Time: 11:00 AM CDT
Location: Jones AT&T Stadium, Lubbock, TX
Line: Texas Tech -14
Television: Fox Sports 1
Radio: Cyclone Radio Network - Affiliate information here
Texas Tech SBN Blog: Viva The Matadors
It's not that Iowa State needs a win over Texas Tech badly on Saturday, but rather Iowa State deserves a win right now. You can't really argue they deserve a win over Tech seeing as how Tech is 5-0, but you can argue that this team has put in a lot of blood and sweat the last few weeks and after last Thursday's ending they deserve to have some breaks go in their direction.
That said, the loss against Texas wasn't all a waste. The team clearly has improved since taking the field against UNI on August 31st. Aaron Wimberly's insertion as the starting running back has brought new life to a previously moribund rushing attack and it was even slightly more dangerous with a healthy Sam Richardson for three quarters. The fourth game resulted in the fourth different offensive line grouping to start, but it appears that issue is beginning to settle out, which only means greater things for the ground attack going forward.
The defense is nothing like the version from August and absolutely looked like they belonged on the field against Texas. Had it not been for a few miscues (Johnathan Gray's touchdown run, the hail mary, most of the last drive) this defense would have its praises being sung by every national pundit out there. Alas, there is always room to improve and it starts this week against a Texas Tech squad that is prone to slow starts this season.
When We Last Left Off...
Texas Tech spotted Kansas 10 points to start the game but then went on a 54 point scoring binge in a 54-16 victory. Starting quarterback Baker Mayfield strained his knee, but suffered no structural damage. Back up David Webb came in and threw two touchdowns while only completing three passes on six attempts. If you want a good summation of the game all you need to do is watch this:
Paul Rhoads is 2-1 against Texas Tech with all three games coming against his former boss, Tommy Tuberville. Overall Iowa State is 3-8 all time against Tech with the first victory coming when Seneca Wallace was having his Heisman moment:
All Kliff Kingsbury could do was stand on the sidelines and watch.
Last Five Games
2012: Texas Tech 24, Iowa State 13
2011: Iowa State 41, Texas Tech 7
2010: Iowa State 52, Texas Tech 38
2007: Texas Tech 41, Iowa State 17
2006: Texas Tech 42, Iowa State 26
The 2011 victory was the first victory in Lubbock for Iowa State and started a three game winning streak that culminated in the upset of then #2 ranked Oklahoma State. The 52 points scored in the 2010 contest is still the high water mark for Iowa State under Rhoads.
Iowa State Offense
Aaron Wimberly put together the first back-to-back 100 yard rushing games for Iowa State since Alexander Robinson did in 2010. It's no minor feat given how poor the offensive line has blocked this year and especially given the fourth starting line up in as many games for that line.
There were problems though. The Cyclones could still not run up the middle and a lot of that had to do with Texas' twin 300 pound tackles. The running game is still not explosive due in large part to Richardson's health, but some of his has been augmented by the two back system that almost always sets up Wimberly with a lead blocker that has as much momentum heading up field as he does.
Unless Iowa State finds a viable spell to Wimberly then teams are going to start run blitzing the gaps opposite of where Wimberly is lined up. The two back set has been great for kick starting the running game but there has to be some variation shown to keep defenses honest. You saw this against Tulsa with Wimberly's wheel route out of the backfield and more plays like this will keep those linebackers frozen in their spots.
About that spell for Wimberly... who is it? James White fumbled on his first touch last week, Shontrelle Johnson has disappeared, and the jury is out on DeVondrick Nealy. For what it's worth Nealy was getting a lot of key 4th quarter snaps last week and looks like the only back that possesses the right amount of speed and shake and bake that can match Wimberly. However, he has to start getting some of these carries himself to force a defense to defend the whole field and not just one half of it.
Then again if Sam Richardson and Quenton Bundrage keep hooking up for 97 yarders who needs a running game? Richardson put together his most complete performance of the season last week and has shown himself to be the right man for the job. The wide receivers are the best in awhile and we haven't even seen what Dondre Daley and P.J. Harris can do with more snaps. Plus, how about the emergence of E.J. Bibbs at tight end. His light bulb continues to shine brighter each game and he was doing it all against Texas.
If this offense can get the line woes figured out (and they will, Klenakis always does) they could be a very tough Big XII team each and every game this season. Except against Baylor. No one will be able to match Baylor.
Texas Tech Defense
Texas Tech is on their fourth defensive scheme in as many seasons and moved back to a 3-4 set that was favored by Tommy Tuberville when he took over in 2010. This group is experienced boasting seven senior defensive starters and nine on the two deep. One of the key elements to a successful 3-4 is a big space hogging nose guard in the middle and Dennell Welsey is just that. All 310 pounds of him. If Iowa State wants to get running in the middle this week they'll have to contend with him and 280 pound end Kerry Hyder.
Tech isn't nearly as aggressive as they were under Tuberville but the advantage of the 3-4 is bringing pressure from either edge without tipping much of a hand. The experience in the secondary allows the front seven to be flexible in getting pressure on the quarterback, and what they lack in scheme they make up for with sheer speed.
Against Kansas they fell into a more traditional Nickel coverage on 3rd and long but almost always found a way to bring a linebacker that would use a stunt from the line to shoot a gap in the middle.
The red zone defense ranks 3rd nationally allowing only 6 scores on 11 attempts. Only two of those scores were touchdowns. Tech loves to keep the big play from happening inside the 20 and should a team get inside the 10 they frequently move to man coverage and try to overwhelm the line of scrimmage and force the ball out of the quarterback's hand quickly.
However, if there is one weakness of this defense it's their lack of size once you get away from the line. The heaviest linebacker is 225 pounds, the tallest member of the secondary is free safety Tre Porter who stands 6 feet flat, and starting corners Bruce Jones and Olaoluwa Falemi are 5'7" and 5'9", respectively.
The Match Up
Tech's defense will be the best defense that Iowa State has seen since Iowa but despite their lack of size will be more stout in pass coverage than the Hawkeyes were. A lot of that starts up front with the experienced and athletic front seven. Tech subscribes to the basic notion that pressuring the quarterback will allow for the secondary to make plays, and for the most part it has worked. Tech is averaging two sacks, an interception, and a fumble recovered per game. For an Iowa State offense that ranks 110th in the country in sacks allowed this spells trouble.
Yet... who has Tech played? Their schedule has been SMU, Stephen F. Austin, TCU, Texas State, and Kansas. The rankings of those offenses (SFA excluded) are 46th, 114th, 120th, and 108th, respectively. The one offense with a pulse, SMU, actually led going into the 4th quarter before a three touchdown onslaught led by Baker Mayfield ensued.
It's hard to look at this match up and not see opportunities for Iowa State. Tech is only allowing 3 yards per carry this season, but against the competition listed above. They are a pedestrian 80th nationally in pass defense and their aggressive scheme leaves them open to short passes with a lot of green field to be had.
Tech won't change their scheme for Iowa State. There is not a big enough threat on the Cyclones to force Tech to do so. They will blitz on the occasional run down to cause some confusion for the line and running backs and they will without a doubt bring pressure on obvious passing situations to test an inexperienced line and try to put a hobbled Richardson on his back.
In the past this has been the type of defensive aggression that just fist fucks Iowa State right out of the gate but as this offense has turned the corner the last few weeks there have been glimmers of hope that there are enough play makers to burn defenses for this.
Iowa State has a clear size advantage on the outside and over the middle so even if Tech presses to help with the blitz I expect to see screens early and often to keep those linebackers at bay. There will once again be a healthy dose of the outside run game for Wimberly but against a 3-4 the cut back lanes could be huge if Tech cannot control the middle of the field. Given the relative lack of size for Tech's linebackers I think it would make sense to double team Wesley and Hyder on runs to that side and have a lead blocker like Bibbs or Woody coming through to put a helmet on a linebacker that's giving up 30 pounds. Wimberly is very dangerous in space and if he can keep up with the speed of Texas he will keep up with the speed here.
Last week Texas dared Iowa State to throw deep with their single safety high coverage but the line was not good enough in protection to do it, and I think the same happens here with Tech. They won't be as aggressive in their coverages as Texas was, but given how aggressive they are on their blitzes it's going to be hard to find time to throw deep. So ball control and a methodical rhythm, just like against Tulsa and Texas, will be this team's best friend.
This goes without saying, but once the team gets in the red zone they have to score touchdowns and not field goals. An explosive offense sits on the other sideline, and the only way to keep up is to consistently get 7 and not 3. I expect some packaged plays inside the 20 that will isolate players in one-on-one coverage and take advantage of Tech's aggressiveness.
Iowa State Defense
This group has grown up a lot hasn't it? After a horrendous effort against UNI the team has rebounded and focused on the core tenant of defense: stopping the run. Texas averaged 4.3 yards per carry as a team last week, but averaged 5.8 for their running backs. Despite all this they only ran their backs 23 times and put the game on the arm of Case McCoy and almost lost it.
The defensive line has been solid, but not spectacular so far and David Irving continues to show why he moved inside. Unfortunately his running mates in the middle have not lived up to their preseason hype. Brandon Jensen looks nothing like Jake McDonough, Austin Krick has hardly been noticed, and Rodney Coe is improving but has a long way to go. If this team is to get a consistent pass rush and take the pressure of a back seven than ranks 65th in the country against the pass.... wait... 65th? What about rushing? 69th? No shit, really? Overall defense? 60th you don't say. Ok, ok what about scoring defense? 65th as well? Well shit, I didn't see this coming.
This is one of those cases where the eye test can be incredibly deceiving. Iowa State ranks right in the middle of the pack nationally on defense, and given the relative lack of offense in the Big XII compared to prior years, this should bode well for them in the remaining games (except against Baylor).
Fact is Wally Burnham is a bit of a magician defensively and since the insertion of Luke Knott into the lineup the defense has been fairly dependable. There are still some inconsistencies in the middle from tackle all the way back up to safety but the leadership of this defense has them improving week to week and if they continue to grow those big plays will continue to disappear from the stat sheet.
Texas Tech Offense
Something about Tech's offense has not impressed me. Maybe it's their inconsistency passing the ball with a freshman quarterback. Maybe it's the fact they hate to run the ball, and when they do run can't do it very well (112 yards per game, 3.4 yards per carry). Or maybe it's that Tech scored 24 points off four Kansas turnovers last week where the furthest away they started was Kansas' 21 yard line. Two (TWO!) of their turnovers started inside the 6 and they gained 14 points from those alone.
Fact is outside of a talented group of receivers like Jace Amaro, Eric Ward, and Jakeen Grant this Tech offense is nothing special. There is only one senior on the offensive line and they are in the midst of switching from an offensive system that ran the ball to set up the pass to one that is Mike Leach circa-2002.
Mayfield's injury last week against Kansas certainly added some intrigue and sophomore Michael Brewer, who was slated to start the season prior to an injury, sits atop the depth chart with Mayfield. Brewer brings some ability with his legs and some read option stuff out of Tech would not be unheard of here.
The Match Up
The question that jumped out to me while writing this preview was this: How does Wally Burnham make an already one dimensional offense more one dimensional? Kingsbury is going to dial up the run plays when they're needed or when the offense needs a jolt, but make no mistake here, Tech is a pass first team.
There are a lot of shades of Mike Leach and the classic Air Raid in Kingsbury's offense and it starts with the underneath routes that serve as an augmentation of the run game and a way to set up taking the top off the defense. Tech did a healthy amount of this against Kansas and then would frequently overload one side with three receivers with one running deep. Almost every time Kansas was caught napping and a receiver was running downfield in single coverage. If Kansas adjusted and took away the deep ball then Mayfield was hitting a receiver on a quick out for 7 or 8 yard gains.
Wally Burnham is going to counter this a lot like how he countered Baylor last year. He will devote enough bodies to stopping the run and forcing Tech to pass but he's going to make them beat this defense underneath the entire length of the football field. He isn't likely to leave Jansen Watson or Sam Richardson on islands and devote a safety over the top, which means the middle of the field is likely to be open. It will be big for Luke Knott and Charlie Rogers to stick with Amaro in the middle.
Iowa State will throw a lot of zone looks at either Brewer or Mayfield and force them to read the defense if they want to have success. This method had worked well against spread teams in the past and none better than against Tech in 2011 when Seth Doege threw two interceptions because Burnham kept baiting him to throw deep. No matter who starts for Tech they will be taking the field with less than five or fewer games under their belt and playing against a coordinator with over 40 years of experience.
Cole Netten has looked sharp after missing two long field goals against Tulsa and the Iowa State special teams have been quiet, which is a good thing. Tech is allowing only 20 yards per kick return and has kicked for a touchback on 24 of their 41 kickoffs (59%). There will be a shot for the combination of Albert Gary, Jarvis West, and Wimberly to return a few kicks, but I wouldn't bet on them taking it too far.
Kirby Van Der Kamp, while averaging 43.2 yards per punt, has looked off all season. Punts have been shanked, have lacked hang time, and all in all just don't look very worth of KVDK4Ray status. Not sure if this is because he's trying too hard to flip field position or just has a case of the yips, but the sooner he settles this out and can start landing those punts inside the 20 the better.
Solid, but Not Quite a Lock Prediction: Sam Richardson gets his first rushing touchdown of the year. Sam is going to have to be a viable threat to run in this game, and I think his ability to keep will help in the red zone.
Would Love to See, and Might: Can Wimberly make it three 100 yard games in three starts? He's beginning to look like a faster version of Alexander Robinson and Tech has yet to face a team as balanced as Iowa State.
Would Love to See, but Won't: No turnovers. Tech's defense is athletic and aggressive enough to force turnovers and they have lived off those all season. With Richardson still banged up and a line still gelling I think there will be at least one or two turnovers on offense. Anything more than two and this game will be a sure fire loss.
WRNL Beer Pick of the Week
Some of you hate IPAs and have let us know about it. So to appease the masses I'm going to go with something not readily available in Iowa right now but worth picking up when outside the state: Left Hand's Nitro Milk Stout. This beer is silky smooth with great notes of chocolate and vanilla. An easy drink for a stout it's easy to have two or three in one sitting without even thinking.
I have felt good about this game since before Iowa State played Texas. Tech to me is a bit of a paper tiger that has yet to be reasonably tested this season. TCU is by far the best opponent they have played and that same TCU offense went three and out seven straight times against Oklahoma this past weekend. As I mentioned above I think that Tech has yet to face an offense as balanced as Iowa State's and this will be a true test of where their defense really stands this season.
On the other side of the ball there is really only one solid defense that Tech has faced and it again is TCU's. While no one will mistake the Iowa State defense for anything similar to TCU's they do have one thing in common: disciplined play. Both teams feed off playing a disciplined style of football that emphasizes making the offense beat them and tackling well. Tech sputtered the entire game against TCU until David Webb came in and rescued them late. Given the inexperience of Tech's quarterbacks it's going to be likely to see Burnham mix his coverages and dare either Brewer or Mayfield to test them deep without seeing the safety coming over the top.
Tech fans aren't going to like this, but if I had to make a comparison of this team and where they stand in the conference it's going to be to the B1G's Minnesota. The Golden Gophers were riding high off a 4-0 start against questionable competition until Iowa came into TCF Bank Stadium and smacked them square in the mouth. That is exactly how I feel about this game. Tech is inexperienced up front, has an inexperienced set of quarterbacks, and have really only excelled when short fields are provided by their defense. Iowa State has faced stiffer competition so far this year and has taken their lumps.
It's time those lumps start paying off.
Iowa State 31
Texas Tech 21
PS - Leave your predictions and beer flames in the comments below!