Stadium: Boone Pickens Stadium, Stillwater, OK
Game Time: 11:00 AM
Right off the bat, let me say this: the revenge angle for this game will get overplayed. Yes, Oklahoma State will be looking for it, and yes, it was likely used as motivation this week, but the revenge angle all but disappears after the 1st quarter when the teams have settled in. The same way that the effects of a plane crash don't cause a team to blow a 24-7 lead. I sympathize with what happened to Oklahoma State and their women's basketball team on November 18, 2011 but in no way did it cause the Cowboys to come out, score on their first drive of the 2nd half, and then immediately shit the bed. End of story.
Much press has been given to Iowa State's lack of offensive efficiency in their two losses this season and with good reason. Things have failed the eye test left and right. Things change going forward as Iowa State faces a middle of the pack defense in Oklahoma State and four defenses ranked in the bottom 30 nationally. Getting the offense back on track is the key to this being a "dream season" for the Cyclones and not a repeat of the 2005 season that many look back on and wonder what could have been.
Oklahoma State is not the same team they were when we saw them in Ames last November but they still have a load of talent on offense and will be the toughest test for Wally Burnham's defense this season.
When We Last Left Off...
Iowa State failed to convert on two 4th quarter drives and 6th ranked Kansas State held on for a 27-21 win. Jared Barnett was worse than pedestrian in a 16 of 36 performance but six of those seven incompletions came on the final two drives.
Oklahoma State held on to beat Kansas in a game delayed by rain 20-14. Freshman J.W. Walsh put together an average game going 18-29 for 255 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. The story here though is Joseph Randle's 2.8 yards per carry and the Cowboys inability to get the ground game going consistently.
Iowa State vs Oklahoma State: A History
Oklahoma State holds an all-time series lead of 25-18-3 in this one and is 14-6-2 in Stillwater where the Cyclones have not won since 2000.
2009: Oklahoma State 34, Iowa State 8
2008: Oklahoma State 59, Iowa State 17
2005: Iowa State 37, Oklahoma State 10
2004: Oklahoma State 36, Iowa State 7
I think it goes without saying that we need to have a better performance in Stillwater this week than we did in the two games listed above (2004 and 2008).
A Look at Iowa State's Offense vs Oklahoma State
If you don't want a statistically heavy preview I suggest you skip down to the Final Analysis and leave your predictions in the comments. Otherwise get ready for me to justify Iowa State's troubles and show more optimism than I should.
I've spent a lot of time this week digging through Football Outsider's Efficiency Ratings and was startled by what I found. Based strictly on efficiency and strength of schedule the Iowa State offense ranks 27th in the country and 7th in the Big XII. All of the raw efficiency numbers are absolutely hideous and rank in the 90s or 100s nationally. This would include actual efficiency of the offense, available yards gained, first down rate, explosive drives, and methodical drives. Much press has been given to the teams struggles on first down itself and how it plays into the rest of the drive and the eye test can tell you that this team is not very good with explosive plays and long, methodical drives.
What pushes the Cyclones' ranking all the way up to 27th nationally is their strength of schedule to date. To date, Iowa State has the 2nd toughest schedule against opposing defenses by virtue of their games to date in the Big XII. The probability that an elite offense (two standard deviations above average) would have an above average game with our schedule was only 7.1%. Simply put, what Texas Tech did to West Virginia last week was as much about stopping West Virginia's offense as it was exploiting their defense.
The good news is Iowa State's schedule only ranks 56th the rest of the way and the probability of the elite offense performing well jumps to 32.7%. Not outstanding, but it's the highest probability of any Big XII team going forward.
How this all translates to the field has yet to be seen but ideally it means nowhere but up for the Cyclones. After re-watching the game against Kansas State I came away feeling that this team was closer to winning that game than I initially felt walking out of the stadium. Had it not been for the two horrific drives to end the game I think a lot more people would have come away from Jack Trice without the sour taste in their mouth.
The drive in the 3rd/4th quarter that cut Kansas State's lead to three was quite possibly one of the best of the season that not only mixed up play calling but focused on what Kansas State was giving us on defense. However, the remaining drives were a mix of poor execution by either the offensive line or Jared Barnett. And occasionally, both. I mentioned over on CycloneFanatic after the Texas Tech game that I felt the team was struggling to get calls from the quarterback to the line and adjust blocking accordingly. After how the team played against TCU I quickly forgot about this and figured it was an issue with Steele Jantz. However, the exact same thing played out again on Saturday with Jared Barnett calling the shots. In my opinion relaying the call from both the sideline and to the offensive linemen via the quarterback is the single biggest issue holding the offense back. Multiple times last week three or four linemen would block the play correctly and one or two were on another page/play/planet/whatever.
The good news here is everything I have seen is fixable with maybe a few fundamental issues on the line that can either be schemed out of the play calling or fixed through practice and repetitions.
Now on to Oklahoma State. Their defense is ranked 71st in Football Outsider's efficiency rankings, and like Iowa State's offense, all the raw numbers are awful but unlike the Cyclones they are not saved by their strength of schedule. Oklahoma State is not forcing the amount of turnovers they did last year and is still giving up the same chunks of yards. They're aggressive, but have yet to see a significant amount of success with it.
The yards will be available for the Cyclones on Saturday but the two things they are going to have to do more than anything are hold on to the ball and establish consistency on 1st down. No doubt the Cowboys are going to do what every other team has done and try to shut down the run game early and often. Play actions have continued to work well as teams continue to honor the threat of the run but the difference here is going to all be on execution. Courtney Messingham called plays last week that were open but either through run blocking or a poor pass by Barnett the plays were dead before they could even get going. While Oklahoma State's defense is talented and aggressive they are nowhere near as sound in their scheme as the three Big XII teams we have seen to date.
A Look at Iowa State's Defense vs Oklahoma State
Going back to the Football Outsider's statistics the Iowa State defense ranks 20th in the country in efficiency with the only bad stat dragging that number down is the 81st overall ranking in opponents' methodical drives. That will happen when Kansas State gains over 40 minutes in time of possession last week with three quarters being over 10 minutes each. The key factor here is how this number is not inflated. To date, Iowa State has the 12th strongest schedule in the country and will have the 3rd strongest going forward. So while the offenses will certainly improve (Oklahoma State, Baylor, Oklahoma, West Virginia) this team has been very battle tested so far. As John Walters mentioned earlier in the week, all six Iowa State opponents have been held below their scoring average by double digits. If you take that statistic to this game the Cyclones would need to hold Oklahoma State to 38 points to keep that streak alive. However, if you remove the Savannah State beat down from the equation then the magic number is only 30.
Let's make no mistake, this offense is good, and numerous pieces have been dedicated to exactly why the offense is so good. The positive thing here is the entire philosophy has not changed despite Walsh or Wes Lunt behind center. The Cowboys are going to throw the ball all over the field and they're going to read the defense to make the determination if the call develops into a run or a pass. This actually aids Iowa State in two ways. One, the gameplan from last November will still be mostly relevant, and two, the quarterbacks running the show are freshmen who are inexperienced in the Big XII (or in Lunt's case, has no Big XII experience). Unlike the Missouri game last year, the men behind center do not bring about a whole new set of play calling from the prior year.
How do you stop it? You don't, you merely hope to contain it. It all starts up front and caging Joseph Randle again. If the defense can do that and put Oklahoma State into 3rd and long situations then I have a lot of confidence in getting the defense off the field. Brandon Weeden made some throws last year that only an NFL quarterback could and by all accounts Walsh does not have the arm. Lunt does, but his status is still uncertain and even then he will still have to make the right read against a defense that is leading the Big XII in sacks in conference play. Despite the Air Raid moniker on this offense the head of the snake is still the run game. Cut off the head and the snake eventually dies. That simple.
A Look at Iowa State's Special Teams vs Oklahoma State
Kirby Van Der Kamp had a very costly shank off his foot in the 3rd quarter when punting out of his end zone. This allowed Kansas State to go up by 10 and that touchdown proved to be the deciding factor late in the game. It's hard to blame Van Der Kamp for the shank given what little room he had but miscues like that eventually add up in the end.
The return game was solid when they had the chance to field kickoffs and Edwin Arceo was serviceable enough on kicks to keep Kansas State from breaking out. Oklahoma State is nearly as dangerous on kick returns so putting a few balls in the end zone would be preferable.
Iowa State was 3-4 in the red zone against the Cowboys last year and will have to continue to do so on Saturday to keep pace. If not, Arceo's leg will be key to at least keeping the game within striking distance.
WRNL Lead Pipe Prediction (2-4): Both Oklahoma State quarterbacks see the field on Saturday. Whether this is due to ineffectiveness or change of pace is yet to be seen.
50/50 Prediction (1-4): This one is so terrible anymore I don't even know. Let's stick with the 50 theme I guess and go with at least one 50+ yard play from Iowa State.
Reason for Impromptu Dumpster Burning (3-3): No repeats of Missouri 2011 please. That was Missouri's Homecoming and a game that everyone in the program felt they had a good shot to win. We all know how it ended.
I texted a friend of mine yesterday and said, "This isn't a must win game, but 5-2 going into Homecoming vs Baylor would be huge." That's essentially how I feel about this game. Provided there is no blowout and no significant injuries the outcome of this game is slightly irrelevant to me. A loss to Oklahoma State in Stillwater is certainly not the worst loss on the schedule, and this team would still be 4-3 with very winnable games the rest of the way.
On the other hand, 5-2 would again help team get back to "peak and plateau" status and allow the team to head into Homecoming with the chance to be bowl eligible before the end of October for the first time since that ill-fated 2002 season. The only other time that happened was in 2000.
This game has been the hardest for me to predict all season. I have not seen a lot of Oklahoma State film and what I have seen is a lot like last year. Where I start to lose my confidence in this game is how terrible our offense has looked for stretches and how close they have come to making plays consistently. The offense is wildly inconsistent and going against an athletic and aggressive defense.
Usually by now you have indicators of what team will be and we know three things for certain:
1. Iowa State is inefficient on offense for large stretches.
2. Iowa State's defense bends and very seldom breaks, but can give up large chunks of yards quickly.
3. Oklahoma State is forcing very few turnovers.
On paper you look at that and go whoever breaks their mold in #1 or #3 undoubtedly wins the game. However, at this point I think our offense is so woebegone that even with increased efficiency a couple of ill-timed mistakes present doom. I am a big believer in the total team concept where the offense's efficiency feeds the defense's efficiency and so on and so forth. After a long and physical game last week against Kansas State I feel a few ill-timed mistakes by Iowa State's offense ultimately spells doom for their defense and it's actually #2 that breaks in this game.
Oklahoma State 35
Iowa State 24
PS - Post your prediction/flames in the comments as usual.
PPS - I promised myself I would not relive this game during the 2012 season, but.... fuck it.