No. 13 Iowa State took a massive step toward earning a berth in the Big 12 Championship Game with a 23-20 victory over No. 17 Texas on Friday.
The Cyclones (7-2, 7-1) trailed for almost the entire game in Austin before taking their first lead on a Breece Hall touchdown run with 1:25 left in the fourth quarter. The dramatic comeback win makes ISU a virtual lock to play in the conference title game.
The Longhorns (5-3, 4-3), who were celebrating Senior Day, led by 10 midway through the third quarter after Sam Ehlinger found Jared Wiley for a seven-yard score. Iowa State then scored 13 unanswered points over the game's final 18 minutes, and Texas' final drive ended with a missed 58-yard field-goal attempt by Cameron Dicker.
QB Brock Purdy (ISU): 25-of-36 for 312 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT
QB Sam Ehlinger (TEX): 17-of-29 for 298 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT; 65 rushing yards, 1 TD
RB Breece Hall (ISU): 91 rushing yards, 1 TD
WR Sean Shaw Jr. (ISU): 60 receiving yards, 1 TD
WR Brennan Eagles (TEX): 142 receiving yards
TE Charlie Kolar (ISU): 131 receiving yards
TE Jared Wiley (TEX): 7 receiving yards, 1 TD
Cyclones Defense Rises to the Occasion
There was a moment in the first quarter when it looked like Texas might run away with the game. It was already up 10-0, and Iowa State faced a third down from its own 32. The Cyclones converted and went on to score a touchdown, and their defense put together a strong performance from that point forward.
ISU gave up just three points over the Longhorns' final three drives of the opening half. After allowing a touchdown on Texas' first drive after halftime, it allowed no more points and came up with a pair of clutch fourth-down stops to remain within striking distance.
The first came on a well-executed fake punt by the Longhorns. Dicker drew in the rushers before delivering a completion to Cade Brewer, but the Cyclones' special teamers swarmed Brewer to stop him short of the sticks.
Then Texas decided to go for it on 4th-and-2 from the Iowa State 13 while up by four midway through the final quarter. Ehlinger was stopped short.
After their own punt, the Cyclones forced a three-and-out on the Longhorns' next drive and responded with the game-winning 69-yard touchdown drive.
The defense also toughened up once Texas got across midfield on the final drive, which forced Dicker into a long field-goal attempt that missed wide left at the buzzer.
While Iowa State gave up 448 yards, a closer examination shows the unit held strong when the team needed it most until the offense could finally its groove in the second half.
Sam Ehlinger Shines in Final Home Game
Ehlinger would have loved to finish his home career with the Longhorns on a winning note, but he put together a strong performance despite the loss.
The 22-year-old Austin native accounted for 363 yards of offense and two total touchdowns. He averaged 10.3 yards per pass attempt and scored the team's only rushing TD. It would have been tough to ask more out of him, especially since Texas' only turnover came on a fumble after a completed pass.
He also made some nice throws on deep balls that should attract the attention of NFL scouts. He hasn't been viewed as a high-end prospect throughout his time in college, but he might have shown enough by now for a team to make him a middle-round developmental selection.
It helps that Ehlinger is finishing strong with six passing touchdowns and no interceptions over the past three games, including his strong showing in the upset of Oklahoma State last month.
A few more outings like that would be a welcome sight to finish his college career.
Iowa State finishes the regular season next Saturday, Dec. 5, when it hosts West Virginia at Jack Trice Stadium. The Cyclones' fate may be decided before that game depending on tomorrow's results.
Texas has a pair of road games in Kansas left on the schedule. The Longhorns face Kansas State on Dec. 5 and the Jayhawks on Dec. 12.