Stadium: Jack Trice Stadium, Ames, IA
Game Time: 6:00 PM
TV: Fox College Sports
Bye weeks can do many things for teams. It can allow them to get healthy, work on fundamentals, allow the coaches to get extra in-season recruiting in, and most importantly, scheme for an opponent for an extra period of time. On the flip side, it can stem momentum and cause a team to fall back into bad habits if not managed correctly. So far in Paul Rhoads' tenure we have seen both happen. Everyone remembers October 1, 2011 when Jack Trice Stadium was electric and ready to burst at the seams eager to see Iowa State take the "next step" by upending Texas two years in a row. It was not meant to be as the Longhorns raced out to a 34-0 lead on their way to a rout in Ames. Rhoads said after the game that the team, and coaches, weren't prepared due to the bye week.
Flip to November 18, 2011 and the Cyclones come off a bye week after beating Kansas 13 days before. We all know how that turned out.
So what was the difference in those two bye weeks? Simple, Rhoads changed his philosophy. Instead of the coaches spending the bye week out of the office recruiting they stayed put, worked out the team, and spent extra time breaking down Oklahoma State. This boils down to one thing that I have noticed about Rhoads and something that is tantamount to Iowa State's current, and future, success: Paul Rhoads rarely makes the same mistake twice.
Even in year four of his tenure Rhoads is learning as a head coach and he has his way of doing things. Sometimes those things work and other times they back fire in his face. In 2009 Rhoads called a surprise onside against Iowa up 3-0 that completely changed the tone of the game. In 2010 he failed to corral a team coming off an emotional loss to Nebraska and proceeded to get run over by Colorado. And in 2011 he mismanaged the first in-season bye week of his career. In all of these situations he has come back better than he was the prior week. His momentum changing trick plays are becoming something of an Iowa State legend, he took that same team that beat Oklahoma State and kept them in a game against Oklahoma the next week and nearly beat a Top 10 Kansas State squad the week after, and finally he took the second bye week in 2011 and made school history.
So what does all of this have to do with this year's game against Texas Tech? Simple. Everything.
If Iowa State is meant to take the "next step" that Jamie Pollard forced upon us in 2006 with the hiring of Gene Chizik then the Cyclones need to have spent the last week solely focused on Texas Tech, having a good week of practice this week, and knowing that this game in Ames on September 29th is another block in the foundation of what could eventually be a strong program. No more Texas meltdowns from last year. These are the games up and coming programs dispatch without a second thought.
When We Last Left Off...
Iowa State used two early touchdowns to dispatch Western Illinois 37-3. A slew of backups saw playing time including Jared Barnett, Sam Richardson (both of them!), DeVondrick Nealy, and linemen that we've only heard of, but never seen.
Texas Tech beat a hapless New Mexico team 49-14 and for the second year in a row put up gaudy stats in the non-conference slate. Tech ranks 4th nationally in passing yards, 23rd in rushing yards, 6th in points for, and 6th in points against.
Iowa State vs Texas Tech: A History
Iowa State is 3-7 all time against Texas Tech with all three of those wins coming since 2002. If Iowa State hopes to win their 3rd straight in the series they will do so with the third starting quarterback since the victory in 2010.
Last 5 Games
2011: Iowa State 41, Texas Tech 7
2010: Iowa State 52, Texas Tech 28
2007: Texas Tech 42, Iowa State 17
2006: Texas Tech 42, Iowa State 26
2003: Texas Tech 52, Iowa State 21
A Look at Iowa State's Offense vs Texas Tech
When I break down teams I like to look at their highlights to see what fundamental issues exist even when they make great plays. I was able to do that with Texas Tech by virtue of this video. The first thing that jumped out at me was their aggressiveness compared to previous years. Texas Tech always took their chances gambling under Tommy Tuberville but so far in the three games this year they are looking to get down field faster than at any point in Tuberville's tenure.
However, one large fundamental flaw jumped out early on in the video: they can't tackle that well. Especially in space. All the aggressiveness in the world only goes so far if you still cannot get your man down, and this was a problem for the Red Raiders in prior years. Additionally, the pass rush seems suspect with not a lot of penetration by the front four. While they have accumulated sacks, a number of them appear to have been either coverage sacks or a bad decision by the opposing quarterback hanging onto the ball too long or not having enough pocket awareness to avoid the rush. That said, the defensive line does a good job minding their gaps and allowing their linebackers to make tackles in the running game.
I expect Iowa State to test the boundaries early to stem any aggressiveness from the Texas Tech and to also pull seven men out of the box. It would not surprise me to see play actions turned into bubble screens early and often in the first few drives. Much like Texas Tech will do to Iowa State's defense, it's imperative to pull at least a man out of the box and allow the passing game to set up the running attack.
This means that Steele Jantz is going to have to be on early if the Cyclones want to stay in this game. Texas Tech loves to attack on 3rd down and it's going to be much easier to eat up yards by staying in 3rd and short rather than 3rd and long.
A Look at Iowa State's Defense vs Texas Tech
As mentioned above, I think Texas Tech offensive coordinator Neal Brown is going to work on isolating Jake Knott and A.J. Klein in space to open up chances for Eric Stephens and the Red Raider running backs to run between the tackles. The wild card here will be Jeremiah George. If Texas Tech has success passing the ball early I expect George to be off the field and Deon Broomfield to slide into the Nickel role to assist in slowing down the passing game. This is going to hurt Iowa State as I think George's instincts in the running game are one of the reasons the Cyclones have been successful stopping other teams on the ground.
Last year the Cyclones stymied Seth Doege with a lot of zone coverage and I expect the same to happen on Saturday. This will put pressure on the defensive line to generate a pass rush but in all three games this year they have done just that. Texas Tech returns an experienced offensive line that is likely the best in Tuberville's tenure but once again the true test will come late in the game when fresh defensive line players are attacking the Red Raiders' offense.
This year I have a lot of faith in the secondary being able to stick with receivers down field and this will be key to limit the explosive plays that got Texas Tech back into the game in 2010. Texas Tech can eat up all the yards they want to underneath provided that they do not turn any into explosive gains and they slow down in the red zone. I am very comfortable with the talent Iowa State has on the edges and it will allow Knott and Klein to roam more freely in defending both the running attack and the underneath passing game Texas Tech uses to soften up pass coverages.
A Look at Iowa State's Special Teams vs Texas Tech
Whether it was Jeremy Reeves' onside kick return for a touchdown in 2010 or Kirby Van Der Kamp's leg forcing Texas Tech to work long fields in 2011; special teams have had a major impact on both wins over the Red Raiders in Rhoads' tenure.
This will be key again on Saturday and the primary concern will again be the kickoff coverage and how they handle an athletic Texas Tech squad that will be the most dangerous return unit they have seen in 2012.
The Cyclones' punt return unit finally found their legs against an undermanned Western Illinois squad but it will be key for them to start generating positive yards in a game that could very well come down to who has the best field position the most often. On the flip side, an opponent has yet to return one of Kirby Van Der Kamp's punts and if he can succeed again there then the field position battle could very well be won early and often by the Cyclones.
WRNL Lead Pipe Prediction (2-1): Iowa State uses more of their misdirection/triple option look this week to slow down and take advantage of a potentially over aggressive Texas Tech defense.
50/50 Prediction (0-3): Steele Jantz throws no interceptions.
Reason for Impromptu Dumpster Burning (1-2): No one stole my beer two weeks ago, so that's a plus. A deep, dark corner of my mind worries that a blowout could go the other way this season and that would be awful from a program perspective and worthy of fire starting.
There are a lot of moving parts in this game that are sure to make it a different beast than it was in 2010 and 2011. First, Texas Tech is actually healthy. Eric Stephens is back taking hand offs from Seth Doege and the defensive two deep is no longer ravaged and playing walk-ons and freshmen. Second, a new coordinator for Texas Tech has them playing their most consistent defense since Mike Leach hired Ruffin McNeil. Lastly, a change in defensive philosophy (4-2-5 to 3-4 to 4-3 all in the last three years) has helped with that defensive consistency.
However, as a colleague just said to me, "Where has Texas Tech improved and Iowa State has become worse?" It's a good question and it is one that is surprisingly difficult to answer. Texas Tech's offense is mostly the same, minus increased experience, but one could say that about Iowa State's defense. The only notable loss from last year's team was Leonard Johnson and Jansen Watson is showing to be more than capable in that area.
Conversely, Iowa State's offense lost NFL draft pick Kelechi Osemele, free agent Hayworth Hicks, and leading receiver Darius Reynolds. However, they added Shontrelle Johnson back to the fold. Texas Tech's defense is again breaking in a new scheme, added some weight on the defensive line, and regained their depth. All in all I say that is as close to a wash as it gets.
In my mind that leaves us with two differentiating areas: execution and motivation. Both of those have went the Cyclones' way the last two years, so what happens in this installment?
Execution is a fickle thing that could change by play, series, or quarter. Steele Jantz looked sharp for most of Tulsa and early in the Iowa game but came back down to Earth in the 2nd half against the Hawkeyes and looked more than adequate against Western Illinois. His execution is going to be the lynch pin of the offense's success against Texas Tech and unclogging the box to allow the running backs free running lanes. We know what the defense will be like as they are almost always ready for a game.
Motivation should not be difficult for Texas Tech. You do not lose by a combined score of 93-45 over two years to the proverbial doormat of the conference and not want to right the ship. But at the same time, the men across the field have the chance to start 4-0 as a team for the first time since the Sage Rosenfels led Cyclones did in 2000 on the way to a school record 9 wins and an Insight Bowl victory.
In a battle of wills and two programs who are trying to put their name on the map, which one wins? Well let's put it this way...
Paul Rhoads doesn't make the same mistake twice.
Iowa State 38
Texas Tech 31
PS - As always, leave your predictions in the comments. Even you Red Raider fans.