Time: 6:30 PM CDT
Location: HA Chapman Stadium, Tulsa, OK
Line: Tulsa -2.5
Television: Fox Sports 1 - Information here
Radio: Cyclone Radio Network - Affiliate Information here
Despite this Storm Bowl being downgraded to a tropical depression there's still a lot to play for. Tulsa has not looked impressive this season after dropping their opener to Bowling Green, escaping Colorado State, and getting blown out by Oklahoma. Iowa State's ups and downs have been well chronicled here and by the local press. Both teams need this victory to get back into form, and at least for Iowa State, a win is imperative to keep bowl hopes even slightly flickering.
What should we expect from the rubber match of the series? Both teams are having trouble on the lines through either rebuilding or injuries and the rushing attacks from 2012 are nowhere to be found so far in 2013. The teams are both young with Tulsa boasting 27 players that are either freshmen or sophomores on the two-deep and Iowa State countering with 26 freshmen or sophomores having earned playing time so far in 2013. 11 made their first career starts vs UNI and 15 in total have made their first career starts. Tulsa has had 13 new starters through their first three games.
Youth on the road facing a team desperate for a win. Not a recipe for success? Or is it?
When We Last Left Off...
Iowa State dropped their first Cy-Hawk game since 2010 with a 27-21 loss to Iowa. The first two and a half quarters were a muddled Mess offensively until Quenton Bundrage broke loose for a 67-yard touchdown reception and the offense came to life and took advantage of Iowa's base coverage with two fourth quarter touchdown tosses.
Tulsa continued to struggle to establish the run and surrendered 24 straight points to Oklahoma before succumbing 51-20 in Blake Bell's first start for the Sooners. Cody Green went 17-33 for 226 yards and one interception for Tulsa and the rushing attack only managed 95 yards and 3.1 yards per carry.
Iowa State leads the all-time series 2-1 after splitting with Tulsa in 2012.
2012 Liberty Bowl: Tulsa 31, Iowa State 17
2012 Opener: Iowa State 38, Tulsa 23
1961: Iowa State 27, Tulsa 6
Iowa State Offense Courtney Messingham Pants Shitting Extravaganza
Should I even fucking bother previewing this section of the game? I don't want to pat myself on the back but here's what I wrote for the Iowa game:
If Iowa still stacks the box in three or four wide receiver sets I expect Richardson to go outside quickly to Bundrage and one of the tight ends. Simple hitches and bubble screens to eat up a few quick yards will help open the running lanes in the middle of the field and allow Iowa State to chew up yards and clock. Additionally, this is going to soften up the middle of the field for the intermediate routes as the linebackers will be out wide and the safeties are likely to creep up in run support. I expect the first few series to be a chess match feeling out Iowa's defense and how they'll respond when the field is spread.
So what did Mess do? Ran up the middle. Worse yet he did it on obvious read plays, which means either Sam Richardson was coached to hand off or was so unsure of his own running ability he ignored the read. This wouldn't be so bad if Paul Rhoads didn't come out after the game saying he wanted to see more bubble screens and getting the ball out faster to soften up the Iowa defense.
I'm no coach, but if some half ass blogger can identify this, and so can the head coach, then what the fuck is wrong with the guy calling the plays? At this point I'm just going to tell you what Iowa State should not do offensively and hope Mess does the opposite of that.
Iowa State should not throw early to set up the run. Nor should they try to test Tulsa on the edges with sweeps from a two back set. Nor should they focus on running with a lead blocker to save Richardson's ankle. After all that they absolutely without a doubt should not try a play action pass to take off the top against a very inexperienced secondary.
No sir, Iowa State should do none of those.
Tulsa Defense How to Get Promoted as Defensive Coordinator After Facing Iowa State
Run blitz on 1st down. Stop opposing team for loss. Profit.
The Match Up
For the third game in a row Iowa State is going to need to win in the trenches to win, but unlike the previous two games, has a clear and distinct advantage on the offensive side of the ball. Tulsa lost safety Demarco Nelson due to academics before the season started. Nelson had started the previous 39 games on a defense that excelled at being aggressive and disciplined. Only two starters from the Liberty Bowl will start on Thursday and they're linebackers Mitchell Osborne and Shawn Jackson. Jackson was the Defensive MVP of the Liberty Bowl after racking up nine tackles and two sacks.
This Tulsa defense is young and if their prior games are any indication they will again continue to be aggressive with early run blitzes and blitzes on 3rd and long to force a quick throw. However, unlike last year they're struggling on maintaining gap discipline, have a small and inexperienced defensive line, and a very young secondary. That's exactly why they've surrendered 202 rushing yards per game and 4.6 yards per carry in 2013. Statistically the pass defense has been better and is allowing only a 54% completion rate, but that was driven by quiet passing performances by Bowling Green and Colorado State. When Blake Bell stepped onto the field for his first start almost two weeks ago he torched the Tulsa defense for 413 yards and four touchdowns on 27-37 passing.
Sensing where I'm going with this? Iowa State will still have to run the ball to be successful but early passing success will open up those running lanes. As long as the Cyclones focus on getting the ball out quickly and using a more traditional, lead blocking type scheme when running they'll be more than fine here.
So when you read this Courtney Messingham just remember what I told you not to do above.
Iowa State Defense
Say what you will about Iowa State's third down performance against Iowa but this defense has markedly improved since taking the field against UNI at the end of August. Tackling was better across the board and the defensive line did a good job maintaining their gaps. What goes unnoticed in the stat sheet of the 3.6 yards per carry allowed against Iowa is how that was actually a true average per carry. Mark Weisman's longest run of the day was a 13 yard carry early in the 1st quarter. Otherwise the Iowa State defense kept him, Damon Bullock, and Jordan Canzeri relatively bottled up.
Where Iowa State failed to succeed was getting Iowa behind the sticks early and taking chances on 1st and 2nd down with run blitzes. There were the occasional run blitzes but they came at a time when the extra defenders were needed to keep Weisman from gaining a yard or two and usually failed. There is merit to run blitzing on early downs against teams like Iowa and Tulsa and it's all about making the quarterback beat you on 3rd down later that drive. Iowa State's deficiencies on 3rd down against Iowa wasn't all because of the player's inability to get off the field, but sometimes because of the scheme and play calls prior to 3rd down.
On the back breaking 16 play drive Iowa had in the 4th quarter 15 plays were runs but only one came on 3rd down. Iowa was successful enough on 1st down that they had short yardage for 2nd down. Nearly all of these plays came against Iowa State's typical gap control run defense. A defense, mind you, that was out there previously for a 9 play drive that took 4:40 off the clock and resulted in an Iowa touchdown. Iowa State then proceeded to give the ball back to Iowa after 41 seconds and sent the defense out there with only the rest between the 3rd and 4th quarter supporting them.
So what am I trying to say with all of this? Fucking run blitz when the other team has a questionable quarterback and receivers. Just like Tulsa.
Cody Green is back and so are Trey Watts and Ja'Terian Douglas. Gone are Alex Singleton and Willie Carter (graduation) and Keyarris Garrett (season ending injury). This is a young Tulsa team on the outside with only one senior starter. The offensive line returns 66 career starts, and while significant, the line has not shown the same push they did throughout last season. As a team Tulsa rushed for 5 yards per carry in 2012 with with Watts topping 1,000 yards, Douglas going for 936, and Singleton accounting for 800. That number has fallen to 3.6 yards per carry in 2013, but Watts is still averaging 5.5 yards per carry alone. It's the lack of depth behind him that has hurt the running game.
With Cody Green as a starter Tulsa is 6-0 when he throws less than 30 times in a game. When he throws for 30 or more they're 5-5, including the season opening loss in Ames last season. Given the youth outside for Tulsa matching up with Iowa State's most experienced unit you have to believe Tulsa will want to try to run the ball, and just like against Iowa a few weeks ago, Iowa State needs to focus on stopping the run.
The Match Up
Pretty straightforward here. Make Cody Green beat you. He couldn't do it in Ames last season, and he damn near gave the game away in the 1st quarter in Memphis before getting shackled and forced to hand the ball off to whomever was running at Jevohn Miller. Fortunately Miller has been replaced by Little Knott and the linebacking corps looks fast and capable of keeping Watts and Douglas in check.
The match up to really watch will be how David Irving, all 6'7" of him, handles facing two 6'2" interior linemen and if Brandon Jensen can come along enough to command a few double teams himself. Tulsa has not looked good on the interior in any of their games and if Irving's performance against Iowa is any indication things may continue to play out that way.
I expect a modified version of the gameplan against Iowa where the key will be stopping the run on early downs, but the difference here is Tulsa doesn't have guys like Brandon Scherff and Connor Boffeli to open holes for a guy like Mark Weisman. Watts is a talented back, but he isn't going to wear a defense down like Weisman.
Rhoads didn't ruin Cole Netten two weeks ago, so there's a small victory right? Kirby Van Der Kamp has looked questionable so far this year but surprisingly is averaging 43.2 yards per punt, which is a half yard higher than his career average. At times it's looked like he's trying to drive the ball more than he should and no doubt it's due to the pressure of flipping field position, but somehow his punts still end up in decent shape.
Trey Watts will test Kirby and the punt coverage team as the best returner they've faced so far this season and a 77 yard punt return against Oklahoma should have the attention of the coaches.
Iowa State's kick return team didn't break out against Iowa like I had hoped but Aaron Wimberly and Albert Gary both had returns over 30 yards and do show the potential to take one all the way if the blocking lines up enough for them to make one cut and go. With an offense such as Iowa State's this kick return unit has to turn into a consistent weapon to help put points on the board.
Solid, but Not Quite a Lock Prediction: Iowa State finally scores their first rushing touchdown of the season.
Would Love to See, and Might: A couple of interceptions by Iowa State's defense. Green has already thrown two this year and had 11 last year including the pick six in the Liberty Bowl.
Would Love to See, but Won't: 30 or more attempts by the running back corps. This stays until it happens. The last time it happened: 2012 vs Baylor (Shontrelle 16 for 73, White 10 for 42, Woody 5 for 10, and Nealy 1 for 0). Prior to that: 2012 vs Tulsa.
WRNL Beer Pick of the Week
I'll keep drinking the Staghorn Octoberfest from New Glarus like last week (I have a whole case!), but in the interest of keeping things fresh I suggest Founders All Day IPA. This is a fruitier IPA but you won't get a strong buzz off it with its 4.7% ABV.
Through this entire preview I kept coming back to one conclusion: Iowa State should blowout Tulsa. There are a lot reasons I hold this belief.
One, Iowa State's relative youth to Tulsa's isn't what it appears on paper. Both have a similar amount of underclassmen on the two-deep but a lot of Iowa State's either redshirted or have played special teams previously. In the case of Tulsa, they're starting some true freshmen out there. Tulsa is like a lot of mid-major programs that rely on strong senior leadership to have success and this is the season where that experience has left and now must be rebuilt.
Two, I think the defensive talent Iowa State possesses outweighs Tulsa's offensive talent. Despite losing the first two games of the season the Iowa State defense has clearly improved and you can tell by watching that there is skill there. The light bulbs are beginning to go off and I stand by my preseason prediction that this defense can do great things this year, but occasionally shit the bed because of their inexperience. You see it building, and now you wonder when it will come together.
Three, this isn't the Liberty Bowl. Tulsa took advantage of Jake Knott being out of the lineup and the Iowa State defense paid for it. Their defense dared Richardson to beat them with his arm, and he couldn't do it, and the running game was nowhere to be found with unimaginative play calling and without Shontrelle who torched Tulsa in the first meeting. Both of those have changed for this match up. Jevohn Miller is on the bench and Luke Knott has replaced him to mostly glowing reviews. Tulsa's defense lost nearly everyone on their defensive line and secondary and now return two linebackers who can cause damage, but need help up front to do it.
Four, this is a road game. With a few exceptions Rhoads has excelled on the road more than any Iowa State coach in recent memory. This team could use the business trip vibe Rhoads likes to bring to road trips and focus solely on going to Tulsa, winning the game, and coming home. Road trips put the focus on the team and they desperately need that right now.
So why am I not going to predict the blowout? Because somehow we'll make a Mess of things.
Iowa State wins, maybe even convincingly, but the offense again fails to shine.
Iowa State 24
PS - As always, leave your predictions below.