Can Eagles’ Jalen Hurts, 49ers’ Brock Purdy produce another 11-touchdown classic?
The San Francisco 49ers will play at the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday for the right to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. Much of the focus will be on the two young quarterbacks, Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts and San Francisco’s Brock Purdy, with everyone watching to see how they will handle the pressure of the moment.
Hurts and Purdy have been here before.
Not in the NFC championship game, but they have been in a college-football crucible, matching each other score for score on a big stage. The quarterbacks combined to throw and run for 11 touchdowns in 2019 when Hurts’ Oklahoma Sooners held off Purdy’s surging Iowa State Cyclones to secure a 42-41 victory. The game was decided when Purdy’s two-point conversion pass was intercepted with 24 seconds left.
For Purdy, the 49ers’ remarkable rookie, that loss at Oklahoma still stings. Yet it was one of many learning experiences he leans on as he prepares for the biggest game of his young career.
“In terms of the environment and everything, those kinds of games definitely helped,” he told reporters Wednesday. “Just a lot being on the line, focusing on the moment, focusing on what’s in front of you, focusing on the defense rather than getting caught up in the crowd and that kind of stuff. I played in a couple of those games in college, and it’s a great experience for me to go back to how I felt.”
That game still lives on YouTube, and the view counts have climbed steadily this week as football fans look to learn more about two of the NFL’s more intriguing newcomers.
Hurts, who played his first three seasons at Alabama before finishing his eligibility at Oklahoma, was a 2020 second-round pick of the Eagles and Wednesday was named one of five finalists for NFL most valuable player, joining Josh Allen, Joe Burrow, Justin Jefferson and Patrick Mahomes. The Eagles quarterback threw for 3,701 yards this season with 22 touchdowns and six interceptions in 15 games as the Eagles went 14-1.
“It’s been fun to finally see him with the opportunity to have some continuity on offense,” USC’s Lincoln Riley, the former coach at Oklahoma, said by phone this week. “He hasn’t had that since high school. That was always kind of an exciting thing when you looked at his potential of what he could be when he finally got in a situation where there was some continuity from a coaching staff and a scheme point of view.”
Hurts offered a succinct summation of that 2019 game when asked Wednesday about it: “It was a good day. Glad we won.”
It was a big relief for the Sooners at the time, because they were coming off a loss at Kansas State and had not had back-to-back regular-season defeats since 1999.
“You have games like this,” Riley said at the time. “You don’t want them, especially when you have a chance to separate like we did. But if they happen, you’ve got to find a way to man up and find a way to win in the end.”
Hurts would enter the NFL draft the following spring and was the fifth quarterback off the board. Purdy had a longer wait. He was the ninth quarterback taken last spring and the final player drafted, earning the traditional moniker, “Mr. Irrelevant.”
Purdy made San Francisco’s roster as the third-string quarterback behind Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo, just as he was the third-stringer at Iowa State in 2018 before being promoted because of an injury and shaky play above him on the depth chart.
“I got to see him Week 1 when we played the Niners,” said former Iowa State tight end Chase Allen, now on the Chicago Bears’ practice squad. “He was just wearing sweats on the sideline, and that was a rainy, weird game. I got to talk to him in the middle of the field after the game. I was just asking him how things were and congratulating him on making the roster.
“He’s like, ‘Yeah, man, if I get my shot, I’ll be ready.’ And sure enough, that time came.”
After injuries sidelined Lance and Garoppolo, Purdy was promoted to the starting lineup and Niners Nation held its collective breath. The team has not lost with him at quarterback, closing the regular season with five victories and winning two playoff games. In all, the 49ers have won 12 in a row, their longest winning streak since 1984.
Purdy’s college teammates process that head-spinning information with a shrug.
“He’s an absolute warrior and a fighter to the very end,” said Charlie Kolar, a former Iowa State tight end who plays for the Baltimore Ravens. “If I can look at Brock now and compare it to what he was like in college, I’ve seen all the crazy scrambles and quick reads, the good throws and good runs. You know what I’m most jealous of?” — with a laugh — “Now he throws the ball away. I never saw that in college.”
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