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2014 Game V: Iowa State vs Oklahoma State Preview

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Because the show must go on.

Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

2014 Game V: Iowa State (1-3, 0-2) vs Oklahoma State (3-1, 1-0)

Time: 11:00 AM

Location: Boone Pickens Stadium, Stillwater, OK

Line: OSU -17

Television: Fox Sports 1

Radio: Cyclone Radio Network

Game Notes/Release

Oklahoma State SBN Site: Cowboys Ride For Free

Iowa State travels to Stillwater this weekend to play an Oklahoma State team that took Florida State to the wire (who hasn't), and is looking to be a sleeper in the Big XII race.

The Cyclones find themselves in a bit of a chicken and egg conundrum with their running game right now.  Do you double down on the run and make it work, or pass to set up the run?  The question needs some answering if the Cyclones are to come away from Boone Pickens Stadium with their first win in Stillwater in 14 years.

When We Last Left Off...

Iowa State held Baylor in check early, threw a Steve Young-ian interception, and let the wheels come off in the 2nd quarter en route to a 49-28 defeat to the Bears.

Oklahoma State wore some chromed out helmets, got in a shootout with Texas Tech, broke Davis Webb, and finally pulled away for a 45-35 victory in their first conference game of the season.

The Series

Oklahoma State leads the all-time series 27-18-3 and is 15-6-2 in Stillwater.  The Cyclones last defeated the Cowboys in 2011 in a game for the ages, that already feels like it was an entire generation ago.  As mentioned earlier, a late touchdown by Lane Danielson gave the Cyclones their last victory in Stillwater, a 33-26 triumph in 2000.

Iowa State Offense

It's time for a preview mailbag!  Maybe not one of those "real" mailbags, but me cherry picking stuff from around the Iowa State internet community to make a point.

Why can't we run the football?

Great question, and it's for a lot of reasons.  A fairly basic inside/outside zone game coupled with a struggling offensive line and teams selling out to stop the run is the main culprit.  The wheels came off last week against Baylor, but at the risk of sounding like a broken record, let me stress that Baylor might have the best defensive line Iowa State sees all year. Then add a few well timed run blitzes to that and things go south in a hurry.

Watch the second half of last week's game and see what happens when Baylor pulls guys out of the box.  The basic inside zone game still wasn't working (penetration), but mixing Sam Richardson in to the run game opened up the zone read, forced Baylor to make decisions, and ultimately led to 14 points to open the 3rd quarter.

Do we really want Sam running that much?  His body obviously can't handle it!

No, we really don't want him running that much, but in base coverages like Baylor showed late last week it's key to make Sam a key part of the running game to force them to account for the extra gap he creates.  If they have to start worrying about him more then the middle will open up naturally.

Shouldn't we be passing to set up the run?

A classic example on how to do this is using the tight end on dump offs or play action passes.  Except every team has doubled E.J. Bibbs to start the year and he's running on one good leg.  There's some merit to passing more to set up the run, and Iowa State was incredibly balanced on first down last week (16 passes vs 15 runs).

Going five wide is the answer only if the ball comes out quickly because this offensive line is struggling with a four man rush, let alone five or six rushers.  One of the keys to passing to set up the run is to stress the middle of the field to force the linebackers into deeper drops, and this team has an aversion to throwing intermediate routes over the middle.  Some of that is the bracketing of Bibbs, and some of it is to keep Richardson out of situations where he can make a mistake.

So you're saying we should pass to set up the run, right?

Only if it makes sense.  The screen game doesn't work on press coverage, and teams are going to continue to press the Cyclone receivers until either a competent running game emerges or the get beat deep.  A good middle ground to this is the slant, and is exactly what Baylor used last week to soften up the Iowa State defense.

Beating guys deep!  That's right, aren't the receivers terrible at separation?

Go watch something other than the quarterback if you want a good answer to that question.  I understand watching on TV doesn't allow you to do that very often, but if you watch the game live take your eyes off the man throwing the ball.  Allen Lazard routinely whipped his man last week and even Dondre Daley was getting open and off the press.  Daley has been a possession guy through and through and to see him get open deep was a testament to the coaching from Tommy Mangino.

Richardson struggled on those deep throws last week and clearly wasn't in a rhythm, and that part of the game is on his shoulders.  Don't blame the receivers for not getting open, because they absolutely were.

Ok hot shot, what's the solution?

If I really knew that I wouldn't be writing this preview, but I'll try my hand at it anyway.  The receivers are fairly good despite the depth disappearing faster than the running back talent.  We all know Richardson is a good quarterback.  He's still the same guy that had good games against Kansas State and Iowa, and he should continue to improve.  That said, the ball has to come out quicker and the staff has to help him when pressure is put on him.  They tried last week with screens, but moving the pocket and getting him in to space will force quicker defensive adjustments.

Get Richardson in to space, give him dump off options, and let the yards slowly accumulate while the opposing defense is forced into a more vanilla coverage to account for it.

Oklahoma State Defense

The good news: this team is fairly young and lacks experience.  The bad news: they're fairly athletic.  The good news: most of that athleticism is in the back end.  The bad news: the back end is where Iowa State had opportunity last week.

I'm not going to freak out about this defense being athletic because there's some opportunity to be gained here.  The Cowboys may rank 32nd nationally in rush defense, but rank 106th in pass defense and 74th in pass efficiency defense.  And yes, both of those categories are lower than Iowa State's rankings (66th and 53rd, respectively).

The Cowboys boast another set of 300 pound space suckers in the middle with tackles James Castleman and Ofa Hautau.  Both men are charged with protecting a smaller linebacker group that averages 219 pounds across the three starters.  The Cowboys obviously went all in on the smaller, faster linebackers that populate the Big XII and it provides ample opportunity for the Cyclones to get outside in the running game.  The back end is held down by three juniors and a senior but every single one of their direct back ups are freshmen, and they've been playing a fair amount.

The Stats

Teams are averaging 9.2 yards per attempt on first down against the Cowboys' defense, but are passing on only 43% of first downs.  This was largely driving by Tech's bombardment last week, but if there was ever a time to pass to set up the run, this would be it.

The Match Up

The Cowboys can stop the run, and the Cyclones can't run the ball.  On paper this looks like a match up from hell, but I'm not all that convinced this isn't the game to get the beasts up front going.

Oklahoma State may be able to plug the middle but they have a smaller set of defensive ends and an even smaller set of linebackers.  This is exactly the situation where you mix Richardson in to the run game and provide a few roll outs with dump offs to Bibbs or Jarvis West.  Oklahoma State will likely press the receivers early, which makes it all the more important the ball comes out to someone in the middle of the field.

If the Cyclones can open up some space in the first few drives then the running game will become serviceable, and once that happens the receivers will open up and Richardson will look like the man we all know he is capable of being.

Oklahoma State Offense

Daxx Garman, Tyreek Hill, and Desmond Roland.  That's what you need to know.  Roland destroyed the Cyclone defense last year to the tune of 219 yards and four touchdowns on only 26 attempts, and he's going to bring the thunder to Hill's lightning.

More frightening is Garman's strong desire to throw deep, and do it again, and again, and again.  The Cowboys are averaging 11.6 yards per attempt on first down, and an even more devastating 15.3 on 2nd.  They're going to test the Cyclone defense in just about every way imaginable on Saturday.

The offensive line and receivers don't boast a superstar like in year's past, but the line still boasts two seniors on the left side and has the potential to be another solid performing unit under Gundy.  I'm not going to put anything about the receivers in to text because I really believe this is going to be the Roland and Hill show.

Iowa State Defense

Sure, they gave up 600 yards, but they did it against the best offensive team in the country and gave themselves a chance to succeed on more than one occasion.  Don't look now but the Iowa State defense is improving, and it all starts up front with the play of the defensive line.

Cory Morrissey is playing the best ball of his career and frequently chased Bryce Petty out of a comfortable stance last week.  The move inside for Mitchell Meyers has created an attack in the middle of the line that hasn't been seen since Jake McDonough and JUCO Trent Taylor is starting to compliment Morrissey on the edge.

The move of Jevohn Miller to MIKE has proven to be a natural one, and Luke Knott and Drake Ferch are coming along in their ability to defend in space.  The secondary was tested last week, and while there were errors, there were a lot fewer instances of players running unchecked than in the past.

Believe it or not, this unit may be at the "serviceable" level in a few short weeks, and maybe even "dependable" by November.

The Stats

On Monday I tweeted out the following about the Baylor game:

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Baylor ran 26 times between the tackles vs the <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Cyclones?src=hash">#Cyclones</a>. Good enough for 142 yards, and 5.5 YPC. Not the whole story though (1/2)</p>&mdash; Dan Becker (@WRNLKnowDan) <a href="https://twitter.com/WRNLKnowDan/status/516968326732722176">September 30, 2014</a></blockquote>

<script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>They also passed 9 times over the middle for 110 yards, or 12.2 YPA. 6 of those went for 102 yards on 1st down alone.</p>&mdash; Dan Becker (@WRNLKnowDan) <a href="https://twitter.com/WRNLKnowDan/status/516968539207782400">September 30, 2014</a></blockquote>

<script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Why is that stat important? ISU couldn&#39;t stop the run on first down, committed more to the run. Baylor punished with slants vs 1 on 1 cover</p>&mdash; Dan Becker (@WRNLKnowDan) <a href="https://twitter.com/WRNLKnowDan/status/516969181317967872">September 30, 2014</a></blockquote>

<script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

That's important because Oklahoma State did something similar to Tech last week.  1st down passes over the middle: 6, yards gained: 125.  They were just dangerous enough on first down runs between the tackles (six rushes, 31 yards) to pull the safeties up and kill Tech on the deep ball.

The Match Up

Run Roland, run Hill, pass over the top.  Rinse.  Repeat.

Despite their obvious improvements, the Iowa State defense still struggles stopping the run between the tackles.  The con to Meyers size and quickness is the fact he doesn't hold up very well in the running game, and Brandon Jensen is high or low depending on his fatigue level.

Given Roland's ability to destroy everything, and Hill's ability to run around it, this is a simple game plan for offensive coordinator Mike Yurchich.  Oklahoma State is going to come out and run the ball, force Iowa State to commit seven men to stopping it, and then take the top off with deep play action passes.

It's boom or bust to the ultimate degree, but against this defense you don't do anything different.  Let's see if Iowa State sits back in deep coverage and hopes to trick Garman into making those throws while leaving the intermediate routes open.

Special Teams

Another week, another chance for this unit to shine.  Cole Netten has been keeping the bench warm since the Iowa game, and that's quite alright.  Iowa State has reached the red zone only eight times this year, but converted seven of those into touchdowns, including two last week.

The Cyclones are 12th nationally in net punting (hooray!) and 114th in kick returns (boo!).  At some point you hope they get gifted with an opposing kicker who can't reach the end zone and are given the chance to finally break one.

West was limited last week in his touches, and was not on the kick return unit.  Hopefully his head is back to normal for this game and he's given every opportunity to touch the ball.

WRNL Beer Pick of the Week

If you fall in to our 25-40 year old male demographic (and most of you do) then head to Costco and buy yourself a 24 pack of Hacker-Pschorr Oktoberfest-Marzen.  Oktoberfest season continues!

Final Analysis

Oklahoma State has the ability to walk away from Iowa State in this game.  They have more talent on both sides of the ball and they're putting up points like a top flight Big XII team.  That said, Iowa State is starting to find their footing after a brutal stretch to open the season.

Yes, they laid an egg at times against Baylor, but they had early success that might have been sustained had it not been for that interception.  Despite the injuries to the offense they keep finding a way to improve in spots but have yet to completely put it all together.

Is that the week this happens?  Maybe.  Oklahoma State can stop the run, but can't stop the pass.  On the other side they love to air it out, but the success of that is completely dependent on touch and a little bit of luck.  Iowa State has held their own in passing situations due in large part to an improved defensive line.  Again, this may be the week it all comes together.

We're in the stretch of the season where a team finds out what it's made of and the fans get exhausted when results aren't favorable.  We're only four games in to the year, and regardless of prior results the show must go on.

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And on

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And on

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The team channels 3sus this week and drives the stake into Oklahoma State once again.

Final Score

Iowa State 34

Oklahoma State 31