Brock Purdy vs. Jalen Hurts: First meeting in college was memorable
Brock Purdy wasn’t yet Mr. Irrelevant and Jalen Hurts wasn’t yet an MVP finalist when they first met on a field in Norman, Oklahoma, on Nov. 9, 2019, but the result was an epic display of offensive football . . . even by the pinball machine standards of the Big 12 in those days.
“Yeah, it was a game,” Purdy said, recalling the 42-41 contest in which his Iowa State team came up one point shy of an upset win over No. 9 Oklahoma. “It was almost like you had to score every single time you had the ball.”
The quarterbacks will face off for a second time in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday in Philadelphia, two somewhat unlikely leaders of the top two teams in the conference.
Purdy, a rookie, was thrust into this position after being the last player selected in the draft, yet allowed the 49ers to keep riding a winning streak that stands at 12 straight.
Hurts, the one question mark on an otherwise dominant Eagles roster coming into this season, took a huge stride in his development and validated the team’s belief in him.
One of them will be heading to the Super Bowl.
The memories of that collegiate clash, though, were ripe for both players this week.
To reset the stage:
Hurts, a senior, was in his first season at Oklahoma after starting his career at Alabama and losing his starting job to Tua Tagovailoa. Purdy, a sophomore at Iowa State, was in the middle of his first season as the full-time starter.
Oklahoma zipped ahead and led 35-14 at halftime, but Purdy led the comeback charge. It was 42-35 when Hurts blinked and threw an interception with a little less than three minutes remaining. That gave Purdy time to drive the Cyclones down the field and hit tight end Charlie Kolar for a 13-yard touchdown with 24 seconds left. Purdy’s fifth touchdown pass of the game and third in the frenzied fourth quarter brought Iowa State within a point.
A decision had to be made.
Kick the extra point and go to overtime? Or let Purdy try to win the game?
They opted for the latter. Purdy threw an interception.
“I thought it was a completion,” he said. “Obviously, it [stunk] not getting the completion and the game being over, but yeah, that was that.”
After the game, Iowa State coach Matt Campbell was asked about his decision to go for the win.
“When I see Brock Purdy making unbelievable play after unbelievable play, I’d rather put the game in his hands because I trust him,” Campbell said. “Yeah, the question if I would do it over again? Yes, in a heartbeat.”
The quarterbacks each showed flashes of the skills that would allow them to succeed in the NFL. Hurts was able to pick up yards on designed runs and with quick decision-making as a passer. Purdy demonstrated his grit and ability to thrive in big settings.
Purdy completed 19 of 30 passes for 282 yards and the five touchdowns and also ran for 55 yards and another touchdown in the game. Hurts completed 18 of 26 passes for 273 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 68 yards with another two scores.
“It was a good game. I’m glad we won,” Hurts said this week. “I have a lot of respect for [Purdy]. He’s always been a really good player. He has a lot of moxie, he makes plays and he’s been doing that since college. So there’s no surprise, when he was given this opportunity, to see the success he’s having now.”
“It was a fun college game,” Purdy said. “It was a great experience to go against Jalen. 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 as well.”
While the memories were flowing because of this pending meeting, both quarterbacks went out of their way to note the biggest change between then and now, and it had nothing to do with them. Unlike those porous college teams, the 49ers and the Eagles ranked first and second, respectively, in yards allowed in the NFL this season. San Francisco also led the league with the fewest points allowed.
“This is a different situation, different scenario, going into Sunday,” Purdy said.
Added Hurts: “Obviously two different teams, two different times.”
Throw in the stakes of a trip to the Super Bowl and it’s hard to draw many parallels between the two games.
The quarterbacks, though? They’re the same people, the same competitors, the same athletes.
If that produces the same excitement and drama as it did the first time, Sunday’s game may become just as memorable as their first meeting.