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Uneven No. 14 Iowa State Cyclones prep for unbeaten Baylor Bears

Sep 18, 2021; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Iowa State Cyclones running back Breece Hall (28) carries the ball against the UNLV Rebels during the first quarter at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 18, 2021; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Iowa State Cyclones running back Breece Hall (28) carries the ball against the UNLV Rebels during the first quarter at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

If Iowa State is to challenge for a Big 12 title, its top players, particularly on offense, must consistently play at a high level.

Especially on Saturday, when the visiting No. 14 Cyclones open Big 12 play against undefeated Baylor in Waco, Texas.

The start to this season has not been easy for Iowa State (2-1, 0-0 Big 12). The Cyclones struggled to a 16-10 opening victory over FCS foe Northern Iowa and were severely outplayed during a 27-17 home loss to then-No. 10 Iowa. Their offense failed to total more than 339 yards in either contest before somewhat breaking out for 493 during last weekend’s 48-3 victory at UNLV.

Brock Purdy and Breece Hall propelling Iowa State early on

brock purdy
Sep 18, 2021; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Iowa State Cyclones quarterback Brock Purdy (15) warms up before a game against the UNLV Rebels at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

After throwing three interceptions without a touchdown and being sacked three times against UNI and Iowa, Iowa State star Brock Purdy recorded three scoring passes and was not picked off or sacked against the Rebels. Meanwhile, preseason Heisman Trophy contender Breece Hall ran for 100 yards with two touchdowns on 21 carries last weekend after rushing for 69 in each of the first two contests.

Hall has scored at least one rushing touchdown in 15 straight game to tie the Big 12 record set by Missouri’s Corby Jones (1997-98).

When the Cyclones’ top players perform well, success should follow. It’s apparently taken some time for that to happen in 2021, but an expected tougher test awaits Purdy, Hall and Co. in their conference opener.

“I certainly think we’re a lot closer to that today than where we were to start the season,” Iowa State coach Matt Campbell said about his best players playing to their expected caliber.

“(The team looks for) challenging times and great opportunities to continue to show that our ‘A’ players are willing to play ‘A’ football. We’ve got a huge road test (Saturday) to kind of see where we’re at and who we are.”

Iowa State has won three of the last four meetings with Baylor. The Cyclones needed to work for a 38-31 home victory over the two-win Bears in 2020, as Hall rushed for 133 yards on 31 carries and scored three total touchdowns but Purdy threw three interceptions along with three TDs. Purdy has completed 65.2 percent of his passes for 736 yards with six touchdowns and four interceptions while going 2-1 against Baylor.

Though the Bears (3-0, 1-0) have outscored their first three opponents 140-34 and beat league-foe Kansas by 38 last weekend, this will be their first true test of the 2021 campaign — a challenge that coach Dave Aranda and his Baylor squad hope they are prepared to meet.

“Seeing the team continue to believe, and connect and grow. It’s a good thing,” Aranda said.

“I look at the confidence and just the growth in our guys. … I think this game coming up is going to be a factor in how we play the game within the game. Alignment, assignment, technique.”

Baylor quarterback Gerry Bohanon is 51-for-70 for 664 yards with five touchdowns, without being intercepted or sacked. Meanwhile, receivers R.J. Sneed and Tyquan Thornton have combined for 27 catches, 440 yards and three touchdowns. Abram Smith and Trestan Ebner have totaled 683 rushing yards, with the former posting five touchdowns.

However, Iowa State’s defense, led by linebackers Jake Hummel and Mike Rose (51 combined tackles), has yielded 40 points and 578 total yards in 2021.

–Field Level Media