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Time: 12:30 PM CST/11:30 AM MST
Location: Folsom Field, Boulder, CO
As I sit here in my hotel in Denver only one thing comes to mind about this game:
I do not like it.
On paper the Cyclones should come in to Boulder and blow the doors off Folsom Field and run the Buffaloes out of their own stadium. However, as we have seen throughout this season the Cyclones are not a team that wins or loses games on paper. Unexpected thrashings by Utah and Oklahoma, followed by a win at Texas, have shown us that Iowa State can be a Jekyll and Hyde team from week to week.
With Colorado replacing Dan Hawkins this week and elevating linebackers coach Brian Cabral to interim head coach. Cabral has served in the capacity once before but admitted this week that his familiarity with the offense is lacking. What Colorado team comes out on Saturday will likely determine how close this game may or may not be. Do they rally around each other due to their new lease on the season or do they pack it in and show the consequences of firing a coach midseason?
A History: Iowa State vs Colorado
Iowa State is 15-48-1 all time against Colorado. Between 1983 and 2000 the Cyclones did not win a single game against the Buffaloes. Fortunately , things have changed for the better with Iowa State winning four games this decade (2000, 2005, 2007, 2009).
Last 5 Games
2009: Iowa State 17, Colorado 10
2008: Colorado 28, Iowa State 24
2007: Iowa State 31, Colorado 28
2006: Colorado 33, Iowa State 16
2005: Iowa State 30, Colorado 16
The series has been close lately and the talent levels of the two teams have been similar since the streak breaking win in 2000. The difference in the last three games have come down to coaching and Dan Hawkins simply getting in the way of his team in 2007 and 2009 and Robert McFarland calling an inexplicable speed option play from the 1 yard line as time expired in Boulder in 2008. Ouch.
Again coaching will be the deciding factor in this game. Can Paul Rhoads rally his troop after a heartbreaking loss against Nebraska or can Brian Cabral unify a team split over the firing of Dan Hawkins?
Back it Up: Week 10 Review
Both teams suffered losses of heartbreaking proportions last week but for quite the opposite reasons.
Iowa State lost 31-30 to Nebraska after backup punter Daniel Kuehl’s pass on a fake extra point attempt floated in the wind and was picked off by Nebraska. The loss capped a 14 point 4th quarter comeback and a rivalry that has been in existence for over 100 years.
Colorado blew a three touchdown lead in the 4th quarter and allowed 35 points in the 4th to Kansas to lose 52-45. The win was the greatest comeback in Kansas school history.
Iowa State Offense vs Colorado Defense
The Iowa State offense has been clicking the last few games. In their last 18 trips to the red zone they have scored 16 touchdowns, 1 field goal, and 1 fumble (Jeff Woody’s fumble against Nebraska). Their recent streak in the red zone has lifted them up to 12th in red zone offense efficiency where they have converted 27 of 30 opportunities over the course of the season.
Alexander Robinson topped 100 yards for the 3rd straight game after his 103 yard performance against Nebraska. He currently stands at 826 yards on the year and broke the 1,000 yard mark against Colorado last year. It is unlikely he will break the 1,000 mark against Colorado this year as it would take a career day to do so but he only needs to average 85 yards per game over the next two weeks to break 1,000 yards without the bowl game factored in.
Along with Robinson’s better running there has been an increase in Austen Arnaud’s running as he has finally come close to being back to full health. He suffered an ankle injury against Nebraska last week but did enough as the game wore on to remain a solid rushing threat. Expect more of the same on Saturday.
Colorado’s defense has always been relatively stout under Dan Hawkins and routinely ranked in the top of the Big XII in rushing defense. They currently rank 55th in the country against the run and give up an average of 147 yards per game. Colorado’s overall defense ranks 91st at 417 yards per game. Iowa State had success last week through the air against a Nebraska defense that ranked 3rd against the pass. While the Cyclones will not light the world on fire through the air and will lean on their running game they can do just enough with the right mix of play calls to keep the Colorado defense guessing. As always, a quick start for Iowa State that mixes in the run and the play action pass will be key to putting Colorado on the defensive early.
Most Intriguing Matchup: Iowa State’s offensive line vs Colorado’s defensive line
Advantage: Iowa State
Reason: Nebraska came in to last week’s game in Ames ranked in the 70s in overall rushing defense and the Cyclones found running room early. Nebraska made solid adjustments in the 2nd half and kept the running game in check until Arnaud got his legs back. Expect Colorado to do the same and try to remove Robinson from the game early. If they do so it will be up to Arnaud to make the correct reads and carry the ball himself to open up the rest of the offense.
Colorado lacks the game changing lineman that Nebraska has in Jared Crick so Iowa State’s offensive line should have an easier time controlling the line of scrimmage than they did against Nebraska. This is the same Colorado team that just gave up 201 yards rushing to Kansas last week. If Iowa State rushes for 200 yards as a team they usually find a way to win.
Iowa State Defense vs Colorado Offense
This is the matchup that concerns me the most going in to Saturday. They rank 59th in passing yards and 88th in rushing yards so they are not storming through the Big XII by any means. However, they have clicked at times and Cody Hawkins has four years of experience behind him, which includes a 4th quarter comeback against Iowa State in 2008. Statistically speaking this should be an even game with the Cyclones’ 93rd ranked defense. One thing you cannot account for until the teams take the field is the motivation factor.
It is widely thought that Hawkins did more harm to his offense than good during his tenure in Boulder. What will be shown on Saturday is whether or not the Buffaloes’ offensive coordinator is really an improvement or if the problem stems deeper than Hawkins’ play calling. This feels a lot like the "backup quarterback is a Heisman contender" argument put forth by man a fan when they are unhappy with their starting quarterback (Hawkeye and Cyclones, I am looking at you). Either the person taking over Hawkins’ play calling on Saturday is the next coming of Chase Daniel in coordinator form or the equivalent of Quinn Mecham.
Even with all the inspired play calling and execution in the world we cannot forget that Iowa State comes in to this game motivated. One more win and they qualify for a bowl game in back to back years for the first time since 2004 and 2005. This is an Iowa State defense that got gashed on the ground by Nebraska last week to the tune of 235 yards. However, they held Nebraska to 314 yards total and actually held the Nebraska offense to 24 points.
Depth has been an important thing for this defense as the season has worn on and the rotations of Jacob Lattimer, Patrick Neal, Rashawn Parker, and Roosevelt Maggitt at the defensive end spots have lead to an increased pass rush. Due to Lattimer’s balls to the wall mentality he has opened up the middle of the line for penetration by Stephen Ruempolhamer and Bailey Johnson. The rush defense still needs a lot of work but as long as no big plays happen this defense is always in a position to make plays happen. As a matter of fact Iowa State ranks 10th in the nation in forcing turnovers. The defense may not always stop people but they find away to capitalize whether it be in the red zone or by forcing a key turnover.
Most Intriguing Matchup: Colorado’s offensive line vs Iowa State’s defensive line
Reason: Colorado boasts possible first round pick Nate Solder at left tackle and their smallest offensive lineman is center Mike Iltis at 6’3" and 290 pounds. Iowa State should be able to generate some pass rush based on their recent history but the rush defense may leave a little bit to be desired. If the Cyclones cannot keep the Colorado offensive linemen off the linebackers expect a repeat performance from last week in regards to yard allowed on the ground. The only difference this time is Cody Hawkins is more than capable of passing so stacking the box may not be in Iowa State’s best interest.
Iowa State Special Teams vs Colorado Special Teams
Obviously everyone is going to focus, and has been focusing, on Kuehl’s failed pass to Collin Franklin in overtime. However, this is the first of four special teams fakes that Rhoads has called this season to fail. The play was there but with a 20 mph wind in Kuehl’s face there was not much shot of the pass making it to Franklin when it was hurried and thrown with the flick of a wrist.
Grant Mahoney was 1 of 3 on field goals but converted a career long 57 yard field goal to give the Cyclones a 10-7 halftime lead. Mahoney has been struggling from over 40 yards the last few games but has been making his extra points and short kicks with the consistency you expect out of a three year starter.
Colorado’s special teams are… decent. See below.
Most Intriguing Matchup: Iowa State’s kick return team vs Colorado’s kick coverage team
Reason: Just waiting for Iowa State to break a "legitimate" kick return touchdown this year. There have been chances and Shontrelle Johnson took one from five yards deep in the end zone last week and was an ankle tackle away from likely carrying the ball past the 50, if not all the way. Colorado ranks 24th in the nation in kick return defense and allows a paltry 19 yards per kick return.
If Iowa State is starting from their 20 on most offensive possessions this will be a tough game to manage.
A lot of Cyclone fans are not going to like to hear me say this but this game is going to be much closer than many expect and/or want. The last three games in the series, which have featured many of the same role players as this year, have all been close and decided by seven points or less. In all cases the game was not decided until the final possession.
Although Colorado has fired Dan Hawkins and is mired in that situation there is no reason not to think this does not unify them. The Colorado fan base was not divided like Iowa State was in 2006 when Dan McCarney parted ways with the school. Nearly every Buffalo fan from here to Miami wanted to see Hawkins out the door. Fans do not win games and the men on the field must be driven to succeed but this team has lost three of their Big XII games by only a possession. They are not woefully terrible like some would have you believe.
On the flip side we have an Iowa State team who is disappointed after the close loss to Nebraska and must pick themselves up and refocus before taking the field tomorrow. Coaches always say it’s harder to pick yourself up after a close loss than after a blowout. Close losses mean you did enough right to be in the position to winbut blowouts allow you to erase the game after review and realize it cannot get any worse.
Coach Rhoads has always found a way to make his team rebound each and every week and I feel it will be mostly the same this week. If there is no hangover and Iowa State comes out looking like they did against Texas or Nebraska then they likely win this game going away. If there is a hangover then Colorado capitalizes on it with their emotion, punches Iowa State in the mouth, and makes this a four quarter football game.
The x-factor that tips this in the Cyclones’ favor is Rhoads’ fourth quarter coaching. You have a second year coach who has coached in tight games and made enough gutsy calls in the fourth quarter to put his teams in a position to succeed. On the flip side you have an interim coach who said in an interview he planned on spending most of Thursday and Friday planning for those late game situations where he has not made a call before. The guy is obviously no Dan Hawkins but he’s no Paul Rhoads either.
Good bye Colorado. We would say we will miss you and your darling fans but we try to be as honest as we can on this site. Enjoy your slide in to irrelevancy in the Pac 12.
Iowa State 31