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Iowa State’s Big 12-leading defense ready for TCU's Playoff-contending offense
Former Lewis Central star QB Max Duggan looks to lead Horned Frogs to perfect regular season
AMES — Matt Campbell really wanted Max Duggan to be a Cyclone.
When Iowa State’s veteran head coach took over the program in 2016, he made recruiting the Council Bluffs Lewis Central star quarterback a priority.
Duggan didn’t bite, instead choosing to delve deep into the heart of Texas to play for TCU — and now he and Campbell will meet for the fourth time as adversaries when the Cyclones (4-7, 1-7) face the fourth-ranked Horned Frogs (11-0, 8-0) at 3 p.m. Saturday in Fort Worth.
“You’ve got a lot of respect for this TCU team,” said Campbell, whose team has beaten Duggan and the Horned Frogs in each of the past three seasons. “Probably the opposite of us in a lot of ways. They’ve won the moments in some critical situations and have had the ability to finish games.”
Saturday’s matchup pits two underdogs against each other: The snakebit Cyclones, who have lost seven games by an average of 5.4 points, and Duggan, who lost his starting job in preseason camp, but regained it because of a twist of fate and has put together a stellar senior season to become a dark horse Heisman Trophy candidate.
“He is as tough as they come,” Campbell said. “I think that just says you have perseverance, you have character and when things got really hard, Max just kept playing.”
The Horned Frogs finished in a three-way tie for seventh in the Big 12 standings last season. In 2022, Duggan has led them to the mountaintop — an already-ensured regular season conference title and a possible berth in the College Football Playoff.
“Everybody’s kind of expecting us to fail,” said ISU sophomore defensive end Joey Petersen, a former North Scott standout. “Just having that little edge to us and being the underdog, we’ve got nothing to lose. Just fight with everything we’ve got.”
Such is the nature of “underdogs.” What’s happened in the past is irrelevant. What’s forthcoming in 60 minutes (or more) of football is everything.
The Cyclones boast the Big 12’s best defense by far in every major statistical category. The Horned Frogs deploy the league’s best scoring offense (39.5 points per game) and total offense (482.1 yards per game).
“We looked at their offense this week knowing that they’re the best offense and they looked at us knowing that we’re the best defense,” ISU sophomore cornerback Myles Purchase said. “We’re prepared for them as if they’re No. 1, so I’m ready for the challenge. I’m ready to see how we stack up against them and I’m sure they’re ready to take us on as well.
“Just a battle of the best.”
On opposite sides of the ball. And on opposite sides of the Big 12 standings.
The last-place Cyclones are two-score underdogs for the first time this season — and if the offense can revive in terms of scoring, not just moving the football, there could be considerable tension for TCU until the clock hits triple-zeroes.
Duggan’s ready to counter and one-up any of that potential angst and eager to finally beat ISU for the first time in his college career.
“The key to the whole thing is the quarterback,” Campbell said of the Horned Frogs’ offense. “I have the utmost respect for Max, knowing (him) from the recruiting process and his family. Max has always been a guy that I’ve had unbelievable respect for.
“And you’re kind of fired up for him because he’s a guy that’s worked through hard. And for him, he’s found that consistency. He’s playing at such an elite level right now. To me, he’s the key that’s making all those other things play at a really high rate.”
High enough to make the four-team playoff? Time will tell — and the Cyclones will have something to say about that.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s (about) beating them because of what they’re ranked,” ISU first-year starting quarterback Hunter Dekkers said. “I would just say winning another football game. That’s the name of the game. College football is about winning games every week and that’s what we’re going to go try to do.”