Time: 11:00 AM CDT
Location: Jack Trice Stadium, Ames, IA
Line: OSU -12.5
Radio: Cyclone Radio Network - Affiliate information here
Oklahoma State SBN Blog: Cowboys Ride For Free
Last week I wrote about how big of a difference four years makes when comparing Baylor and Iowa State. The story is the same as Oklahoma State visits Ames for the first time since the Cyclones sounded a death knell to the BCS with a 37-31 double overtime victory in 2011. Oklahoma State by and large is the same program they were two years ago. Ranked, in the mix for the conference title, and with boat loads of talent on both sides of the ball. The only thing separating them from the 2011 team is consistent quarterback and offensive line play.
Iowa State on the other hand looks nothing like the team that won on that cold November night two years ago. Gone are ass kicking linemen Kelechi Osemele and Hayworth Hicks, gone are Ter'ran Benton and Leonard Johnson, both of whom quite possibly played their best games as Cyclones that night, and gone are just about everyone in the front seven.
Those losses should illustrate how much the team has changed and how young they are in 2013 but it doesn't stop there. Key contributors Jeff Woody, Albert Gary, and Jarvis West are still on the team but look nearly the same as they did in 2011. Woody's ceiling was obvious from the get go but the fact neither Gary or West have become features in this offense is not only concerning, but downright confusing. In a year where experience is at a premium it's necessary for guys like those three to raise their game to another level. West is the only one who has come close to this but all of his contributions have been in the return game.
When We Last Left Off...
Oklahoma State did not look impressive offensively but the defense kept TCU wrapped up for the entire game en route to a comfortable 24-10 win in Stillwater. Mike Gundy decided to go halfsies with Paul Rhoads on the Quarterback Controversy Train and played both J.W. Walsh and Clint Chelf. Walsh's stat line: 9/18, 115 yards, two interceptions. Chelf's: 10/25, 178 yards, one interception. Had it not been for Josh Stewart's herculean day (10 receptions, 141 yards, 95-yard punt return TD) this game may have turned out differently.
Believe it or not Oklahoma State is only 2-5-1 in their last eight trips to Ames. One win came in 2009 with the other win coming in 1997 via a 21-14 final. Mike Gundy is 1-2 as head coach in Ames and 3-2 all-time against Iowa State.
Last Five Games
2012: Oklahoma State 31, Iowa State 10
2011: Iowa State 37, Oklahoma State 31 (2 OT)
2009: Oklahoma State 34, Iowa State 8
2008: Oklahoma State 59, Iowa State 17
2005: Iowa State 37, Oklahoma State 10
Iowa State Offense Courtney Messingham Pants Shitting Extravaganza
That's right everybody, the Pants Shitting Extravaganza is back and it's never looked better. Iowa State has gained 485 yards in their last two games combined. For comparison's sake Texas Tech hit that number 20 seconds into the fourth quarter and Baylor beat it three minutes into the third quarter. Aside from being run by disciples of Mike Leach these two offensive systems have one thing in common: big, heavy linemen.
Average height and weight of Tech starting offensive line: 6'4", 297 pounds
Average height and weight of Baylor starting offensive line: 6'4", 314 pounds
Average height and weight of Iowa State starting offensive line: 6'5", 290 pounds
Throughout his tenure Rhoads has argued that there is a need for quicker, leaner linemen to work well in space and hold up to the rigors of an up tempo offense. So you'd think with the hog mollies that Tech and Baylor are rolling out there (Baylor LG, and future NFL first rounder, Cyril Richardson is 6'5", 340 pounds) that their time of possession would reflect a pace more in tune with their linemen. Not so fast my friend.
Tech national time of possession ranking: 102nd, 27:54 per game
Baylor national time of possession ranking: 116th, 26:43 per game
Iowa State national time of possession ranking: 49th, 30:30 per game
National points per game rankings: 1st (Baylor), 14th (Tech), 85th (Iowa State)
Now factor in the youth on the line, the seventh starting line up in seven games, and the injury factor and you have a recipe for disaster when it comes to maintaining a consistent offense. But with regards to to the notion that leaner linemen will allow for a quicker offense more equipped to move up field? Bullshit Rhoads. Bullshit.
Oklahoma State Defense
Solid is the best way to describe this group. Mike Gundy has quietly built an athletic and aggressive defense that with the promotion of Glenn Spencer has only become more disciplined in their schemes.
When Iowa State won in Ames in 2011 the Oklahoma State defense wasn't expected to be world beaters and it finally cost them late in the game. Despite leading the nation with over three takeaways per game in 2011 the defense finished 107th in total defense.
Fast forward to today and the defense ranks 28th in total defense and has 16 takeaways on the season (2.7/game). Yet they're sound in their schemes and have a salty run defense (20th). After dismantling TCU last week (whose ills are eerily similar to Iowa State's) the OSU defense has asserted itself as a virtual force to be reckoned with. With seven senior starters, including four in the back end, this defense is not going to give you many easy yards and force you to move the ball down the field methodically.
Special thanks to Kirk Haaland over at Encyclonepedia for these charts. If they look familiar it's because Kirk used to use them in his old previews and now they will reside here in this column weekly.
As you can see this Oklahoma State defense is stout from top to bottom. 9th in the country in yards per point, which is a good measure for how explosive teams are against the defense. Generating turnovers on almost 19% of their defensive possessions, so one every five possessions. Allowing only 1.28 points per possession, which means Messingham will shit down his pants on at least two drives before Rhoads calls for a 52-yard field goal.
The Match Up
Long story short: Iowa State is fucked in this game. Oklahoma State doesn't need to bring the blitz with the pressure they can generate from the front four and the experience they have in coverage in the back end. Teams have been able to counter it by going with max protect schemes like West Virginia did here:
You see after the play fake the running back stays in to block, which isn't uncommon in Iowa State's scheme, but additionally the tight end stays in to help the tackle on the outside. Oklahoma State only rushes four, doesn't even get close to Clint Trickett, and he finds the open man who split the holes in the coverage.
As I mentioned in my Baylor postmortem, this offense could stand to benefit from some scheme changes to get the ball out quicker or buy more time for Richardson to go through his reads. A few plays with a max protect scheme that gain yards will force Oklahoma State to adjust and will eventually open up the plays that Iowa State should be running.
If the Cyclones are to have success in this game they need to be running a few draws to take advantage of a defense that will not be respecting the run, and then set up some protection schemes to buy Richardson time. These don't have to be all downfield throws either. A few plays where the coverage is ran off and someone like Tad Ecby is hit underneath for 8 or 10 yards will do enough to stem the pass rush and pull guys off the line of scrimmage. Once that happens the run game opens up, so does the screen game, and suddenly a young offensive line and quarterback get the opportunity to breathe.
Iowa State Defense
You don't surrender 71 points to a team and think that there isn't room to improve. This defense got worked in every aspect of the game last week and it's impossible to pick out one unit that did worse than the other. The defensive line started well early, but could never must a pass rush to keep Bryce Petty on his toes. The linebackers were outmatched by a much quicker Baylor offense, and the secondary suffered the same fate.
Jeremiah George is a headcase and will continue to hurt this defense with his play if he cannot find a way to settle into his role. Jared Brackens and Luke Knott are growing into theirs and the more George tries to cover up the less effective he will be. Nigel Tribune may have been worked over badly last week but he seems to have improved each week since the Texas game and I think this kid could be in the Leonard Johnson territory by his junior year.
Oklahoma State Offense
What the hell happened here? After eviscerating Mississippi State on the ground to open the season, and continuing that trend through the non-conference slate, Oklahoma State has looked utterly pedestrian against Big XII competition.
The line is failing to block well despite their relative experience (all five starters are juniors or older). Jeremy Smith is a capable running back but will not be confused with Joseph Randle, and the receivers are really only scary if they're named Josh Steward and Tracy Moore.
In reality though the problem rests almost solely on the play of the quarterbacks. Walsh is well above average when it comes to his legs but has fundamental issues with how he throws the ball. Too many times this season he has thrown picks because he's thrown off his back foot, or across his body, or tried to get cute on a scramble. Chelf is built more like Brandon Weeden, but without the pinpoint accuracy that the latter displayed in his record setting run a few years back.
Although offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich rolled out a triple option look against Mississippi State the core concept of the system is still the Air Raid, and the heavy use of the stick-draw concept. The concept is great when you have future NFLers like Weeden, Randle, and Justin Blackmon running it, but suffers greatly when the quarterbacks struggle to make the read and/or execute the throw.
Iowa State's ranks are terrible, but that's to be expected after surrendering 113 points and 1,380 yards over two games. What should jump off the page is how pedestrian Oklahoma State's offense has been. They have benefited from the sixth best average starting field position in the nation (their own 35 yard line), but they're just about average when it comes to everything else. While Iowa State does not have a single edge statistically against this offense it's not crazy to believe they can do enough to keep this a game for all four quarters.
The Match Up
It always starts with stopping the run for Wally Burnham's defense and this week is no different. My money is on Chelf starting the game due to Walsh's relative ineffectiveness against Big XII competition but I would not be surprised to see Walsh in for a few drives running that triple option that teams struggled with earlier this year.
With Chelf's statuesque presence behind center I expect to see a similar gameplan to what Burnham rolled out in 2011 and that's to force the hand off on the stick-draw read by having his linebackers commit to the pass, and using his defensive line to pinch and cut off Smith in the backfield. This puts a lot of stress on the secondary in situations where Chelf doesn't hand off and has time to get rid of the ball, but Josh Stewart is the only receiver that really commands attention from more than one defender every play.
If this defense can keep big chunks of yards from piling up due to the ground game then this game is going to be a dogfight until the end. If they can't, then expect a well controlled victory for Oklahoma State that's akin to how they won in Ames in 2009.
The brilliant thing about F/+ ratings are that they remove garbage time possessions and thus the kick return touchdown Iowa State allowed last week is not reflected in their 8th in the nation ranking. The return game continues to excel when given the opportunity but Baylor was content last week pooching kicks to both West and Gary and pinning them as close to the 20 as possible. Oklahoma State has only five touchbacks on the year and averages putting each kickoff on the goal line, so starting field position on kickoffs should play in Iowa State's favor.
Kirby Van Der Kamp is as Kirby Van Der Kamp does. With Stewart returning a punt 95 yards for a touchdown against TCU last week it's to be expected that KVDK will directional punt a lot on Saturday. He has struggled this year with this facet of his game, but has had a lot of opportunity these last two weeks to get his stride back. As long as his coverage team holds, then the punting game should be as good as always.
Solid, but Not Quite a Lock Prediction: The defense forces at least two turnovers.
Would Love to See, and Might: Quenton Bundrage finally reemerges and has his first touchdown catch since the Texas game.
Would Love to See, but Won't: Quick hitters in the pass game to give the offense a fast start. Oklahoma State is going to be content to rush four to start and man up on receivers, which will leave quick dump offs to the tight end open. Great way to set up Richardson and the offense with some early confidence.
WRNL Beer Pick of the Week
A Big Ten kickoff time means tailgating before the sun comes up and the need for something heavy to get the day going. Look no further than Great River Brewery's Redband Stout. Located in the Quad Cities and the heart of Big Ten Country this milk stout is infused with espresso beans for that extra kick in the morning.
Of course if you don't want beer before the sun comes up there's always whiskey. Or screwdrivers. Or bloody mary's.
Offensive play calling is a lot like a boxing match. Always setting up for the big hitter with jabs and body blows. Great offensive play callers know that they have to open up something in the defense to accomplish their goal of scoring points, and they call plays and use concepts to do just that.
Unfortunately Courtney Messingham is the equivalent of the drunk guy outside the bar going on and on about his amateur record before getting knocked out by a guy half his size. Then when he comes to he blames his
quarterback friends for not doing enough to help him out.
The breakdown of this one is going to be simple. Defense does enough to keep Iowa State in the game and may even generate enough turnovers to win, but with an inexperienced line and a play caller too inept to build confidence for his offense early there will never be a serious threat to win.
Oklahoma State 27
Iowa State 13
PS - As always leave your predictions below and join us in G7 on Saturday for some early morning (and cold) tailgating!