Cyclones look to bounce back in Big 12 opener against Horned Frogs
Big 12 play gets into full swing for Iowa State and TCU when the two teams clash in Fort Worth on Saturday. Both teams are looking to make an early statement as to where they stand in the league's pecking order this season.
Iowa State stumbled out of the gates, losing 31-14 to Louisiana at home in its opener. The Cyclones got burned by big plays while getting shutout after halftime. The Ragin' Cajuns scored touchdowns on a 95-yard kickoff return, an 83-yard punt return, and a 78-yard pass. Iowa State couldn't do enough on offense to land an effective counterpunch, totaling just 303 yards.
TCU will make its belated season debut after the team's lone non-conference game against SMU, scheduled for Sept. 12, got scuttled because of COVID-19 concerns. The Horned Frogs were projected to finish in the middle of the Big 12 pack before the season after winning just five games a year ago. They return just seven starters from that squad.
TCU holds an 8-3 lead in the series with Iowa State. The Cyclones' last win in Fort Worth came in 2012 when they beat the Horned Frogs 37-23 in TCU's first Big 12 home game.
Iowa State at TCU
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 26 at 1:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Iowa State -2.5
When Iowa State Has the Ball
Everything unraveled for the Cyclone offense against Louisiana and it started with Brock Purdy turning in a mediocre performance by his standards. Purdy totaled just 145 yards and an interception on 16-of-35 passing against the Ragin' Cajuns. For the Cyclones, it represented the team's fewest passing yards in two years.
It's a safe bet Purdy won't endure two straight games where he can't get anything going through the air. This is the same player who set 18 school records as a sophomore. Those records included season-high marks in passing yards (3,982), completions (312), and touchdown passes (27). He also had six 300-yard passing games. Purdy killed TCU with his arm and his legs last season, throwing for 247 yards and two touchdowns and tacking on 102 yards and two more scores on the ground in a 49-24 victory over the Horned Frogs.
With tight end Charlie Kolar still listed as day-to-day with a lower-body injury, the Cyclones will need wide receiver Tarique Milton to have a bigger impact this week. Milton finished with just 18 yards on three catches in the opener after averaging 20.6 yards per reception in 2019. Breece Hall ran for 103 yards and a touchdown against Louisiana, picking up where he left off in his freshman campaign. Hall will help keep TCU's defense honest with a similar performance on Saturday.
When TCU Has the Ball
The Horned Frogs received some big-time good news when quarterback Max Duggan was cleared to practice this week. Duggan underwent a medical procedure to correct a congenital heart defect. He threw for 2,007 yards and 15 touchdowns as a true freshman last season and also ran for 555 yards and six scores. If he is 100 percent going forward, Duggan's return could mean big things for the offense.
Of course, Duggan won't get to lead the offense this week. That falls to fellow sophomore Matthew Downing whom Gary Patterson named as his starting quarterback earlier in the week. Downing's inexperience means the Horned Frogs will count on the run game to provide some balance and take some pressure off the sophomore.
TCU has a stable of quality backs who can get the job done. Emari Demercado, a junior, will start at running back with redshirt freshman Darwin Barlow as the No. 2 option. Neither player has much experience, combining for 164 yards and a touchdown in 2019. One of them will need to emerge in a hurry on Saturday to give the Horned Frogs an extra hop on offense.
TCU has a track record for success in opening a new football season. The Horned Frogs have won six straight season openers and 18 consecutive home openers overall — the nation's eighth-longest streak. Will Iowa State be the opponent to finally put TCU in the loss column? The Cyclones certainly have the right tools to do it. Iowa State is good enough on defense to be streak busters, provided the offense consistently moves the chains.
Prediction: Iowa State 27, TCU 20
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— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports, and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.