The conference-leading Iowa state defense is poised for TCU’s powerful offense

Rob Gray Special for the Globe Gazette

AMES — Matt Campbell really wanted Max Duggan to be a cyclone.

When the veteran Iowa State head coach took over the program in 2016, he made recruiting star quarterback Lewis Central from Council Bluffs his priority.

Duggan didn’t bite but decided to delve deep into the heart of Texas to play for TCU – and now he and Campbell will meet as opponents for the fourth time as the Cyclones (4-7, 1-7 Big 12 ) will face off fourth-place Horned Frogs (11-0, 8-0) Saturday at 3 p.m. in Fort Worth.

“They have a lot of respect for this TCU team,” said Campbell, whose team has beaten Duggan and the Horned Frogs in each of the last three seasons. “Probably the opposite of us in many ways. They won the moments in some critical situations and were able to finish games.”

In the matchup on Saturday, two underdogs will go head-to-head.

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The snake-like Cyclones, who lost seven games averaging 5.4 points, and Duggan, who lost his starting job at preseason camp but regained it due to a twist of fate and put together a stellar senior season to become a Dark Horse candidate for the Heisman Trophy.

“He’s as tough as they come,” Campbell said. “I think that just says you have stamina, you have character, and when things got really difficult Max just kept playing.”

The Horned Frogs ended last season with a three-point tie in seventh place in the Big 12 standings. In 2022, Duggan led them to the mountaintop — an already secured regular-season conference title and a potential college football playoff berth.

“Everyone kind of expects us to fail,” said Joey Petersen, ISU’s second-year defense attorney. “Only when we have that small advantage and are the underdogs do we have nothing to lose. Just fight with everything we have.”

That is the nature of underdogs. What happened in the past is irrelevant. What’s coming up in 60 minutes (or more) of football is all.

The Cyclones have by far the best defense in the Big 12 in all major statistical categories. The Horned Frogs field the league’s best offense (39.5 points per game) and best offense (482.1 yards per game).

“We looked at their offense this week because we knew they were the best offense and they looked at us because they knew we were the best defense,” said Myles Purchase, ISU sophomore cornerback. “We’re prepared for them like they’re number one, so I’m up for the challenge. Just a fight of the best.”

On opposite sides of the ball. And on opposite sides of the Big 12 ranking.

The last-place Cyclones are two-point underdogs for the first time this season – and if the offense can bounce back in terms of scoring and not just moving football, there could be significant tension for TCU until the clock reached triple zeros.

Duggan is ready to counter and overcome this potential fear and is eager to finally beat ISU for the first time in his collegiate career.

“The key to it all is the quarterback,” Campbell said of the Horned Frogs’ offense. “I have the utmost respect that Max knows (him) from the recruitment process and his family. Max has always been a guy I had incredible respect for. And you’re kind of hooked on him because he’s a hard-working guy. He found that consistency for him. He’s playing at such an elite level right now. For me it’s the key that makes all these other things play at a really high speed.”

High enough to make the four-team playoffs? Time will tell – and the Cyclones will have something to say about it.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s about beating them on rank,” said Hunter Dekkers, ISU freshman quarterback. “I would just say win another football game. That’s the name of the game. College football is about winning games every week and that’s what we’re going to try to do.”