On paper Iowa State and Kansas are headed in opposite directions, but the scoreboard doesn't lie. Kansas still has yet to win a conference game and the Cyclone defense is still holding offenses below their scoring average.
Stadium: Memorial Stadium, Lawrence, KS
Time: 6:00 PM
Iowa State is in sorry shape right now. The offense's lack of leadership, identity, and accountability is getting worse as the 7 points the Cyclones put up last week has now moved them firmly into last in the Big XII in total offense. The defensive depth is being tested and the removal of Jake Knott from the lineup has completely changed how teams attack the defensive line in the run game, and puts even more pressure on the linebackers than there was before.
It's easy to see how this weekend's trip to Lawrence is not only a key to the Cyclones' season, but scary as hell. Kansas has played well at home against TCU, Oklahoma State, and Texas, and took Texas Tech to double overtime last weekend in Lubbock. Charlie Weis finally figured to ride James Sims to success and Dave Campo's defense, while still statistically terrible, has become more physical at the point of attack. All of this is a recipe for disaster.
If your coach is Dan McCarney.
When We Last Left Off...
Iowa State again gains less than 300 yards on offense, and Texas looked like a buzzsaw, in a 33-7 loss in Austin. The Cyclones have now been outscored 68-27 the last two weeks and have converted 8 of 26 third down opportunities (30.8%) while allowing conversions 17 times in 28 attempts (60.7%).
Kansas took a reeling Texas Tech team to double overtime but failed to convert on their last opportunity, and dropped their 19th straight Big XII game 41-34. James Sims went over 100 yards rushing for the sixth straight game and set a Kansas school record in the process. Freshman quaterback Michael Cummings only threw the ball 15 times but two of those went for touchdowns and he added 41 yards on the ground as well. Jared Barnett he is not, but Dayne Crist he is not either.
Iowa State vs Kansas: A History
It still amazes me that Kansas leads the all-time series 48-36-6. To add insult to injury, the Cyclones have not won in Lawrence since a 49-7 victory in 2001.
2011: Iowa State 13, Kansas 10
2010: Iowa State 28, Kansas 16
2009: Kansas 41, Iowa State 36
2008: Kansas 35, Iowa State 33
2007: Kansas 45, Iowa State 7
Aside from that Orange Bowl winning Kansas team in 2007, this series has been close the last five years despite head coaching changes at both schools and complete rebuilding of both rosters.
A Look at Iowa State's Offense vs Kansas
Iowa State's offense showed flashes of brilliance last week on the ground and did so when true guard Bob Graham got in the game to sub for either Jacob Gannon or Kyle Lichtenberg. Having two 300 pound plus guards in the game with Graham and Ethan Tuftee started creating creases in the middle of Texas' defense and allowed both Shontrelle Johnson and James White to run strong in the 2nd and early 3rd quarters.
However, that was about it for the offense. Steele Jantz looked rushed even when he had time and the receivers were manhandled by the bigger and more physical Texas secondary. This offense still lacks an identity and consistency in both play calling and execution that allows them to hang on early, but eventually fold when the opposing defense finally adjusts.
This is going to be an issue in Lawrence. For whatever reason the Jayhawk defense is playing rock solid at home and defensive coordinator, and former NFL head coach, Dave Campo squeezes more out of this defense than he reasonably should (think Wally Burnham's 2009 Cyclone defense).
In their conference games at home the Jayhawks are only allowing an average of 20 points per game and 400 yards of offense. That 400 yard average is skewed as TCU put up 487 yards while Casey Pachall was still sober, and Oklahoma State (371) and Texas (342) each gained less. All of this is happening while Kansas is generating two turnovers/game at home, but again the stat is skewed since over half the turnovers generated came against TCU(4). In both the Oklahoma State and Texas games Kansas won the time of possession battle by over five minutes.
How do the Cyclones move the ball on Saturday? First they need to hope Courtney Messingham becomes Chip Kelly overnight, and second they need to be more methodical and consistent on the ground. Get the big earth movers like Graham in at guard and let Johnson, White, and Jeff Woody run until Kansas' legs bleed. And when they're bleeding, run it some more. Kansas ranks 92nd in rush defense and 107th in pass defense. The opportunities are going to be there. What's going to be the difference is if the plays are called consistently enough to get the offense in rhythm. If they are, this offense looks like the offense did against Baylor all over again.
In theory this is quite simple: don't over complicate the offensive game plan, dominate Kansas at the point of attack, and do not turn the ball over under any circumstances.
A Look at Iowa State's Defense vs Kansas
The single biggest impact the loss of Jake Knott has had is how teams block the defensive line. Teams have taken to cutting Jake McDonough on run plays and not even trying to block/get to the second level. Why? Because A.J. Klein is out of position and Jake Knott has a sling on his shoulder. The best linebacking duo in the conference is in tatters and Oklahoma and Texas have taken advantage of it by daring Jeremiah George, Deon Broomfield, and C.J. Morgan to make the same plays in space that Klein and Knott are capable of.
On the surface this should matter a lot this weekend, and no doubt it will in spots, but Kansas struggles to pass the ball with Cummings and Wally Burnham is going to load the box to dare Kansas to pass. I have no doubt the Iowa State secondary will bounce back this weekend and allow the defense to focus on stopping the run. Especially if Jansen Watson is cleared to play.
We all know what is coming on Saturday: a healthy does of James Sims. Iowa State has only allowed a 100 yard rusher against the better teams in the conference (Kansas State, Oklahoma State, and Oklahoma) and Kansas' attack is hardly balanced with Sims usually going 2:1 in his carries compared to backups Tony Pierson and Taylor Cox.
If there was ever a time for this defense to show it can play without Jake Knott this is it. Iowa State will go big on Saturday and hopefully A.J. Klein will slide back to his strong side position with George in the middle and either Morgan, Broomfield, or Jevohn Miller holding down the weak side.
This defense is battered and has played its 11th equivalent game already this season but Kansas' pace should allow for liberal substitutions on the defensive line to get a big gap filler like Henry Simon lots of snaps on Saturday.
A Look at Iowa State's Special Teams vs Kansas
Despite Edwin Arceo's comically bad 53-yard attempt last week I have nothing but kind words for the man. His offense did nothing to set him up and consistently stalled inside of the Texas 40. If there is one thing I really, really don't like about Paul Rhoads it's the constant pressure he puts on his kickers to make 50 yard kicks or longer.
Kansas is punting one fewer time on average per game than Iowa State (5.2 vs 6.2) but is only forcing 4.1 punts per game vs Iowa State's 5.5. This could be ugly. Big 10 ugly.
WRNL Lead Pipe Prediction (2-8): James Sims fails to rush for 100 yards due in large part to an aggressive and hungry Iowa State defense.
50/50 Prediction (3-6): Quenton Bundrage continues to rise up the ranks of the next "Cyclone receiver who shows promise his freshman year but eventually turns into Darius Darks" list by scoring a touchdown for the second straight week.
Reason for Impromptu Dumpster Burning (5-5): If we lose... I'll just stop there.
What We Are Drinking When We Aren't Drinking Natty (AKA Cyclone
Jukebox Beer Pick of the Week)
If you're traveling to Lawrence, or even staying in Iowa, check out Tallgrass IPA from Tallgrass Brewing Company in Manhattan, Kansas. Beer Advocate rates this beer an 82 but the community gives it a very strong 92 overall rating.
There is nothing I need to say here that hasn't already been said or assumed by the Cyclone fan base. Paul Rhoads refuses to call this a must win publicly, but as we saw for the Baylor game the gambler that is Rhoads is going to treat this as a game that should be won from the get go.
Dan McCarney was notorious for letting seasons slip from his grasp and a game like this in Lawrence is a classic example of the wheels completely falling off. Despite the performance of the team at the end of 2010 Rhoads has yet to let the wheels fall off on his program in a season. There have been clunkers, but there have always been rallies to follow. Even in 2010 an outgunned Iowa State team took Missouri to the wire and lost 14-0 in a game that was in doubt until the final minutes.
Point is Rhoads can rally his team. We have seen these type of woeful offensive performances before and for the first time since he took over it appears the Big XII is just as deep defensively as it is offensively at the top of the conference. Fortunately those teams are in the past and now two teams that rank in the bottom 20 of total defense remain.
There is no denying this offense lacks leadership and identity, and the defense is hanging by a thread, but Rhoads has made a point of getting the job done when he needs to and this weekend will be no different.
In 2009 the Cyclones beat Colorado 17-10 on November 14th to clinch their sixth win and in 2011 the Cyclones beat Oklahoma State 37-31 on November 18th to clinch their sixth win. I've seen teams led by Rhoads clinch bowl berths on this very weekend two times in the last three years and I'm not driving to Lawrence to see anything different this weekend.
Iowa State 17
PS - Predictions as always folks!
PPS - NormanUnderwood and I will be down in Lawrence this weekend so if you happen to see two degenerates defiling Jayhawk fans and mascots alike that will probably be us.