AMES — Two true freshman quarterbacks will take center stage Saturday at 11 a.m. in Ames as Iowa State (3-3, 2-2 Big 12) hosts Texas Tech (5-2, 3-1 Big 12).
— People love to talk about Texas Tech’s offense, and for good reason, it’s one of the best in the country and the best in the Big 12. But the Red Raiders’ defense seems to always be the thing that holds them back. So far, Tech has shown it has an improved defense.
Texas Tech is the second-best team in the Big 12 on third down. The Red Raiders get their opponent off the field 69 percent of the time on third down. They also have the third-best rush defense and the third-best red-zone defense.
“I think there’s some similarities not so much in structure to what we do, but I think in terms of philosophy,” Iowa State Coach Matt Campbell said. “Very multiple in what they’re doing. Their physical linebackers can really run. The defensive line, a lot of those guys have played, they understand where they need to be and fit.
“Now, I think another year into it, you add some great multiplicity to what they’re doing. They can pressure you. They can come from every angle, but yet they also have the ability to play their base defense and really force you to drive the football. They’ve done a great job defensively, really, all year — even the West Virginia game.”
An argument could be made that the defense isn’t as improved as the numbers might say they are. Against the better teams it has played — Ole Miss and West Virginia — Texas Tech gave up a combined 89 points. Against Houston, it gave up 49 points.
The Iowa State-Texas Tech game could hinge on which Red Raiders defense shows up.
— Now, let’s talk a little bit about that famed air-raid attack. Texas Tech’s true freshman quarterback, Alan Bowman, doesn’t really play like a true freshman. He doesn’t try to force balls into tight windows and he’s not afraid to go through his progressions and hit his check-down receiver.
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“There’s a lot of things to me, offensively, that stick out,” Campbell said. “No. 1, the big receivers on the outside are having a really great year for them. I think the quarterback aspect of it is, no matter who’s been in at quarterback has given those receivers a real opportunity to catch and make big plays. I think that’s something that certainly catches your eye.
“But the other thing that’s been really impressive is, he went with a couple young offensive linemen a year ago and now that young offensive line has grown into a veteran offensive line. That’s a group that’s played really well for them, especially in some critical moments, so really, I think, a complete offense and a football team that’s very confident in who they are and what they are right now. It’s been impressive to watch.”
— People know who Iowa State’s offensive and defensive weapons are — running back David Montgomery, receiver Hakeem Butler, defensive back Brian Peavy and defensive end JaQuan Bailey. But some new faces are starting to show up.
Campbell’s philosophy when it comes to young players is, “Make me play you.” Three players have made him do that. Defensive backs Datrone Young and Anthony Johnson and tight end Charlie Kolar all are redshirt freshmen or younger.
Young and Johnson come in and give the cornerbacks a breather and Kolar has worked his way into being a real threat in the passing game in the red zone. Kolar has three catches, two for touchdowns.
“Datrone, great spring,” Campbell said. “I think everybody in our program (was) really impressed with how he went about his work. Very confident, really great man coverage guy, a guy that’s got great physicality on top of that, as well. I think those are hard things to find. He had a great fall camp and really earned the right to play early on and in his limited opportunities, played really well.
“Anthony, on the other hand, was a guy that I think really jumped out to us this summer. Really, early fall camp, ‘Wow, this guy’s got some talented traits that we haven’t had yet at corner,’ with the length, the size and certainly the ability to run. He’s really grown and I was proud of him because I thought his transition came through special teams. He showed up for us the first couple weeks special teams-wise and then really has started to flourish with his opportunities on defense.”
Like Young and Johnson, Kolar stood out in fall camp.
“He’s a guy that, fall camp, if you came out to fall camp and you watched our football team practice, I think you left there and said, ‘Whoa. That guy’s got a chance to be really special,’” Campbell said.
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With the pace Texas Tech plays with, Young and Johnson should get opportunities once again to spell Peavy and D’Andre Payne. In the passing game, the 6-foot-6 Kolar gives Purdy a big target in short-yardage situations.
Iowa State 24, Texas Tech 21
Matt Campbell is undefeated against Texas Tech. It won’t be the 66-10 drubbing the Cyclones handed the Red Raiders the last time the game was in Ames, but Iowa State will still come out on top.
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