Oct 20, 2018; Lubbock, TX, USA; Texas Tech Red Raiders quarterback Alan Bowman (10) drops back to pass against the Kansas Jayhawks at Jones AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — Similarities.
In a word, that’s what Iowa State coach Matt Campbell sees in Texas Tech’s defense and his own team’s. Some are cosmetic. Some are statistical. All are rooted in the details critical to success on the field.
“I think there’s some similarities not so much in structure to what we do, but I think in terms of philosophy,” said Campbell, whose Cyclones (3-3, 2-2) faces the suddenly hot Red Raiders (5-2, 3-1) in Saturday’s 11 a.m. Big 12 clash at Jack Trice Stadium. “Very multiple in what they’re doing.”
There’s one striking similarity on the other side of the ball, as well.
Tech’s quarterback Alan Bowman? A true freshman, who didn’t start the first game of the season, but has thrown 14 touchdowns to four interceptions.
“Great decision maker, great arm,” said ISU safety Greg Eisworth, who leads his team with 49 tackles. “And I think that’s the thing, whenever you watch him on the field, he doesn’t look like a freshman quarterback. He looks like a veteran the way he holds himself and carries that offense.”
ISU’s playcaller Brock Purdy? Ditto, of course, as we’ve seen in two straight stirring wins over ranked foes.
“Being able to have a guy like that, composed and calm — Brock, he takes a lot after (injured former starting QB) Kyle (Kempt), too,” said the Cyclones’ All-American tailback, David Montgomery, who hopes to puncture the Red Raiders’ resurgent run defense. “Just being able to have that kind of guy step up and understand that him being humble is the key to everything is definitely cool to see.”
Now, no one will confuse the “Air Raid” offense with anything the more methodical and bruising Cyclones (3-3, 2-2) run, so the teams don’t approach mirror-image status.
But both teams strive to stand out with the “little things” that win games — and shine in various ways to that end.
“I’m really impressed with Texas Tech in all facets,” said Campbell, whose ISU teams have won five of their past seven games against top-25 teams. “Offensively, a team that’s playing really good football. They have one of the better defenses in our conference right now. They’re flying around and playing with a lot of confidence.”
Tech’s defense owns 12 takeaways this season and 41 since the start of 2017. That total ties Alabama for fourth-nationally during that span.
The Red Raiders also sit second in the Big 12 in third down defense, allowing conversions at a 30.8 percent rate, and third in red zone defense, yielding 10 touchdowns and six field goals in 21 opponents’ trips there. They’ve turned opponents over three times inside the 20, as well.
“They get off the field on third down,” Campbell said. “You look at their red zone defense. You look at their third down efficiency and then you look certainly at the success that their offense has had in the red zone. Then you look at their turnover margin. All those areas, you see that they’ve made great improvement. They’re doing all the little things that it takes to be successful. Again, it will be a great challenge for us because it’s all those things that we’re aspiring to be in those ranges and those areas for us when we’re playing our best football. They’re certainly doing it with great consistency this year.”
The Cyclones counter with the league’s top rushing defense (110.3 yards per game), second-best scoring defense (22.7 points) and stingiest total defense (316.7 yards).
Where Tech achieves separation is through its offensive output, which tops the Big 12 at 551.9 yards per game.
ISU ranks eighth in that category, but is gaining traction where it matters most: on the ground, with a finally healthy Montgomery, who’s racked up three straight 100 yard rushing games, including a career-best 189-yard performance in the Oct. 13 win over then-No. 6 West Virginia.
He said the bye week came at a perfect time — and he’s healthier than he’s been this season.
“Coach Campbell definitely created a great schedule for us to get in the treatment room and to be able to get our bodies recovered,” Montgomery said.
Tech hasn’t allowed an opposing back to surpass 100 yards in conference play since Oklahoma State’s Justice Hill totaled 112 in the Big 12 opener — a dominant and then-surprising 41-17 Red Raiders win in Stillwater.
In essence: they bend plenty, but they don’t tend to break.
“They can pressure you,” Campbell said. “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. I think it’s a great challenge for our offense in a lot of ways, because just their matchup and how they matchup and how skilled they are. They’ve done a great job defensively, really, all year.”
But they haven’t faced Montgomery this season, either.
“We just have to emphasize for us, playing our game and playing only our game,” Montgomery said. “See what happens.”
That’s both in the margins and on countless daily “little things,” where the main similarity between ISU and Tech resides.
“The culture here is we’re always trying to get better,” said Cyclone linebacker Marcel Spears Jr., whose 61-yard pick-six against the Red Raiders last season sealed a 31-13 win. “We haven’t arrived by any means. Our thing is, get better every week, every day. … You have to be consistent.”