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2014 Game VI: Iowa State vs Toledo Preview

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The Cyclones return to Jack Trice and welcome the Toledo Rockets to Ames for the 102nd Homecoming.

Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

2014 Game VI: Iowa State (1-4, 0-3) vs Toledo (4-2, 3-0 MAC)

Time: 2:30 PM CDT

Location: Jack Trice Stadium, Ames, IA

Line: ISU -2.5

Television: Cyclones.TV (Stream & Cable)

Radio: Cyclone Radio Network

Game Notes/Release

MAC SBN Site: Hustle Belt

Is this the sigh of relief that Cyclone fans have been looking for?  In an SEC-esque scheduling quirk, Iowa State welcomes their final non-conference opponent of the season in mid-October and happens to do so on Homecoming.

To date Iowa State has lost to three ranked teams and a three time defending FCS champion.  If Iowa State is to turn their season around it starts on Saturday with a MAC team that looks great on paper but has only lost to an up and down Missouri team that was defeated at home by Indiana.

When We Last Left Off...

Iowa State lost to Oklahoma State 37-20.  The events of the game have been well chronicled, and we will not go in to them here.

Toledo had to force a late tie to take Western Michigan to overtime, and benefited from a missed Bronco extra point in the extra frame to steal the 20-19 victory.

The Series

The series is tied 1-1 with Iowa State winning in triple overtime in 2006 and the Rockets returning the favor in Toledo with a late victory in 2007.

Iowa State Offense

Another week and another discussion about the running game.  It worked just well enough last week in the first half to keep the Oklahoma State defense honest, but it was the two turnovers forced by the defense that set up the Cyclones on a short field and gave the offense a much needed boost.  Two inopportune sacks in the red zone resulted in field goals, and had those not happened we could be having a different discussion about last week's game.

Mark Mangino went old school last week with an I Formation in short yardage situations and inserted Martinez Syria in the fullback spot.  It was a great way to make sure the needed yardage was obtained, but it was fairly evident the issue with the rushing attack rests largely with the offensive line and their inability to get push against opposing defenses.  The triple option look off the short yardage runs was great to see, but I would have liked to have seen that rolled out in other situations.

This team still needs to manufacture yards on the ground and the only way to do that is through forcing the defense to make decisions they don't want to make.  When you can't line up and run the ball at the defense you have to learn how to run it where they won't be.

Toledo Defense

Another week, another stout run defense, or so it appears.  The average national ranking for Toledo's FBS opponents and their running attack is 80th.  The highest ranked team, Western Michigan at 50th, rushed for only 62 yards and averaged 1.9 yards per carry last week against the Rockets.

This again comes down to two stout tackles in the middle, sophomore Treyvon Hester and junior Orion Jones.  Iowa State has struggled with size in the middle all season, and it's likely to happen again Saturday.  Teams are only averaging 3 yards per carry between the tackles against Toldeo, but will smaller defensive ends that average jumps to 5.3 yards per carry outside the box.

The Rockets have some size in the secondary and no doubt 6'2" cornerback Jordan Martin will draw Allen Lazard.  The receivers struggled with Oklahoma State's physicality last week, and Toledo will try the same.  What should make a difference is the general athletic difference between a team like Oklahoma State and Toldeo.

We hope.

The Stats

Toldeo is giving up almost 3/4 of their yardage through the air and is one of the worst pass defenses in the country.  Conversely Iowa State is gaining 2/3 of their yards via the pass and the majority of that is coming on 2nd and 3rd down.  If there was a week for the Cyclone offense to get their running legs under them this isn't it.

The Match Up

Given that Toldeo's strength is clearly in the middle, and Iowa State should have a speed advantage, then the attack should be focused on the edges and getting good blocks to seal the edge.  If the Cyclones can do that and get DeVondrick Nealy and Aaron Wimberly one on one with the smaller linebackers then yards will start to accumulate.

Something has to be done in the running game to open up the receivers, but I still expect the Cyclones to attack the middle of the field with E.J. Bibbs to force the coverage to account for him and open up Lazard on the outside.  How far Jarvis West has come from his ankle injury will be big in this game because there is no one on Toldeo's defense that can stop both him and Bibbs.

Toldeo Offense

Toledo reminds me a lot of the Tulsa teams from a few years ago.  They're going to run, they're going to do it from a lot of different directions, and they're going to do it as long as they can and still move the chains.

Sure, they've racked up about 200 more yards passing than rushing, but the stats show that this is a running team through and through.  Worse yet, they start by attacking up the middle and that's exactly what a worn down Iowa State defense doesn't want.

Despite the loss of starting quarterback Phillip Ely against Missouri, the Rocket offense has hardly missed a beat.  Sophomore Logan Woodside has stepped in, hit 62% of his passes, thrown for seven touchdowns to only three interceptions, and accounted for three more scores on the ground.

On the plus side, Woodside is hardly the most mobile quarterback the Cyclones have seen this season.  Jake Waters he is not, but he's still good enough to run a few times to keep the Cyclone defense honest.

Sophomore Kareem Hunt (527 yards, seven TDs, 8.9 YPC) is questionable for this game, so freshman Terry Swanson (365 yards, two TDs, 7.9 YPC), and sophomore Damion Jones-Moore (259 yards, three TDs, 5.4 YPC) will look to carry the load on Saturday and may even see the field together.

Outside the Rockets boast two 6'4" receivers in Alonzo Russell and Justin Olack.  Russell is the most dangerous threat with his 15.3 yards per catch and six touchdowns, and will draw Nigel Tribune.  The match up to really watch then will be Olack against Sam E. Richardson and is surely to come on 3rd down when Toldeo is throwing the ball 69% of the time.

Iowa State Defense

The Cyclones played their best defense of the season in the first half last week and the mix of plays in space and winning up front was something we've rarely seen in the Rhoads Era.  Everyone was moving as one unit and the defensive line was generating pressure and generally making the back seven look stellar.

The second half was a mix of deflated enthusiasm and fatigue.  Early on it looked like the defense could mount enough of a stand to allow the offense to tie the game back up, but the fatigue setting in on the defensive line forced a safety in to the box, left Tribune in one on one coverage, and burned the Cyclones.

All that said it's pretty apparent that this defense is improving despite the clear lack of advantages they have compared to some of their conference foes.  They'll draw a smaller offensive line (neither guard tops 300 pounds), and will have the opportunity to show where they really stack up by taking on what should be one of the least talented units they see all season.

The Stats

Toldeo is running the ball on first down 62.5% of the time, on second down 55.6% of the time, and on 3rd down only 31% of the time.  It's vitally important for this team to stay on schedule, and if they fall in to second and long situations they will struggle consistently moving the ball.  Despite the great passing stats they've put up they still need to run the ball successfully to be dangerous on offense.

Iowa State is taking on 45% of opponent rushes between the tackles, and Toledo attacks the middle on an even higher amount: 52%.  Mitchell Meyers and Brandon Jensen need to have a big day early if fans don't want Toldeo hanging around until the second half.

The Match Up

Iowa State will be able to stop the run in this game.  Athletically they're more gifted than Toldeo, they are bigger in the trenches, and the move of Jevohn Miller to the middle has greatly aided the rest of the defense.

The question here is going to be can they stop the run long enough?  There's little doubt in my mind that Wally Burnham and his group will be prepared on Saturday, but can the offense do enough to keep them fresh and allow them to have success deep in to the second half?

One thing I didn't touch on above was how Toldeo will use their running backs in the passing game and it will pressure guys like Miller, Drake Ferch, and Luke Knott to read the offensive cues (hint: the offensive line) and make plays in space.  These Toledo backs are cut from the typical MAC mold: small, quick, and dangerous in space.  Letting those guys loose like a squirrel with a nut will further isolate Richardson and Tribune on receivers that I'm not sure they can shut down the entire game.

Look for the Cyclones to sell out to stop the run early, spill the backs to the outside, and force Toledo in to situations where they have to pass in to one of Burnham's complex coverages.

Special Teams

One of the reasons the defense has surged pass the offense in productivity in recent weeks is due to leadership.  Guys like Cory Morrissey, Miller, Knott, and Jensen have rallied the troops and have the unit playing together.

This hasn't happened offensively and it came to a head when two of the offense's biggest stars, Nealy and Wimberly, screwed the pooch on the sky kick from Oklahoma State at the end of the second quarter.

There's absolutely no excuse for that mistake.  Doubly so when they knew the kick was coming at some point that game.  Nealy and Wimberly broke on the ball.... and then watched it hit the ground.  Neither one of those two have shown the leadership it takes to lead a unit, and Wimberly's piss poor hissy fits at the end of plays when he doesn't have the ball are starting to wear thin.

One mistake doesn't make a season, but now it's time to nut up and show us you know how to play football boys.

That said, Cole Netten is pretty neat.

WRNL Beer Pick of the Week

I'll be out of state this week and will be itching to try La Cumbre Brewing's Project Dank IPA. For you people attending the game, or just in Iowa, then give a look at Confluence Brewing's Gray's Lake Nessie. I personally haven't had it, but the profile looks intriguing and Confluence seldom misses.

Final Analysis

Like last week, this is a game where the underdog is capable of keeping it close and even pulling the upset with enough breaks.  However, this is a battle tested Iowa State team that is deeper and more athletic at nearly every position on the field.  They've played a tough schedule to date and it's time to take advantage of the opponents that Iowa State should beat.

You wonder about confidence after the last month and a half but this team has yet to quit, and was still fighting deep in to the game in Stillwater last week.  That's a good sign and the payoff should happen this week.

Toledo is a solid MAC program, but as we have seen the previous couple weeks sometimes it just takes a more athletic team to pull out the victory.

Final Score

Iowa State 38

Toledo 24

PS - Stop by the WRNL tailgate if you want to see CanAzn ignore you and Norman Underwood impress you with his shirtless reenactment of The Run.  Otherwise yours truly won't be there and will see you at Oklahoma!

PPS - First game in Jack Trice I've missed since the 2007 Kansas State game.  At first I was sad, and now I'm looking forward to copious amounts of alcohol in Albuquerque, watching the game after it's aired live, and taking a break from the rage inducing issues this team is known to create.