'This guy is going to be a problem': Inside the first QB duel between Jalen Hurts and Brock Purdy

ByTim McManus ESPN logo
Saturday, January 28, 2023

PHILADELPHIA -- Different teams. Different level. Different stakes.

But Sunday's NFC Championship Game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the San Francisco 49ers (3 p.m. ET, Fox) features a college rematch between quarterbacks Jalen Hurts and Brock Purdy.

Hurts' Oklahoma Sooners and Purdy's Iowa State Cyclones squared off under the lights in November 2019 in Norman, Oklahoma. It was a nail-biter in which the Sooners eked out a 42-41 victory.

Hurts threw three touchdowns and rushed for two more while Purdy tied a school record for touchdowns by a single player with six -- five through the air and one on the ground.

"Everyone was familiar with Jalen Hurts. Not that many people were familiar with Brock Purdy," said former Oklahoma assistant head coach Shane Beamer, now the head coach atSouth Carolina.

Iowa State trailed by 21 points at halftime, but Purdy caught fire in the second half, setting up a wild finish that some on the Cyclones coaching staff still contend should have gone differently.

"I have a lot of respect for him," Hurts said of Purdy. "He's always been a really good player, has a lot of moxie, he makes plays. He's been doing that since college, so it's no surprise, when he was given this opportunity, to see the success he's having now."

Added Purdy: "Different situation and scenario than what we're about to go through on Sunday, but it was a fun college game. It was a great experience to go against Jalen and they had a great team, and he was making plays and I feel like we had to do the same to keep up and stay alive in that game."

Oklahoma improved to 8-1 en route to a Big 12 title and an appearance in the College Football Playoff. Iowa State dropped to 5-4. Hurts went on to become a Heisman Trophy finalist and was selected in the second round of the NFL draft by the Eagles in 2020. Purdy was the final selection of the 2022 draft by the 49ers. While their paths have varied, the 2019 matchup was a glimpse of the qualities both quarterbacks possess that helped lead them to the brink of the Super Bowl LVII.

Here's how the then-coaches and former Oklahoma and Iowa State players remember the night:

Iowa State offensive coordinator Tom Manning:"At the beginning of the game, pregame, I just remember it being an electric atmosphere."

Iowa State receivers coach Nate Scheelhaase: "Oklahoma got off to a fast start, which they typically did with Coach [Lincoln] Riley and the offensive weapons they had. That was kind of always the deal with them. You felt like if you could withstand the early onslaught and make it a game in the fourth quarter, that was the way to beat them. That was like the old deal with fighting Mike Tyson: if you could make it out of the first couple rounds, you've got a shot. It felt the same way when you played them."

Cyclones defensive end Matt Leo: "Jalen was elusive, just as elusive as [Kyler Murray]. He's just a guy who, if there is any pressure in the pocket, he's just as much of an escape risk as Murray."

Oklahoma defensive line coach Calvin Thibodeaux: "He had it rolling. He was on target. Everything was clicking."

Skip Brabanec, assistant athletic director, Iowa State: "[Oklahoma receiver] CeeDee Lamb was probably the best receiver I had ever seen in my life that game."

Lamb had eight catches for 167 yards and two scores in the contest. His second TD of the game -- a 63-yarder from Hurts -- midway through the second quarter gave the Sooners a 28-7 lead.

Manning: "We were kind of playing catch-up from the very beginning. It kind of felt like every time we were getting close, the lead would get stretched out a little bit more."

Purdy: "It was almost like you had to score every single time you had the ball."

Oklahoma running back Trey Sermon: "I got hurt in the second quarter. It was a gap scheme play. I ended up just cutting it up and I kind of hyperextended and got hit at the same time. I tore my [lateral collateral ligament]."

Hurts: "I remember getting out early. Had like five touchdowns in the first half and then I think it was 35-14 at halftime or something like that."

Thibodeaux: "We were up by so much at the half but nobody was comfortable. We knew we weren't in control of the game. I don't know why but we felt that way. That night, there was just a weird vibe in the air."

Manning: "Obviously, no one was excited we were down. I don't think there was anybody freaking out in the locker room whatsoever. Came out, got [running back]Breece [Hall] going early in the third quarter and got some momentum back in our favor. Just had to keep chipping away. We were down going into the fourth quarter and Brock, that was one of things we always knew we were going to get with him. We were never going to be out of it as long as we had time on the clock. He led a furious comeback in the fourth quarter."

Thibodeaux: "There was just something to the guy. He was just annoying. You just knew that dude had a little something extra to him. ... This dude was just like a little thorn. You were like, 'This kid is better than you want him to be.'"

Scheelhaase: "I remember [Purdy] saying there in the fourth quarter and we're down a couple scores, and he was right: 'They won't be able to stop us this whole quarter.' He was kind of in that zone where he was making plays with his arm, he was using his feet when he needed to, we had the run game going. We were attacking them in a way where it put pressure on those guys."

Oklahoma tight end Grant Calcaterra: "The fans were going crazy. The thing about OU fans is they never expect it to go to the last minute, they expect a blowout. So they were pretty pissed that it went that far. But they were rocking."

Purdy: "In terms of the environment and everything, yeah, those kinds of games definitely helped, I feel like with just a lot being on the line, in the moment, focusing on what's in front of you, focusing on the defense rather than getting caught up in the crowd."

Manning: "Talking to him on the phone [from the coach's booth], he was always the same guy. Easy to communicate with, very coachable. Obviously, there were times where the adrenaline and the emotion of the game can get anybody fired up and he definitely had his moments where he was fired up and he wanted the ball, you just had to get in that mode with him and put the ball in his hands and let him try and take over the game."

Iowa State cut the lead to seven points on a 33-yard touchdown pass from Purdy toSean Shawwith 3:35 left. But it was the first play of the drive -- a 27-yard completion to Tarique Milton -- that still gets Cyclones coaches excited to this day.

Manning: "We had called a pocket movement concept and he had about two people right on his heels and he somehow threw the ball against the grain, used some incredible compensation and dropped the ball on a corner route to our slot receiver right over top of the safety's reach. It was one of the more incredible throws I ever saw him make."

Scheelhaase: "We didn't expect them to play man on the first play of that drive but they did and shoot, he made them pay for it."

Beamer: "It was just two good teams going at it, and Iowa State just would not go away. Give Brock Purdy credit for that. But Jalen Hurts is a guy, you want him on your team as Philadelphia is seeing. He is a winner, and you always had that confidence with Jalen on your side, you were going to be OK. "

Sermon: "I knew that we were going to win, especially with Jalen, how dynamic he was."

Thibodeaux: "[Hurts] never panicked. He just had this look like, 'OK, just give me the ball back.'"

Hurts made a rare miscue on 3rd-and-7 with less than three minutes left, firing a ball into traffic near the sideline as he was rolling right, which was intercepted by defensive back Lawrence Wright. Eight plays later, Purdy hit tight end Charlie Kolar for a 13-yard touchdown with 24 seconds remaining, cutting the deficit to 42-41. Knowing his quarterback was humming, Iowa State coach Matt Campbell opted for a 2-point attempt to try and win the game.

Beamer: "Because of the kind of teammate Jalen Hurts was and is, wanting him to have that success and wanting him to go to the College Football Playoff as our starting quarterback, I just remember ... wanting this 2-point play to not be successful so this storybook season with Jalen continues."

Hurts looked on from the sideline, arms folded, as Purdy dropped back. Pressured from a blitz up the middle, Purdy threw one off his back foot for La'Michael Pettway. Two defensive backs converged on the ball. There was a three-man collision, and with Pettway falling to the ground, Parnell Motley was able to wrestle the ball away for a game-sealing interception.

Scheelhaase: "It felt like there should have been a pass interference call on the last play. We had a frontside corner route with a whip route on the inside and Breece is releasing fast to the flat. We had three options right in front of Brock and he went with the first option which was this corner pylon route. Had an open guy. Our guy went up to go and make a play and you can probably look up still shots where the ball is not yet there and the DB is wrapping up the receiver."

Manning: "Yeah, there was a lot of contact back there in the corner if you're asking my opinion. [Purdy] had to make a quick decision, get the ball out of his hand, a little off balance, and probably wasn't able to get the timing and velocity he wanted to get on the throw. But we had a chance to make a play on it and you've got to give them credit -- contact, no contact, they made a play on the ball and there was no flag. Obviously, it was very unfortunate for our guys to get no flag and for the game to end that way after fighting back in the fourth quarter and getting it to that point. But it was a heck of a game."

Thibodeaux: "It was a relief. 'OK, sheesh, we got out of there with a win.' You left that field knowing, man, this guy [Purdy] is going to be a problem."

Hurts: "It was a good game. Glad we won."

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