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2018 Game XIII: ALAMO BOWL - #24 Iowa State vs. #13 Washington State Football Preview

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This one is for ALL THE MARBLES!

NCAA Football: Oregon at Washington State
Bring on Mike Leach!
James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

2018 Game XIII: ALAMO BOWL - #24 Iowa State (8-4, 6-3) vs. #13 Washington State (10-2, 7-2 Pac-12)

Date: Friday, December 28, 2018

Time: 8:00 P.M. CST

Location: Alamodome, San Antonio, TX

Capacity: 65,000

Line: Washington State -3

Television: ESPN

Radio: Cyclone Radio Network

Game Notes/Release

Washington State Game Notes

SB Nation Website

BOWL SEASON IS HERE!

This is the game we have all been waiting for – and the Bowl committee picked a dandy of a matchup, as the Cyclones travel to San Antonio, TX to play the always-entertaining Mike Leach and his Washington State Cougars.

The majority of the nation has picked this game as one of the best, and why not – a high-powered offensive attack against one of the Big 12’s best defenses. A former Big 12 coach returning to his infamous roots in Texas, and a rising program in Iowa State showing the public that they deserve to be here.

Looking back three years ago, if you were to ask me Iowa State would earn an Alamo Bowl berth (slotted for 2nd best Big 12 team) and be selected over a bigger brand in West Virginia, I would have said no way.

Times are changing folks, and the days of “Iowa State might not be playing in a Bowl” are over. Matt Campbell has this program full steam ahead, as the Cyclones have won 7 of their last 8, and have the depth, talent, and most importantly the confidence to be a force to be reckoned with for years to come.

When we last left off….

I didn’t attend the Drake game, and based off the 1970s grainy film, it didn’t appear neither did many others. The weather conditions played more of a factor than people realize, as ISU escaped a hard-fought Drake team to win 27-24.

The inability to get anything going offensively was worse than watching Christmas Story for the fifth time on Xmas day; and while David Montgomery ran for 145 yards, it took him 33 carries to get there (probably 20 more than I figured he would get).

The defensive lapses are what really grinds my gears – as we have not seen the same ferociousness from this unit since the Kansas game (nearly 2 months and 4 games ago). Iowa State has failed to get any pressure from their line and don’t look for that to change against a stellar Wazzou offensive line.

The injuries in the back end have also killed the Cyclones. The latest injury report from Coach Campbell proclaims that D’Andre Payne should be good to play, yet Datrone Young is “up in the air.” Safety Greg Eisworth sat out the Drake for precautionary reasons, but he will be fine for the Bowl.

Was it ugly? Absolutely. But ISU got the victory and now onto our favorite ball coach – MIKE LEACH!

Washington State Tidbits

At 10-2, the Washington State Cougars have exceeded everyone’s expectations for the 2018-19 season. They were picked to finish FIFTH in their own division, and although they failed to play in the Pac-12 Championship Game, they still finished as the second-highest ranked team in the conference.

Coach Mike Leach has brought with him his vaunted “Air-Raid” attack from Lubbock, TX and turned this program from a laughing-stock to legitimate conference contender. In his eighth year at the helm, the media legend is 36-15 over the last four, and has tied for the most wins in a season in program history (10).

There was a bit of offseason drama, in which Leach’s name was thrown around the ring at Tennessee a time or two, Wazzou’s top two receivers left the program, their defensive coordinator (and two other assistants) left, and last year’s quarterback Tyler Hilinski unexpectedly committed suicide.

Needless to say, the Cougars rebounded, and no player has been more integral to their success than grad transfer quarterback Gardner Minshew. Coming from East Carolina, Minshew had put up pedestrian numbers, but found a new home in Pullman, WA and made the most of it. The man known for his glorious moustache leads the NATION in both pass attempts and completions, and finished 5th in the Heisman voting.

Previously known as a one-dimensional team, the Cougars defense has been no slouch this year. They are in the top-third of nearly all statistical categories in what some call a watered-down Pac-12, and are much improved over the last few years. To be quite honest, looking at special teams, this is a well-rounded program, that may not have a ton of 4- and 5-star athletes, but have proven to be effective under a coach that gets the most out of his players.

The Series

Believe it or not, these two schools have never met. While at Texas Tech, Mike Leach was 3-1 against the Cyclones, and this is the second time Wazzou has played in the Alamo Bowl. It will the program’s first for ISU.

Iowa State Offense

I’m going to be brutally honest here – if Iowa State wants to win this game, they’re going to have to put up big numbers on offense. And that means another big day out of our true freshman quarterback Brock Purdy. Looking at the Cougar’s defense, they do get to the quarterback and are 1st in their conference in sacks. The offensive line will have to improve upon their last performance if they want to keep the sticks moving.

First Key to Victory – Ride the DM Train

The number one way to beat Washington State is to keep their offense OFF THE FIELD. Iowa State can do that many ways, but none more effectively than running the ball with #32. This game will most likely be Montgomery’s last in ISU uniform, and we couldn’t ask for a more loyal servant to this program. Washington State’s rush defense is average, as it gives up 140 yards and a 4.0-per-carry average, so look for a big day out of David for 30+ more carries.

Coming back around to Purdy, there are going to be a bevy of third-and-short situations, so look for him to tuck it and run for first downs. Washington State does not have the type of horses to keep up with Brock when plays break down, and they sure don’t have any defensive backs who can cover Hakeem “The Dream” Butler.

Butler is having a magical season, already breaking the single-season yard mark with 1,126 yards through 12 games. That will continue, especially if ISU can get the run game going and suck in the safeties in play-action. Look for one-on-one matchups that Purdy will exploit down the sidelines, and of course in the red zone.

An X-factor I’m looking out for is Tight End Charlie Kolar, who has been underutilized thus far on the season. Kolar is a fantastic route-runner, and a huge mismatch down the field. Not only will he see space, but also look for Tarique Milton to get involved downfield and Deshaunte Jones in the horizontal passing game.

Washington State Defense

The Cougars run a four-man front with a stand-up defensive end (similar to ISU’s LEO spot). They have garnered a decent amount of pressure, most notably from rush end Willie Taylo, who is a physical specimen. In fact, they are tops in the Pac-12 in sacks (35), and tied for third in tackles-for-loss (80). The Cougs are led by 2nd Team All-Pac 12 Logan Tago, who set career highs with 10 TFL and 3 sacks.

The linebackers are led by sixth-year senior Peyton Pelluer, who has racked up five double-digit tackle games, and leads the team with 87 stops. Not far behind is linebacker Jahad Woods, who not only has 73 tackles, but 4 forced fumbles. The Cougar defense is aggressive, to the tune of 10 fumble recoveries and interceptions each. They are methodically in the top-third of the Conference in nearly all statistical categories – ranking fourth in rush, pass and total yards per game.

Their secondary has been exceptional, only allowing for 210 yards through the air, and have three seniors starting in the secondary. One of their best cover corners is junior Marcus Strong, who has made some fantastic plays on the ball downfield, including this one against All-American JJ Arcega-Whiteside.

Both safeties are terrific at tackling in the open field, as Skyler Thomas and Jalen Thompson rank third and fourth on the team in tackles.

In all, I don’t see too many holes in this defense, but then again, they haven’t exactly played top competition (like, say the Big 12). They have not given up the most points (23 PPG), but were struck to the tune of 38 against Stanford and 39 to USC.

The Verdict – EVEN

One of the biggest flaws for this Cyclone team has been the un-ability to take the next step offensively, and it all starts with the offensive line, who is still below-average. With all due respect, I think Campbell needs to find a suitable offensive coordinator in the offseason, and allow him to manage the rest of the team from a macro-level.

Iowa State has three thoroughbreds to choose from, but after that the pickings are slim. That has bit them in the butt against solid defenses, as good coordinators take away ISU’s best assets. Washington State’s defense may not be full of studs, but collectively as a unit they can hold their own against ISU.

Iowa State Defense

This will be the matchup of the day ladies and gentlemen! I’m excited to see what Defensive Coordinator Jon Heacock has in store for Mike Leach and his lethal offensive unit. First off, I don’t see much blitzing, as Washington State loves to spread you out. The cover-three with three safeties over top will keep everything underneath, and for Minshew – he is fine with that, as he can dink and dunk his way down the field.

Second Key to Victory – Force Turnovers

This ISU team has not been as aggressive at forcing turnovers this year, and they need to if they want to win this game. Minshew has thrown 9 interceptions on the year, while as a team ISU only has 8 to call their own. Nothing will change this game more than turnovers, especially when you get the #1 passing offense in the nation off the field.

Look for Brian Peavy to continue to lock down his side of the field, but that will only take away one receiver. Washington State has four and five to choose from on any given play, so our linebackers will need to communicate and play great in space. Marcel Spears, Jr. left the Drake game with an injury, but should be good to go. He is the Cyclone’s best coverage linebacker. I could see more nickel and dime packages, adding an extra defensive back – namely Lawrence White, DeMonte Ruth or Richard Bowens III to spell our LBs.

Recently this defensive unit has struggled, especially at stopping the run. That will not be a problem in this game, as Wazzou passes the ball 71% of the time. Their screen passes serve as pseudo-running plays and they love to run them on early downs. ISU needs to continue to wrap up in the open field, and that has been a strong suit for this unit.

Don’t expect a ton of pressure from the front, as Ray Lima and company will serve more as a contain, allowing ISU to drop eight into coverage. Believe it or not, Washington State does not throw it as deep as you would think, but safeties Greg Eisworth and Braxton Lewis will need to communicate with the multitude of option and seam routes that are run.

Third Key to Victory – Contain RBs out of Backfield

Another X-factor are the running backs catching balls out of the backfield, as there is no team in the nation that utilizes their backs more. In fact, Cougar running back James Williams leads the team with 76 catches, and Max Borghi (who reminds me of Danny Woodhead has another 47!

Washington State Offense

When you think of Mike Leach – you think passing the football, and this Cougar Team leads the nation in multiple passing categories. Quarterback Gardner Minshew is the engine that gets everything going, and he can make every throw. His release is so quick that he has only been sacked 11 times. The grad transfer quarterback leads the country in passing yards per game, total offense, and is second in total passing yards. Oh, and he can scoot.

Now for all these video-game statistics, it all comes back to the play-calling and effectiveness of Mike Leach’s system. He doesn’t have any athletes you would call top-level, as Minshew spreads it around. They will always have four to five receivers on the field at all time, and rarely position them near the hashes. Get this, the Cougars have SEVEN different receivers with 33 catches or more and at least 339 yards. ISU only has FOUR with 26 or more receptions. WOW

It is a toss-up for Washington State’s best receiver, but their most dangerous is probably Dezmon Patmon, who leads the team in yards and yards per catch. Every play is designed for multiple windows primarily to one side of the field (where defenses can’t account for all playmakers). Tay Martin and Easop Winston, Jr. both have eight touchdowns each, as Martin is bigger-bodied and Winston much quicker in space.

The Cougars have a solid running back in James Williams, as he was bred to play in this offense. He is tremendously effective catching the ball, and leads the team with 76 catches. When called on to run the ball, he has averaged 4.6 yards per carry and has 12 touchdowns on the year. Not far behind is freshman Max Borghi, who has a tenacity about him, and has seven rushing TDs and another 47 catches to boot.

If you were to look for a tight end on this roster you simply won’t find one, as Wazzou doesn’t believe in them. No Joke. The offensive line will have splits wider than your waist line after Christmas meal, and are an athletic bunch who thrive in the hurry-up offense. They had three newcomers to start the year, but have kept Minshew’s jersey clean, only allowing 11 sacks. They are led by All-American left tackle Andre Dillard, who will be playing on Sundays next year.

Verdict – WAZZU

Gotta give the love to Leach here. There are few that game-plan and scheme their way better than him. I believe Iowa State has the better talent, (especially with the defensive line), but that will be negated with all the passes thrown. Minshew is going to get his yards - you can count on that, but it will come down to forcing turnovers and standing tall in the red zone. If ISU can hold the Cougars to a field goals and long sustaining drives that will be a success in my book.

Special Teams

The Cougars had all new faces when it came to Special Teams in 2018, and all of them have flourished. Namely punter Oscar Draguicevich III, who is averaging a booming 46 yards per punt (good for 6th in country).

Freshman kicker Blake Mazza is 10-for-15 on the year, and will be called upon in this one for multiple field goals. ISU’s Connor Assalley is just as experienced, and has been a solid 14-for-20 in 2018, and he will need to be automatic.

Both team’s kick returners are electric, as Kene Nwangwu averages 27 yards per return, and Wazzou’s Travell Harris averages 28. Both can flip the game at a moment’s notice.

Verdict – Washington State

Both teams are just about even here, but given the fact that the Cyclones have struggled at blocking and have a below-average punter it is hard not to give the Cougars the nod here.

Winning Scale from 1 to 10

I see this outcome as a complete coin flip. Most media pundits give ISU anywhere from a 40-45% chance at winning, and I predict the same. If you were to compare a 1 to Nebraska fans’ feelings about not playing in a bowl game, and 10 to Notre Dame fans elated at making the College Football Playoff, I give ISU’s chances at winning right at an Iowa Hawkeye Shot at winning.

(Some Hok fans are mad, some are glad about going to Tampa, yet again).

Final Analysis

A lot of things have to go right for the Cyclones to win this game. On paper, it seems ISU is behind the eight ball, but if there was one team (or defense) that could slow down this Cougar passing attack – I would lean towards the prowess and unpredictability of Coordinator Jon Heacock.

Washington State beats teams by OUT-SCHEMING them, and ISU will not let that happen. Look for multiple formations and packages from ISU to keep them guessing.

The Cyclone offense will be the X-factor that needs to complement the defense’s performance, and will have to have a big day out of both Brock Purdy. I compare this matchup to the likes of Oklahoma State and Oklahoma, where we see the scoreboard lighting up.

All that said, besides ISU’s three-headed monster on offense, it’s the rest of the supporting cast I’m worried about. Begrudgingly, my subjective thoughts are that Washington State will sneak this one out.

Final Score

Iowa State 37

Washington State 41

Let us know your thoughts below

Poll

Thoughts on the Outcome for the Alamo Bowl?

This poll is closed

  • 23%
    Leach and Co. just too much too handle
    (47 votes)
  • 19%
    The Spread is Right on The Money
    (38 votes)
  • 56%
    It’ll be a Shootout, but the Good Guys Win!
    (112 votes)
197 votes total Vote Now