2015 Game XI: Iowa State (3-7, 2-5) vs. Kansas State (3-6, 0-6)
Date: November 21, 2015
Time: 11:00 AM CST
Location: Bill Snyder Family Stadium, Manhattan, KS
Line: Kansas State -6, O/U 55
Television: Fox Sports 1
Radio: Cyclone Radio Network
Iowa State may be 3-7 on the season, but look at the teams they have lost to. Bill Parcells always says your record says who you are, but this Iowa State team is better than what their record shows.
So far this season, and every one since the Big 12 became a league of 10 (come on Bob Bowlsby), ISU has played one of the top-five toughest schedules in the nation. Sagarin has this years ranked as the toughest in the country. Their seven losses have come to teams that have all been ranked at some point this season. Add to that FIVE of those teams have been ranked in the Top-10, including four as we sit here today. Combined records of those seven teams are 60-9. Take Texas Tech out of the mix and it's 54-4!
It's like beating up your little brother when you were younger. You don't get any stronger by whipping up on a kid 40 lbs your junior (like Iowa scheduling North Texas). Playing against stiff competition makes you stronger and mentally tough - and it pays off in the end.
So far, a lot of you readers are calling for Paul Rhoads' head, but put that schedule into perspective. ISU has outperformed against their competition. They have held the offensive juggernauts of TCU, Baylor and Oklahoma State all under their season averages, and ISU is doing it with multiple underclassmen on the roster. Don't know about you, but I'm excited for the future.
When we last left off....
ISU lost to the number five team in the nation last week by a score of 35-31. I re-watched the game and saw a lot of positives. The defensive line got tremendous push at the point of attack and there were more tackles by our linemen than ever before. Demond Tucker played one of his best games as a Cyclone, and earned the Conference Defensive Player of the Week, deservedly so.
The killer was on third downs. Time and again, Wally only rushed three and there was no semblance of a pass rush on the critical "money down." Oklahoma State capitalized, and also made some tremendous throws down the sidelines. The downside of our defense was surprisingly in the back end, as Nigel Tribune and Sam E. Richardson were beat multiple times down the field.
Joel Lanning proved to fans that he throws a beautiful deep ball (something that Sam Richardson never could say), and again his legs changed the offense. Media pundits will go back to the missed fourth down and interception that Lanning threw, but that is not what lost the Cyclones the game. Lanning and company needed to move the ball in the second half (they were held to 104 yards), and the defense gave up long drives where they had to step on the Cowboys throat. Neither happened, and the Cyclones let one slip by again.
Kansas State Tidbits
The Fighting Bill Snyder's have broken a few hips during this tumultuous season. They lost the majority of their offensive playmakers from last year and have really fallen downhill as of late. Currently, their record sits at 3-6, and 0-6 in Big 12 play.
Back to playing stiff competition - KSU started off the year with South Dakota State, UTSA and Louisiana Tech. After those three cupcake wins they have lost six in a row, including last week's loss to Texas Tech 59-44. They have gone through multiple quarterbacks, even throwing in a WR at the play-calling position against OSU. The defense has been dismal and the passing offense nonexistent.
Iowa State leads the all-time series 49-45-4, but Kansas State has won the last seven, including last year 32-28.
The last time ISU won in Manhattan was 2004, by a score of 37-23. You can watch the highlights here, courtesy of Cyclone Classics.
Iowa State Offense
Joel Lanning continues to impress as Todd Sturdy has slowly taken off the training wheels more each week. We saw a lot of confidence in the play calling with more pass attempts, especially on roll-outs outside the pocket. Lanning threw the deep ball well, including a perfect flea-flicker throw across the field to a streaking Allen Lazard.
The bread and butter for this offense is still the run game. I loved the two-back set with Mike Warren and Joshua Thomas in the backfield. It gives the offense three options to run the ball, and you could see on the read-option that Lanning capitalized.
Third down is an area in need of improvement - as we need to solidify a possession receiver that can get open on any part of the field. Lazard has been that guy as of late, but teams are going to key on him. Look for D'Vario Montgomery and Quenton Bundrage to step up in this one.
First Key to Victory - Get Yards on First and Second Down
The only way that third downs will be converted is if ISU can make the easy throws and successful runs on first and second downs. During the first half Iowa State was dominating the tempo and running the ball at will. They turned easy plays into points and capitalized on mismatches at the line of scrimmage. It was truly a flawless gamplan by Sturdy.
The second half was a different story as OSU made adjustments and ISU was unable to get the run game going. Guard Oni Omoile was out with an injury and Nick Fett made his first start. He was competent in his first action, but getting Omoile (and possibly Daniel Burton back) will pay huge dividends for the run game. Kansas State plays very good fundamental defense, so it will be important for the Cyclones to take advantage of mismatches when we have them.
Kansas State Defense
The Wildcats run a hybrid 4-3 Nickel defense, and will probably play more base 4-3 against ISU. Their defensive line is stout, and have continued to show they can make tackles behind the line of scrimmage. So far on the year, defensive tackles Will Geary and Travis Britz lead the Big 12 in tackles and tackles for loss by a lineman.
While this team has proven they can stop the run, they have struggled against the pass. The Wildcats have lost three defensive backs to season-ending injuries, and have moved their season-opening cornerback Nate Jackson to strong safety. The pass defense has allowed quarterbacks to complete 66% of their passes and throw for 299 yards per game. On the year Kansas State has three interceptions, all by linebackers.
Sophomore LB Elijah Lee leads the defense in tackles and free safety Kaleb Prewett is not far behind him. This defense does a great job of wrapping up and stopping the run, but has yet to force turnovers or slow down the passing attack.
The Verdict - Iowa State
Kansas State has struggled on defense this year and are not one to force turnovers. They run a standard defense and will give the quarterback easy throws. What breaks the camel's back is when teams can run on them, and so far ISU has shown they have what it takes to pound out tough yards between the tackles. Look for a ton of carries to go Warren's way, and for Lanning to take advantage on the outside with the zone read.
Iowa State Defense
Iowa State played one of its best games defensively last week, just couldn't make the big plays on third down when they needed to. Time and again there was excellent coverage downfield, and no where for OSU QBs to throw the ball. ISU has proven that they can stop the run, and it will be ever so important come Saturday.
Second Key to Victory - Stop the Running Quarterback
Kansas State likes to churn out the yards behind their QB Joe Hubener. He was successful against TCU and Baylor, but let's be honest - everyone can run on them. Demond Tucker and company will be forced to bring pressure up the middle, and the linebackers have to shred blocks from their mammoth offensive line to bring down Hubener.
Some changes in the depth chart, as we see freshman Reggan Northrup supplant Jay Jones at the Nickel spot, and Brian Mills take over for Willie Harvey at weakside linebacker. Both have proven they have the speed to play in this conference, and will rack up the tackles with Jordan Harris.
Nigel Tribune took a step back last week, as he was picked on in multiple pass plays, and we saw more of Sam E. Richardson because of it. Qujuan Floyd continued to do Qujuan Floyd things and was all over the field. Safety Kamari Cotton-Moya will dress for the game, take warm-ups and see how he feels - truly a game-time decision.
Kansas State Offense
The Wildcats are a one-dimensional offense and they know it. The last few years they had a playmaker in Tyler Lockett, but have yet to find their staple in the passing game. QB Joe Hubener is 6-foot-6 and can run between the tackles. He has continued to be a third-down monster moving the sticks with countless QB draws and read options, and is third in the nation with 11 rushing touchdowns by a QB.
Passing the ball is a different story. The Wildcats only average 173 yards through the air and complete less than 50% of their throws. They are led on the outside by junior WR Deante Burton (no relation to the Deonte Burton at Iowa State), as he has hauled in 24 receptions and 295 yards. Freshman WR Dominique Heath is the speedster in the slot position.
KSU likes to run the ball with multiple backs in the backfield, and even carry the long-lost fullback role, with Rob Gronkowski's little brother Glenn Gronkowski. Leading the charge at running back is junior Charles Jones with 477 yards on the ground and three touchdowns. Jones will play a little bit of the wildcat role as well.
The strength of this team is their offensive line, as they carry four seniors at the forefront and veteran leadership. The hog mollies for K-State brought back three 13-game and one 12-game starter from a year ago, led by preseason All-American left tackle Cody Whitehair.
Verdict - Iowa State
Nothing scares me about this K-State offense. They are very one-dimensional, and have no outside threats in the passing game. (Think Texas in this one folks). The ISU defense has continued to show that they are for real and can play against anyone. The key will be stopping #8, especially on third downs. I look for the linebackers to have a busy day, and a lot of players up in the box to force Hubener and company to chuck it.
Cole Netten has turned his season around and looks a whole lot better fundamentally. We saw a two-man return last week with Lazard and Trever Ryan both back on punts. Both have been held in check as of late.
Kansas State has continued to put together a stellar special teams unit. Kicker Jack Cantele is 11-for-13 on the year in field goals, and their return defense is once again terrific.
The Wildcats also carry a scary return man in Morgan Burns, who has already brought two touchdowns to the house, and averages an insane 28.2 yards per kick return. Lucky for him, ISU is among the nation's best in kick return defense. And oh yeah, don't want to bring up any blocked kicks by KSU (ala 2009 in Arrowhead), but this team has been ranked in the top-20 in three of the last four years in that category.
Third Key to Victory - Efficiency in the Red Zone and Kicking Game
Cole Netten will be called upon on Saturday, and it will be mightily important for him to do his job. This game will be slow, methodical, and at times - ugly. It will be imperative that when ISU gets in the red zone that they convert. And by way of touchdowns, not field goals.
Advantage - Kansas State
The Wildcats thrive in the special teams category, as they are very well coached in this phase and do not beat themselves. They play the field position game better than anyone, and it will be key in this affair.
KnowDan's Beer Pick of the Week
Tallgrass Brewing in Manhattan is the most well known brewery coming out of that town and they make a solid stout named Buffalo Sweat. As most are wont to do, they have a bourbon barrel aged version that is solid without the overpowering taste of bourbon. Check it out at your local grocery store, and if you're lucky enough to be heading to Aggieville this weekend see if you can find it in a bar there.
And by the way, Goose Island's 2015 version of Bourbon County Stout comes out on Black Friday.
I'll say it again - Kansas State does not beat themselves. They have continued to prosper by not making turnovers nor penalties, and are efficient running the ball and stopping the run. This game may in fact come down to field goals.
Before the season started Vegas tabbed the Over/Under for Iowa State wins at 3. Currently they sit on that number. We have cheered on the Cyclones week in and week out, and they have continued to put on the jerseys against hostile opponents who will more than likely all be playing bowl games in January.
It is now time for these Cyclones to shine, and for their hard work to pay off. K-State is a shell of what they once were, and this appears to be Bill Snyder's swan song. What better way than to send Snyder off in the sunset with one more close game against the Cyclones, except this time the good guys win.
Iowa State 24
Kansas State 20