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Defensive Player to Watch: Zach Petersen

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We need the sophomore to play out of his mind.

NCAA Football: Iowa State at West Virginia Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

This Saturday, Iowa State travels to Norman to take on one of the best and most elusive quarterbacks in the country.

Jalen Hurts, the former Alabama quarterback has been one of the best quarterbacks in the country this season, throwing for 2,469 yards this season at a clip of 73.9% with 21 touchdowns to just three interceptions.

Over the air, Hurts has been terrific. The bad part is that he’s been even better with his legs. He’s run for 801 yards while averaging 7.8 yards per carry, and added 13 touchdowns on the ground to his total.

His stats, on top of a 7-1 record is why Hurts is on most Heisman watchlists. He’s been great and Iowa State will need to slow him down if they want to win on Saturday.

Slowing him down in the air is something that I’m not very concerned about. Hurts will get his piece in the air and probably play very well, but I don’t think that’s where the game will be won. The game will be won (or lost) with keeping Hurts in the pocket.

The Iowa State defense has been terrible at containing quarterbacks this season. There have been far too many times this year when the defense forced a 3rd and long, but allowed a quarterback to scramble for a first down on a broken play.

You all know this, so I’m not going to dig much deeper into what Iowa State has done to let this continue to let this happen, because it’s not really anything other than discipline.

One of the players that NEEDS to be disciplined is Zach Petersen. I chose Petersen to highlight over Enyi Uwazurike because I trust Uwazurike a little more at this point and time. That’s not to say that Petersen hasn’t earned trust while stepping in for Jaquan Bailey, because he certainly has.

On the season, Peterson has recorded 30 tackles, four TFL, and one sack while hurrying the quarterback twice. He’s been very good and there hasn’t been a noticeable drop off from Bailey to him.

However, Petersen is just a sophomore and will be making just his sixth career start against one of the best offenses in the country. The cards will be stacked against him to have a really good day, but he will need to if Iowa State wants a realistic chance to pull off the upset.

Looking back to Iowa State’s win over Oklahoma in 2017, it was the defensive front getting pressure on Baker Mayfield in the second half that led to a Cyclones win.

Petersen will need to get in the backfield while also maintaining the outside contain, which is something that he is more than capable of doing. After all, Petersen has been one of the best players on the Iowa State defense this season, and he should be able to make enough an impact on Saturday to alter Hurts’ game.