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Lincoln Riley recognizes challenge of Brock Purdy, Breece Hall and 'a really strong team'

The Cyclones won the regular season and dominated this year's All-Big 12 teams

Big 12 Conference coaches’ opinions on Iowa State — evident in the All-Big 12 teams announced Thursday — underscore the challenge Oklahoma faces on Saturday in the league's annual championship game.

The No. 6-ranked Cyclones were regular-season champs of the league, and beat the second-place Sooners 37-30 in Ames. Contributing to that was a sweep of the league’s player of the year awards (running back Breece Hall, linebacker Mike Rose) and coach of the year award (Matt Campbell), as well as offensive newcomer of the year (wideout Xavier Hutchinson) and defensive freshman of the year (safety Isheem Young).

Brock Purdy and Breece Hall

Brock Purdy and Breece Hall

“We know the challenge in front of us,” OU’s Lincoln Riley said at his weekly press conference on Tuesday. “An Iowa State team that has played well all season. They’re playing very well as of late. We’ve talked at length about our respect level for them, their coaching staff.”

There are nine Iowa State players on this year’s All-Big 12 first team — five on offense, four on defense — in Hall, Hutchinson, quarterback Brock Purdy, tight end Charlie Kolar, offensive lineman Colin Newell, Rose, defensive end JaQuan Bailey, defensive end Will McDonald and safety Greg Eisworth.

No. 10-ranked Oklahoma had three on the first team — two on offense and one on special teams — in fullback Jeremiah Hall, center Creed Humphrey and kicker Gabe Brkic.

Two Cyclones (tight end Chase Allen and offensive lineman Derek Schweiger) also made second-team All Big 12.

“A really strong football team on all three sides of the ball,” Riley said. “A lot of tremendous players, a lot of future NFL players on this roster right now that have played at a high level the majority of the year.”

That Purdy made the first team rather than OU’s Spencer Rattler — who has superior numbers over the course of the season — is a testament not only to Purdy's head-to-head win back on Oct. 3, but also to Purdy’s consistency. 

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Rattler played very much like a redshirt freshman in the Sooners’ first three conference games with five interceptions and five fumbles, but has settled in nicely since then. Purdy, a junior, has been especially hot lately. After throwing three interceptions against Baylor, he hasn’t been picked off in the Cyclones’ last three games. That includes a 20-of-23 performance (247 yards, three TDs, plus a rushing TD) against the league’s top defense, West Virginia.

“He’s a really good player,” Riley said. “He’s had a lot of really, really great experience. He’s obviously played in a lot of games and you’ve seen him grow through the years.

“ … You see a guy early on in his career and you see talent and then you see it start to come together more and more as he goes through. And then I think he’s really benefitted from – he’s obviously got a good supporting cast around him and it’s been really consistent throughout the years as well. Outstanding player and I’ve got a lot of respect for the way he plays the position.”

As good as Iowa State is when Purdy throws the football, the Cyclones are actually better when he doesn’t. That’s because Hall leads the nation in rushing yards this season (1,357) and is 100-yard games (eight), and ranks second in 50-yard runs (four). He’s run for a touchdown in 10 consecutive games (that leads the nation), and he’s third nationally with 19 total touchdowns.

That Baylor game in which Purdy threw three picks? Hall carried 31 times for 133 yards and two touchdowns and also caught a touchdown pass.

“He’s a tremendous player,” Riley said. “Really, really good running back. He’s very consistent, you can tell he understands the schemes inside and out. He’s got a very good offensive line, tight end, all those guys blocking for him up front. They do a great job schematically.“

While Hall has 2,566 yards from scrimmage and 29 total TDs in his last 18 games since taking over the starting job, his excellence goes beyond just rushing statistics. In his 449 career touches, he’s fumbled the football just once.

“He’s tough,” Riley said. “He is. He’s a real weapon. He’s a very consistent player. He’s been able to stay on the field, stay healthy, continue to get better. Without a doubt, one of the top backs in the country.”

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