Stadium: Jack Trice Stadium, Ames, IA
Game Time: 11:00 AM
Despite picking against the Cyclone last weekend I was not too surprised to see them come out of Fort Worth with a win. TCU's inexperience on defense, coupled with a weaker offensive line than normal, and topped off with Trevone Boykin's first career start on short notice made it very plausible to be this year's Paul Rhoads Special.
Which is why last week's win was satisfying immediately after (especially after watching it in person) but does not leave the lingering satisfaction that Nebraska, Texas, and Oklahoma State did each of the past three years.
That's why this weekend is so huge.
Once again Iowa State has a chance to show they are ready to take the "next step" by getting 5th ranked Kansas State in Ames for the first time since Gene Chizik and Ron Prince were coaching these two teams. Both teams are boasting improved defenses (30th in the nation in total defense for Iowa State, 46th for Kansas State) but they separate when it comes to offensive efficiency (40th in the nation in total offense for Kansas State, 92nd for Iowa State) and turnovers (Kansas State 3rd in turnover margin, Iowa State 81st).
With the weather likely playing a huge factor on Saturday this game is going to come down to who makes the fewest mistakes and we know anytime you play Bill Snyder that is going to be a tough battle to win.
When We Last Left Off...
Jared Barnett got the start, Lenzanity began, and David Irving showed us his potential in a 37-23 Iowa State victory over then 15th ranked TCU. This was the first win over TCU in Iowa State's history but everyone after the game acted like it was to be expected. That's a good thing.
Kansas shot out to a 14-7 lead after blowing their load with every offensive and special teams play imaginable, but it still wasn't enough to beat Kansas State, who ran away during a 28 point third quarter explosion to eventually win 56-16. Collin Klein only went 7 of 14 through the air for 129 yards and two touchdowns but added another 116 yards and two touchdowns on the ground in only 10 attempts. John Hubert rushed for 101 yards and four touchdowns.
Iowa State vs Kansas State: A History
As mentioned in prior previews for this game, Iowa State actually leads the all-time series 49-42-4, but they have not won since Gene Chizik somehow outworked Ron Prince in 2007 in Ames.
2010: Kansas State 27, Iowa State 20
2009: Kansas State 24, Iowa State 23
2008: Kansas State 38, Iowa State 30
2007: Iowa State 31, Kansas State 20
It was not until I lined these scores up that I realized the magic number of 24 during Rhoads' tenure really does apply in this case. Iowa State is averaging 22 points per game against Kansas State in Rhoads' tenure compared to 27 points per game for Kansas State. Possessions are vitally important in this game on Saturday.
A Look at Iowa State's Defense vs Kansas State
As if you need told this, but Collin Klein is a ridiculously patient runner. That alone makes him outstanding but when you factor in his size and understanding of the offense he becomes borderline unstoppable. However, there is always one key in any football game and its line play. Last week the Cyclones again rotated 12 men on the defensive line to great results. Jake McDonough had a pair of sacks, Willie Scott added another, and David Irving had one of the most athletic/luckiest TAINTs ever.
With Kansas State running more of a traditional huddle scheme it's not without reason to believe that the defensive line rotation could take effect after each play rather than series like has been the case most of the season. The only thing that will keep this week's rotation below 12 players will be how well the back up tackles play inside. McDonough and Laing have become commanding forces in the run game and it has allowed Jake Knott and A.J. Klein to roam free and tackle closer to the line of scrimmage than ever before. Last week the Cyclones had seven tackles behind the line of scrimmage and non-defensive line personnel accounted for three of those.
In a game where Klein and Hubert are going to command attention it's the interior that has to win their battles to slow down the Wildcats' offense. McDonough and Laing will be able to do this but the pressure will be on Henry Simon and Walter Woods III to match their production on the inside. If there is a point of concern other than that it will be how the defensive ends hold up to the rushing attack of the Wildcats. Scott, Roosevelt Maggitt, and Rony Nelson are all smaller defensive ends that will need to play assignment football to allow the interior to keep disrupting.
Not much has been said about how Iowa State's secondary will fare against Kansas State's receiver corps but I get a feeling they should be able to hold their own. Tremaine Thompson is solid and Tyler Lockett can break a game open whenever he touches the ball but neither has the size and speed to command so much attention that safeties can't focus on the Wildcats' rushing attack. I expect a lot of single man coverage in this game with little safety help over the top. If there is, it will be on Lockett. The main focus for this defense will be causing disruption on the line of scrimmage and forcing Kansas State into bad down and distance situations.
A Look at Iowa State's Offense vs Kansas State
Jared Barnett rode in on his horse last week to save the Iowa State season for the second year in a row and had an otherwise safe and unremarkable game. He may have completed two long strikes to Josh Lenz to get the Cyclones up early but otherwise he did what he needed to do in taking care of the ball and moving the chains when necessary. Some more creative play calling from Courtney Messingham surprised TCU in spots and showed that this offense will continue to be a work in progress and an evolving entity throughout 2012.
The question is: will it be enough? Now that teams know Barnett is our starter they will go to the TCU film and film from the end of 2011 to focus on his weaknesses. Can Barnett adapt and be a threat with his arm or will teams realize they can play contain, go man-to-man coverage, and have a lot of success just like last year. Saturday will certainly be a litmus test for this.
Kansas State's strength this season has been up front and stopping the run. They rank 23rd nationally in yards per carry at 3.20 and have made a living keeping teams in check on the ground. This is one of the single biggest factors as to why their team has success. Stop the run, get the ball back, and beat the other team on the ground. However, in the past three years the Cyclones have averaged 197.7 yards on the ground in this game, which includes out rushing the Wildcats in last year's game.
For a team that has yet to rush consistently this year this is going to be a stiff test. Iowa State ranks 69th nationally in rushing and has yet to set the field ablaze in Big XII play. Regardless of weather, establishing the run early is going to be key to sustaining drives and eventually winning this game. Despite Iowa State's success through the air last week I think Kansas State is going to take their chances manning up on Iowa State's receivers and stacking the box. Early runs to the outside and plays that pressure Kansas State's discipline are going to be key on Saturday.
A Look at Iowa State's Special Teams vs Kansas State
This is one area I do not want to preview. The punt units remain strong for the Cyclones but the kick off units are both struggling. So far the Cyclones have faced kickers with strong legs that have kept Jarvis West and DeVondrick Nealy bottled up and the lack of distance on Edwin Arceo's kicks this season have proven nearly deadly. With a dangerous returner in Lockett back deep this game could turn very quickly on one special teams play.
WRNL Lead Pipe Prediction (2-3): Collin Klein is intercepted twice. Iowa State has two or more interceptions in every game this season except against Western Illinois.
50/50 Prediction (1-3): Josh Lenz continues his climb up the receiving ladder with another touchdown grab.
Reason for Impromptu Dumpster Burning (3-2): Come on. #5 team in the nation in Ames on a day where our natural mascot could make an appearance? Doesn't take Stephen Hawking to figure out this prediction.
The three prior Farmageddon games with Rhoads and Snyder leading their teams may not have been instant classics but they have been entertaining games to watch. Rhoads has made a lot of progress in getting this program to have a lot of the same ideals and characteristics as Snyder's Wildcats do, but there is still a lot of work to be done. What better way to do that then to spring the first true major upset of the year in college football in a stadium ready to burst at the seams on Saturday?
Attendance is expected to be a record and the game could very well be played in some form of a monsoon/hurricane/tornado/flash flood. Weather not withstanding this game is going to be a slugfest. Weather probably favors the team that is not mistake prone, but anything can happen when the elements get in the way. No matter what, if it is raining and windy, both teams will suffer and it will come down to who lasts longest and has the most luck.
Aside from that though this game is about as even as it gets despite the rankings. Both teams run the ball, preach taking care of the ball, and refuse to budge on defense. This is the game that turns on a single play at some random point in the game. Rhoads has made his name knocking off the big boys and this is the most evenly matched big boy we've seen since #10 Nebraska came to Ames in 2010, but when we call a fake field goal in this one Sunshine Brett Bueker doesn't make us regret it.
Iowa State 22
Kansas State 21
PS - Go ahead, call me crazy.