respectively. However, with Sam Ehlinger and the Texas offense gaining confidence each week, Bailey will have to find a way to make an impact this weekend if Iowa State hopes to stop the Longhorns.
#12 Greg Eisworth — Safety
This time last year, safety Greg Eisworth was spending his days on the practice field for Trinity Valley Community College. Now, he’s one of the key pieces for the Iowa State secondary. Eisworth has been an instant contributor in his first season with the Cyclones and has been effective in both pass coverage and run support. The safety leads all Iowa State defenders in tackles with 68, which is tied for sixth in the Big 12.
And Eisworth will have the opportunity this weekend to display his talents back in his home state. The redshirt sophomore is a product of South Grand Prairie High School, where he starred as both a quarterback and safety during his high school career. Although he’s given up the quarterback position in college, Eisworth’s role this weekend will be pivotal in handling a potent Longhorn passing attack.