SAN ANTONIO — Washington State has the No. 1 passing offense in the nation, and quarterback Gardner Minshew has thrown for more than 4,000 yards and 35 touchdowns.
Iowa State had the No. 1 defense in the Big 12, but defensive coordinator Jon Heacock said the Cyclones’ best defense against the 13th-ranked Cougars (10-2) at 8 p.m. Friday in the Alamo Bowl (ESPN) will probably be the offense.
“I guess I show my age sometimes, but I’ve been around a long time, and I’ve always said we play the best defense when we’re standing on the side,” Heacock said. “My calls are a lot better — you know, I’m really smart when our guys are over there behind the bench. So that’s important.
“I think the blessing for us has been we’ve been a team. Our offense has helped us. Our defense has helped us. Our special teams has helped us. And we’re going to have to help each other again on Friday night. That’s the only way we know how to have success.”
Iowa State’s offense has been somewhat of a revolving door throughout the season.
The No. 24 Cyclones (8-4) have changed quarterbacks three times. Running back David Montgomery was out one game due to injury and essentially missed another due to suspension. Chase Allen began the season as the starting tight end, but after an injury, Charlie Kolar stepped into his role. Even the line has had some injuries. Josh Mueller started the season at left guard, but after an injury, Collin Olson took over for him.
Through it all, the offensive staff has made it work.
“It’s been a work in progress,” quarterbacks coach Joel Gordon said. “We’ve had guys, new guys, step into new roles all year long and played with a couple different quarterbacks, played with a good group of running backs. We’ve had a bunch of wide receivers step up and do different things and new guys at the tight end position.
“It’s really just been one week at a time, getting through an injury here or there at a position and going one week at a time and figuring out who’s ready to step up that week to try to help us win a game, and there’s been a lot of guys that have proved that they could do that.”
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One of the biggest, and most obvious, guys who has stepped up for Iowa State is true freshman quarterback Brock Purdy.
Purdy has completed 66 percent of his passes and thrown for 1,935 yards and 16 touchdowns in the eight games he’s had significant playing time.
“There are experiences that he’s had in games now, going for most of the year, and going into that first year, he didn’t have any of that,” Gordon said. “So just the opportunity to have some kind of comfort level, getting some experience has been huge for him, and he hasn’t been perfect, he’s been pretty good, but just continuing to learn about the offense and learn about defense.”
While Purdy has stepped into a big role, Montgomery has had a big role the whole season. He rushed for 1,092 yards and 12 touchdowns this season on 231 carries.
And if the Iowa State offense will be leaned on to keep the Washington State offense off the field, Montgomery will get a lot of important carries.
“We’re going to compete to do what we try to do every Saturday, being able to fool the defense and make plays, taking the small plays and making the most out of them,” Montgomery said. “(Our) defense, I’m 100 percent sure they’re going to do their job and do what they need to be doing for the proper moment. We’re excited to see what happens.”
While it’s easier for Heacock’s defense to play when it’s on the sidelines, he knows they’ll be called upon.
“(The offense) will help us,” Heacock said. “But we have to help them, and I’ve always said you have a great defense. When your team needs you the most, you have to be able to help them and play great defense, and that’s what we’ve been working hard to do.”
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