2014 Game VIII: Iowa State (2-5, 0-4) vs Oklahoma (5-2, 2-2)
Time: 11:00 AM CDT
Location: Jack Trice Stadium, Ames, IA
Line: OU -16.5
Television: Fox Sports 1
Radio: Cyclone Radio Network
Oklahoma SBN Site: Crimson and Cream Machine
The Cyclones took some momentum from the Texas game in to the bye week, and Oklahoma had had an extra week to stew over being Snyder'd by Kansas State in their last outing. Now Oklahoma travels to Ames for the most lopsided series in major college football. That, and other superlatives regarding Bob Stoops and his Oklahoma team will be mentioned ad nauseam this weekend.
Stoops has never lost to Iowa State as Oklahoma's head coach (9-0), Mark Mangino was on Stoops' offensive staff from 1999-2001, and Iowa State offensive line coach Brandon Blaney was part of the staff from 1999-2000. Then there are these two ominous stats:
31: Straight games that Oklahoma has won coming off a loss in the regular season under Bob Stoops.
1960: The last time Iowa State beat Oklahoma in Ames. Paul Rhoads wouldn't be born for another 6 1/2 years.
If you've made it this far you've seen my note in the promotional box under the picture. If you haven't, scroll up and read it. I said there'd be an upset at the end of this preview? I did? Oh boy, this one is going to tough.
When We Last Left Off...
Iowa State rolled up season highs in points (45), total offense (524), and rushing yards (179) but made critical defensive errors late as they fell to Texas 48-45 in Austin.
Oklahoma pulled a classic Iowa State and had an extra point blocked and missed a late chip shot field goal en route to a 31-30 loss to wizard and special teams extraordinaire Bill Snyder and his Kansas State Wildcats.
Oklahoma is 71-5-2 all-time against Iowa State, including a 34-2-1 mark in Ames.
Listen, I have an idea. If you do not read any further you won't get to the end of this preview. And that is good, because there is an insane upset pick at the end of this preview.
So please don't keep reading.
Iowa State Offense
Explosions everywhere! E.J. Bibbs is becoming the best tight end in America. Allen Lazard and D'Vario Montgomery are living up to their 4-star billings. Aaron Wimberly needs to play Texas every week, and Sam B. (is for Bitchin') Richardson became the third Cyclone quarterback in history to pass for over 300 yards in back-to-back games.
Things are beginning to click in Ames but make no mistake about it, the talent on the edges are only as good as the talent up front, and the offensive line has helped make this offense consistent and even downright dangerous for stretches.
Jake Campos has quickly become the future at left tackle, the return of Jacob Gannon anchored down the other edge, and the men in the middle have stayed healthy. All of this has led to the key element in a successful offensive line: chemistry. For the past month the unit has acted as one, learning each other's habits and growing each and every game. The running stats still aren't eye popping, and the team does give up more sacks than they should, but by and large this line has allowed Richardson the time to let plays develop and find his second and third reads when necessary.
That is huge, and it'll be even bigger with a defense that ranks 79th in passing defense.
I haven't had the chance to watch a lot of Oklahoma this year, so I was shocked to see that they actually employ a 3-4 defense. Somewhere in an old preview, likely against Texas Tech, I lamented how most college teams cannot run a successful 3-4 defense because they can't find a big plug in the middle to command two, sometimes three, blockers at a time. If anyone can do this it's a team with the storied tradition of Oklahoma, right?
Sure enough, 6'6", 334 pound nose tackle Jordan Phillips is the man for the job. Phillips has a had a good campaign in 2014 and is going to command those two or three blockers like a good 3-4 nose tackle should. His support from ends Chuka Ndulue and Charles Tapper has been good enough to allow teams only 3.5 yards per rush and only 122 yards per game on the ground.
A good 3-4 pass rush is predicated on the talent of the outside linebackers and converted defensive end Geneo Grissom leads this bunch. His pass rush instincts remained intact after the transition, and his 3.5 sacks on the year is just one shy of his total from 2013. However, after Grissom the group gets small and fellow outside linebacker Eric Striker is only 6'0" and 221 pounds. Striker is quick, and defensive coordinator Mike Stoops will bring pressure from everywhere to keep the Cyclones off balance.
Teams are throwing on Oklahoma on 53% of their snaps, and they're attacking the edges while doing it. 38% of their plays are passes outside the tackles, and that's by design to slow down the outside pass rush from Grissom and Striker. 36% of Iowa State's plays are passes outside of the box and this is going to be a key match up early to keep Richardson upright and give the offensive line a fighting chance. What separates the Cyclones from other teams are players like Bibbs and West, who can do just as much damage in the middle as they do on the edges.
The Match Up
Iowa State isn't going to be able to run between the tackles very well this game. Their 3.8 yards per carry between the tackles was bolstered by a strong game in Austin, but Oklahoma's 3.3 yards per carry will win out with a player like Phllips in the middle.
However, given the tweener size of 3-4 defense ends, a lot of teams can have success on the edges if they can seal their end and move up to the outside linebacker to get a block at the second level. If there's running room on Oklahoma it's towards the smaller Striker and this is where Iowa State needs to attack to keep Oklahoma off balance just enough to give the passing game the room it needs to succeed.
Once the Cyclones take to the air the gloves can come off. Oklahoma is giving up an abysmal 8.4 yards per attempt over the middle of the field, and an even higher 10.3 yards per attempt in their own opportunity zone (inside their defensive 40 yard line).
Bibbs is going to draw double coverage anytime he goes over the middle and it's going to isolate Lazard and Montgomery on cornerbacks Zack Sanchez and Julian Wilson. Lazard has about five inches on Sanchez, but Sanchez is aggressive and Lazard will have to show more ability to handle the physicality then he did in earlier Big XII contests. The longer Wilson will draw Montgomery and it will be interesting to see how these two big bodies bang it out. If Wilson can limit Montgomery's touches this offense will slow down.
If I'm Mangino I spread the defense out early to force them to declare their intentions and work the quick screen game if they fail to man up their receivers. This opens up the middle for the occasional cursory run, but most importantly this will serve to isolate Bibbs and get him in one-on-one coverage where he's sure to win in space against a linebacker.
Trevor Knight parlayed an offensive explosion in last season's Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama into a high preseason ranking and expectations of a Big XII title this season. Knight is no slouch, but he's had an up and down season that has caused the Oklahoma offense to disappear in key stretches in their two losses.
Running back Samaje Perine has lived up to his preseason hype with 657 yards on the season and ten touchdowns. He's going to split time with Alex Ross and Keith Ford, and if the Sooners know what's good for them they'll create a platoon with these three and use Knight when necessary.
Sterling Shepard holds down the outside and is one of the best receivers in the country. His 911 yards rank 6th nationally, and his five touchdowns are tied for 41st, albeit that has more to do with Oklahoma's propensity to run in the red zone.
The offensive line is filled with a whole bunch of 300-plus pounders, and keeps with a theme I first noticed with the Sooners' defense: the entire team packs a lot of size. So much size in fact that you wonder how they move in space, but given Iowa State's defensive line woes it likely won't matter.
Iowa State Defense
This defense is Iowa State's version of Jekyll and Hyde. You have the solid 3rd quarter against Texas, and for the most part a solid 4th quarter, but then you have the back breaking two plays to end the game that had more to do with dimes thrown by Tyrone Swoopes than a bad play call or coverage.
Consistency is going to be the key for an upset to happen Saturday and it starts up front with the defensive line earning their stripes on the ground. Oddly enough, teams are attacking the middle part of the line and Cory Morrissey on 40% of their runs, but it's the attacks towards Trent Taylor and Luke Knott that end up with eye popping 7.2 yards per carry, and 8.2 yards per carry inside the opportunity zone.
With Knight's legs and Perine being some version of Adrian Peterson, this could be a very long day for the Iowa State front seven. However, if there's a saving grace to having to play seven or eight in the box it's that no Oklahoma receiver has been able to create a second threat behind Shepard, and that will allow for more single coverage on the outside.
Dammit, stop reading!
Oklahoma is running the ball 54% of the time and 22% of their total plays are runs between the tackles. Time for the guys in the middle to man up. To further compound the problem, Shepard is targeted 50% of the time on first down passes and 42% on 3rd down. He's going to get his looks, and most likely yards.
The Match Up
Going against conventional wisdom here, but it might make sense to move Nigel Tribune off Shepard, replace him with Sam E. Richardson, and let Shepard have his yards. Richardson has been solid in coverage this year, doesn't give up as much height to Shepard as he does to most receivers, and Shepard will get his looks and yards no matter what. Let Tribune occupy the other side of the field and take out one of Shepard's supporting cast. This likely forces Knight to struggle with his reads and make some of the bad decisions that has got him in to trouble in the past.
Aside from that I fully expect to see what we've seen all year from these units. Oklahoma is going to run behind their big offensive line, mix in some runs from Knight to force the defense to be gap disciplined, and then hit Shepard on deep throws once they get across midfield.
Iowa State is just hoping to minimize big plays and to keep the offense off the field as much as possible. They'll once again rely on single coverage on at least one receiver at a time, and slide a safety in to the box to help in run support.
If the dam breaks on special teams this week it will be when Colin Downing is tasked with kicking away from Shepard. This makes him ripe for a shank, and even if he hits the ball well, it will be up to the punt coverage team to keep Shepard from shaking loose.
We've seen this before, a strong special teams unit can break open an otherwise close game. For our sake, let's hope it's more like Kansas State and Jarvis West and not like Utah and Shaky Smithson.
WRNL Beer Pick of the Week
My brother will have his first Oktoberfest-Marzen available this weekend, and I'm looking forward to it immensely. We'll have two Hydroflasks full of it, and no doubt it'll be mostly gone before the sun comes up.
As for a beer pick? Well, we're going to have some of this at the tailgate. Oh, you want a real beer pick? As a way to keep you from reading I'm holding the beer pick hostage this week. Now you'll definitely stop reading.
Seriously, stop now if you don't want to get on the hype train and have your hopes dashed!
Deep breath, now how the hell do I pick an upset when everything on paper says this game should be at least the 17 point game Vegas says it will be?
Simple. It's called hope.
Hope that we're seeing the best offense at Iowa State since the early 2000s. Hope that the offense is dangerous enough to both control the clock and keep Oklahoma off balance. Hope that the clock control benefits the defense and keeps them fresh late in to the game. Hope that the defense is refreshed after an off week and can generate a few turnovers to draw out Tremblin' Trevor Knight. Hope that things align and the team puts together a full game, and not just a half like they have done in the past.
Hope that superlatives are just that, superlatives. Hope that Bob Stoops has never lost back-to-back regular season games since his first season means that statistically he's due to break an extreme trend. Hope that a chilly November morning gives way to a slow start for an explosive offense. And most of all...
Hope that for once in the last 50 years luck is on Iowa State's side in this series. Call me crazy, call me stupid, call me anything you want, but don't call me a pessimist.
Iowa State 41
See, I told you there was an upset at the end of this preview!