Time: 6:00 PM CDT
Location: Floyd Casey Stadium, Waco, TX
Line: Baylor -33.5
Radio: Cyclone Radio Network - Affiliate information here
Baylor SBN Blog: Our Daily Bears
What a difference four years makes. When Baylor visited Ames on October 17, 2009 they were without an injured RG III, Art Briles was in his 2nd year as Baylor's head coach, and it would be another seven days before Paul Rhoads made headlines across the country with his postgame speech after beating Nebraska in Lincoln. The Bears were led by Blake Szymanski and the Cyclones put out a workmanlike effort to win 24-10.
Over the next three seasons Briles would go on to take Baylor to previously unrealized heights with a 10-win season and a Heisman trophy for RG III in 2011. After last season's defeat in Ames in Jake Knott's final game as a Cyclone the Bears have went on to win 10 of their last 11 games and only falling to #12 Oklahoma last season by eight points.
In that same time frame Iowa State has lost eight of their last ten. Depressing.
When We Last Left Off...
Jarvis West became the first Iowa State player to return a normal kickoff for a touchdown since Troy Davis did it against Colorado in 1994 and the defense forced three turnovers. It was not enough though as the defense surrendered 666 yards to Texas Tech and the offense sputtered in the second half in a 42-35 defeat in Lubbock.
Baylor went to Manhattan and damn near came away with a loss. Had it not been for scoring strikes 93, 72, and 54 yards we would be having a much different conversation today. The three passing TDs by Bryce Petty accounted for a whopping 66% of his 332 passing yards in a 35-25 victory over Kansas State.
Iowa State leads the all-time series 6-5 but has surprisingly been outscored on average 25.82-22.82. They Cyclones have not won in Waco since a late touchdown by the late Stevie Hicks in 2004 gave them a 26-25 victory.
Last Five Games
2012: Iowa State 35, Baylor 31
2011: Baylor 49, Iowa State 26
2009: Iowa State 24, Baylor 10
2008: Baylor 38, Iowa State 10
2005: Baylor 23, Iowa State 13
Iowa State Offense
The offense didn't approach tire fire levels of ineptitude against Tech last weekend but their inability to manufacture drives in the second half served as a way to eventually undo a defense that forced four punts while the game was still within a one score margin.
At the end of the day this offense will go as far as the offensive line and Sam Richardson will take it. The line's youth and inexperience was exposed by an aggressive and senior leaden front seven for Tech and Richardson paid the price for it. Richardson was only sacked twice according to the stat sheet but the amount of hurries and knockdowns were easily in the double digits by the end of the game. With Aaron Wimberly going down at the end of the 2nd quarter the run game once again all but disappeared and made Iowa State one dimensional.
If you're sensing a theme you're not alone. This offense almost flat out refuses to try anything new in the run game if Wimberly is out and while it was encouraging to see vintage Shontrelle Johnson on a late touchdown drive it wasn't enough to satiate my desire to have a physical, clock eating run game.
A lot of this rests on the line and their inability to block, but Wimberly manages to consistently make chicken out of chicken shit on the ground. Suddenly that stable of "talented running backs" has one horse, and he's the smallest of the bunch. If this team cannot find a way to move the chains on the ground they won't win another game this year, and they most certainly will not win on Saturday.
Just like Tech this defense is an aggressive bunch with loads of experience. Seven senior starters are joined by a junior and three sophomores. Not a single freshman in this bunch. Even worse for Iowa State is the size they have to contend with in the middle. Sophomore NT Beau Blackshear is 300 pounds and sophomore DT Suleiman Masumbuko is 290.
So let's get this straight. An aggressive senior led defense? Check. Thick tackles in the middle? Check. A Top 25 defense? Check. Tell me if we've seen this story before.
The Match Up
If there is one positive for Iowa State when it comes to this match up it's the fact that Baylor ranks 61st nationally in rushing defense with 155 yards per game allowed on the ground. Unfortunately that stat became inflated after Kansas State ran the ball 58 times for 327 yards last week. That rushing attack allowed Kansas State to almost double up Baylor on time of possession (39:24 vs 20:36) and is nothing like what Iowa State has ran this year.
Long story short, this team is not going to win a shootout, but they can't run the ball with a banged up Richardson. So it begs the question: Is it Grant Rohach time? This isn't a question of Richardson's overall effectiveness as I still think he's the best quarterback Iowa State has had since at least Bret Meyer, but rather Richardson's effectiveness as a runner when he can barely move.
You never want to go into a game thinking you will lose but the staff should be asking themselves that given the gameplan needed to beat Baylor (i.e., keep their offense off the field) is Richardson the option to execute it? In a word, no.
If Baylor has shown one struggle in the last two seasons it's maintaining gap control when teams run. Running the quarterback creates an extra gap to defend, and Richardson just cannot run right now. If this team wants a legitimate shot at beating Baylor I think Rohach and his legs are the answer.
What can I write that hasn't been written already about this offense? Scary good is the best way to put it. 1st in scoring offense at 63.4 ppg, a full touchdown ahead of Oregon. 4th in rushing offense at 299.6 ypg, 2nd in passing offense with 414.2 ypg, and and 1st in total offense with 713.8 ypg, an 83 yard lead over Oregon.
These guys are not the classic Air Raid system that Briles learned under Mike Leach at Texas Tech. Their principles are the same but they have creatively worked in the same zone read concepts that every run first spread team uses and made themselves even more dangerous. If you thought Tech looked like a nightmare last week imagine facing a team with a more experienced quarterback, a Heisman caliber running back, and the best offensive line in the Big XII. Giving up 666 yards to Tech last week was only the beginning.
Iowa State Defense
Wally Burnham put it on tape last year how a lesser talented team can beat Baylor. Basic Cover-2 and Cover-3 concepts that include safety help over the top paired up with a defensive line selling out to stop the run and linebackers who are put under heavy pressure to tackle in space.
Iowa State executed it perfectly in Ames last year and Kansas State was well on their way to doing the same had it not been for the long passes last week. Baylor has a tendency to fall in love with the deep ball a little too much and Burnham's methodical defense last year kept them from springing big plays with the longest pass plays amounting to 49 and 38 yards, both of which went for touchdowns. Outside of that the Cyclones were content to let Baylor try to move the ball in chunks up the field and earn their points.
If you want a good schematic breakdown of how to stop these guys then this two part series from Football Study Hall is what you want to read. Part I covers the actual Baylor system and why it's hard to stop, and Part II covers how to stop it with obvious credits given to Iowa State and TCU, the two defenses that really kept Baylor in check in 2012.
The Match Up
Burnham won't roll anything special out on Saturday and once again try to contain the run game. My concern here is the linebacker play. Iowa State kept Baylor in check last year with two NFL caliber linebackers on the outside that were exceptional at tackling in space. While I'm a fan of Luke Knott and Jared Brackens neither one will be mistaken for Jake Knott and A.J. Klein. Their youth coupled with Jeremiah George's erratic play spells a lot of doom for this defense.
That's all I got. We know what the plan is on Saturday, Baylor knows what the plan is, and it all comes down to execution and after the embarrassment in Lubbock last week I don't see this defense having that much of a different outing in Waco.
My God Jarvis West. The little receiver that could was a special teams dynamo last week with his kick return for a touchdown and a long punt return. That's what everybody hoped to see when West first stepped on the field two years ago and it's beginning to show. Credit to Albert Gary who continues to do his part in the return game and managed to stay clean to deliver a block for West at about the 40-yard line that eventually sprung him to cut back inside and find the end zone.
Kirby Van Der Kamp's punts have looked terrible but he somehow averaged 47.5 yards per punt last week and is averaging 44.7 yards per punt on the entire year, which is his best since a 45.2 average in his freshman year of 2010.
Cole Netten is 0/1 passing in his career, and while I liked the call, I believe he should have never been put in the position. You very clearly are trying to score seven on that drive and the play itself looked fine but was blown up by a questionable non-call when Ernst Brun was held coming off the line. However, that call is made largely because Iowa State sat on the ball to end the 2nd quarter.
Iowa State took over at their own 20 yard line with 1:14 to go and two timeouts. 20 seconds later they're at their 37 yard line with two timeouts and decide to sit on the ball. In a tie game with you starting the second half with the ball this is inexcusable. The Cyclones had a chance to seize control and missed it. Even if they settle for a field goal there it opens up Netten for a field goal attempt a few drives later instead of running the fake.
Solid, but Not Quite a Lock Prediction: Grant Rohach may not start, but he will make his first appearance as a Cyclone.
Would Love to See, and Might: Some continued uniqueness to the running game. The Cyclones busted out a pass off the option last week and that was after running an option to score their first touchdown of the game. Baylor struggles with their gaps in the running game, and if Iowa State wants a chance to win they'll have to get creative on the ground with multiple players toting the rock.
Would Love to See, but Won't: Dominating the time of possession. Only way you beat Baylor is by keeping their offense off the field. To do that you have to run the ball, and I'm not sure this offensive line has the mettle to attempt nearly 60 carries like Kansas State did last week.
WRNL Beer Pick of the Week
It's still Fall and thus still Oktoberfest season and my second favorite varietal in this category is Paulaner's Oktoberfest-Marzen. For you parents/yuppies head to Costco and buy a 24 pack while they're still available.
The advantage to facing a simple, albeit scary, offense is the fact it's just that: simple. Briles has created his offense to be as efficient as it is through its simplicity and that allows opposing coordinators with the right mix of play calling and player execution to slow it down. Iowa State has one of those, but not the other.
Burnham put together a masterful gameplan in Ames last year. One good enough to be mimicked by other teams, but he had two NFLers in the middle, another one with his hand in the dirt, and a cornerback in Jeremy Reeves that was undersized but willing to go toe-to-toe with much bigger receivers.
Unfortunately the 2013 Cyclones only have the play calling going for them this year. The defensive line has shown bright spots at points this season but David Irving keeps disappearing inside after the first few drives. The secondary is a shadow of its former self when Jansen Watson is on the sidelines and seniors Deon Broomfield and Jacques Washigton are spread too thin to be effective. Then there are the linebackers. Knott and Brackens are trying to hold their own but Knott is still learning and Brackens is damn near awful in coverage. Charlie Rogers saw extended time at Nickel last week and looked far more capable than Brackens against Tech's receivers.
Then there is Jeremiah George. A guy who excelled between two NFLers last season is quickly becoming this year's version of Alvin Bowen. Great stats, but erratic play. If this Cyclone defense is going to rebound this season George needs to take a commanding presence in the middle of the field and limit his mistakes.
You would wonder why I spent all this time on the defense after mentioning the offense needed to run the ball and win time of possession to even give Iowa State a chance. Well that should tell you that I don't think they can do it.
The offensive line is young and continues to be banged up (Jacob Gannon is out), Richardson needs to be in a protective bubble, and the running backs are just as erratic as George is. Even if Rohach gets extended playing time on Saturday I have a hard time believing that the offense can sustain a ground attack long enough to hang around for 60 minutes.
Brighter days are ahead for this team and I truly believe Rhoads when he says the wins will come. Just not this Saturday.
Iowa State 27
PS - As always leave your predictions in the comments and give us some insight into what you'll be drinking during the slaughter!