A fractured hip for quarterback Tua Tagovailoa ended his season and left questions about his future on Saturday. Alabama was left with no experienced quarterback on its roster to fill the void.
More than one thousand miles north, Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy led his team to a last-minute victory against No. 22 Texas.
Purdy played a key role in a comeback victory Saturday for an Iowa State team that recently started to find its identity. Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban made a push at Brock Purdy, but ultimately the four-star quarterback chose Ames as his new home two years ago, leaving Alabama without a tested insurance option behind Tagovailoa.
Iowa State is reaping the rewards of Purdy’s decision, and on Saturday it paid off in a big way.
“[Doesn't] that, like, exemplify Brock Purdy?" said Iowa State Coach Matt Campbell about the touchdown that Iowa State scored to start the second half. "I'd love to tell you we dialed it up that way and that's how it was gonna be. It's total Brock Purdy."
Campbell helped turn Iowa State's program around, but without Purdy under center, the Cyclones may never have gotten this far.
At 6-4 in Purdy’s first full year as a starter, the Cyclones are bowl eligible for the third year in a row and looking to secure eight wins for a third straight season as well.
The record might not fully support how good the Cyclones have been this season — with all their losses coming by single digits and three of those by two points or less — but competitive years for the Cyclones have been few and far between in the 2010s.
At the center of all the success stands Purdy.
The Gilbert, Arizona, native has been a vocal leader off the field, but on the field, he has been asked to carry the weight left behind from two program-altering players who departed for the NFL just one season ago — David Montgomery and Hakeem Butler.
Purdy has faired well with this task, putting up some of the best numbers in Iowa State's program history. Purdy is already fourth in Iowa State history in passing yards and fifth in touchdowns. His 2019 season has already set the Cyclone mark for most passing touchdowns in a season, and against Kansas, he will need only 43 yards to break Seneca Wallace’s single-season record of 3,245 passing yards.
Purdy is breaking records for a program that has had only a few good quarterbacks in its history. However, with that there still exists the need to win, and this season the Cyclones are cutting it close.
Against Oklahoma, Purdy turned in possibly his most spectacular performance when he exploded for five touchdowns through the air and one more on the ground. With a 42-21 lead going into the fourth quarter, Oklahoma had a commanding hold on the game.
Purdy willed Iowa State back into the game with a little help from his defense and set up the Cyclones with a chance at a two-point conversion to win the game against a perennial powerhouse on the road, but they fell short in the end.
For Cyclone fans, the game — which resulted in a loss — was a disappointment, but for those around the league, it was a stunning spectacle.
“Offensively in the fourth quarter, we started clicking really well,” Purdy said. “If we could just take that and keep it rolling the rest of the season, honestly, that would be really key. That fourth quarter was huge for us moving forward.”
This was Iowa State’s third straight competitive game against Oklahoma — a team with the last two Heisman Award winners — and its third different starting quarterback in that brief period.
When Purdy took over the starting job in 2018, the Cyclones were playing a solid Oklahoma State team. Zeb Noland started the game, but after one drive, Purdy took over and broke out in front of the Oklahoma State crowd in Stillwater, Oklahoma, as he threw for 318 yards and four touchdowns on 18-23 passing.
He’s still learning from his first time entering a game, but his big first game was just a taste of what the young quarterback could do.
Purdy racks up statistics, but when asked, he keeps his focus on the team aspect of each game and not any individual accolades.
Teammates recognize this about Purdy and will talk about their trust in him as the team’s most important player.
“The kid, the way he works and the way he leads this offense is something I'm at a loss for. It's amazing," said an emotional Charlie Kolar after the loss against Oklahoma. “The character that kid has, it's honestly like nothing I've ever seen before in my life, and I've played with some fantastic athletes […] I would go to war with that kid any day of the week.”
Throughout the season, Purdy has affected the Cyclones' success in a major way, and it started in the first game against Northern Iowa.
After going to overtime with the Panthers, Iowa State relied heavily on Purdy and running back Sheldon Croney. The latter almost ended up costing them the game when he fumbled in overtime near the goal line.
Purdy saw what happened and dove on the ball before anyone else could get there, allowing Croney to punch it in on the next play. It was the first game of the season, and already the Cyclones were benefiting from their starting quarterback.
The accolades and big plays haven’t stopped, and that was finally reflected on Saturday. No longer were the Cyclones just that close.
“It was awesome man, [Campbell] really rallied us before the game and halftime,” Purdy said. “To hug him at the end of it, knowing that we finished the game the right way. He just told me he loved me and I told him I loved him.”
The win against Texas is a full swing in the other direction. Iowa State had not beaten the Longhorns in Matt Campbell’s tenure, and now that the Cyclones have, Campbell and Purdy have fully thrust the team into perennial contention.
Purdy will be back. Campbell has given every indication he'll be back, and they’ll be leading a team full of youth and ability.
Campbell said that when coaching young players in college, you’re asking 18-22-year-olds to be present in the moment.
Whether it’s diving on a fumble, staging a late comeback or leading a game-winning drive, Purdy has been present for those moments.