2020 Game VIII: #17 Iowa State (5-2, 5-1) vs. Kansas State (4-3, 4-2)
Date: Saturday, November 21, 2020
Time: 3:00 P.M. CST
Location: Jack Trice Stadium, Ames, IA
Capacity: 61,500, (only family of players/staff can attend)
Line: ISU -11
Radio: Cyclone Radio Network
SB Nation Website – “Bring On The Cats”
Iowa State fans have long had a terrible taste in their mouth about K-State. Maybe it’s the pull-your-hair-out and yell-at-the-television game from 2017, where our friends the #Big12Refs stole one, or the 2015 debacle that Joel Lanning fumbled, er pissed down his leg.
Now don’t get me wrong, I woke up that Sunday morning (in 2015), with word that Paul Rhoads was about to be fired. Nothing against the man, but this FARMAGEDDON matchup has changed the directory for both programs. First it was the Rhoads firing – which led us to our main man Matt Campbell.
Then in 2018, by the grace of God, Iowa State made a frantic fourth quarter comeback, and beat K-State for the first time in TEN YEARS. What also happened do you ask? It was Bill Snyder’s last game as the legendary coach for the Purple Pride.
The rear view mirror may show K-State as the big brother over Iowa State, but my front windshield displays a more talented, deeper, and mentally tough Iowa State team in 2020.
The needle has moved in the right direction folks. And maybe Matt Campbell is our version of Bill Snyder (let’s leave that story for another day)…
When we last left off….
That Baylor game showed me something. Aside from needing another beer, our Clones gritted it out.
Brock Purdy started the game with three interceptions, but the guy just kept on grinding. Think back to the last two decades of Cyclone quarterbacks – how many would have hung their heads, faltered, or just plain given up?
There is nobody I would rather have as my quarterback right now than Brock Purdy. He has shown the resiliency to dust himself off and come back for more. The defense also staked their claim as one of the best in the Big 12, by allowing an impressive 34 yards on SIX consecutive drives, and capping it off with a white-knuckled, game-sealing interception by Mike Rose.
Was it pretty – no? But this team showed resilience, and mental fortitude to claw back and take what is in front of them – a Big 12 title. Just like those quarterbacks of the past, we as fans have been used to losing those kinds of close games. I got news for ya folks – this team won’t let it happen.
Chris Klieman enters his second year at the helm in Manhattan, after coming over from FCS powerhouse North Dakota State. He continues right where Bill Snyder left off – winning games in the trenches, with defense and special teams, and not making mistakes.
Not surprisingly at all, K-State is 2nd in the Big 12 in turnover margin, and are middle of the pack in every other statistical category. Their defense is their calling card, and they have a tremendous front-four, led by All-American to-be Wyatt Hubert.
The offense – well, has been lackluster to say the least. First, four-year signal-caller Skylar Thompson got knocked out for the year, then COVID and the transfer bug hit the Wildcats by surprise. So far, NINE different players have entered the transfer portal during the season, and an unconfirmed SEVENTY-FIVE different players have had COVID since it began. This team is young, as K-State has had to break in 17 new first-time starters, namely their entire offensive line.
The Wildcats laid an egg in their first game, losing to Sun-Belt terror Arkansas State, then ran off four straight victories, including a monstrous upset of #3 Oklahoma in Norman. Since then, they have been put to the test, with back-to-back losses against West Virginia and Oklahoma State, only scoring 28 points combined in those two affairs.
Iowa State still leads this all-time series 50-49-4, but K-State has won an amazingly 11 of the last 12 contests (thanks a lot Snyder). The ISU/KSU matchup #FARMAGGEDON started in 1917! It is the 8th LONGEST continuous series in CFB History, and THE Longest Never-Interrupted Series in all of Football.
Iowa State Offense
Iowa State continues to lead the Big 12 in yards per play, but Saturday might be a different story. K-State still allows over 160 yards on the ground, and expect future should-be-Doak-Walker-award-winner Breece Hall to get his standard 100+. I can’t say this enough, this offensive line has been most pleasant surprise of 2020. They are young, hungry and just getting started.
While Breece will get his, he will also have to work around the edges (which hasn’t been a problem), as K-State plays fundamentally sound football, but doesn’t have the speed to contain #28 on the outside. With that being said, Kene Nwangwu has been superbly efficient, and look for him to break a few.
If I were the Wildcats, I would stuff the box and force Purdy to find any open receivers. That means a heavy dose of Xavier Hutchinson and Charlie Kolar. I don’t expect the bubble screens to get much traction, and I’m still looking for Wide Receiver Option #2 to step up. Who will it be?
First Key to Victory – Have to Convert in the Red Zone
This will be one of those games where possessions will be limited, and opportunities scarce. K-State loves to run down the clock, and Iowa State needs to put 7s up on the board (not 3s), when given the chance to score inside the 20.
Now to Brock Purdy. He has put up pedestrian numbers, but also doesn’t have the weapons he had in the past (Lazard and Butler). I’m not making excuses for the man – he needs to do better, and we can’t afford to dig ourselves a hole like last game. Look for Iowa State to focus on the run early, and slowly work Brock into play-action. He needs to make smart throws, and if something is not there – live to see another down and throw it away.
The Wildcats are not as athletic as some in the Big 12, but they do have a solid front-six. K-State runs a 4-2-5 look, and return 53% of their tackling stops from 2019. Vinton, Iowa native Drew Wiley mans the inside, and has played in 44 games. He has impressed so far with seven tackles-for-loss and 3.5 sacks. K-State has done a good job at getting to the quarterback, ranking top-25 in nation with quarterback take-downs.
The man that has made that a living (and will on Sundays), is defensive end Wyatt Hubert. Only a junior, Hubert leads all non-seniors in the FBS with 17 career sacks, and has 5.5 on the year (leads Big 12). Believe it or not, the two men behind Hubert and Wiley who lead the Wildcats in tackles both come from the same high school in Georgia.
In fact, one of them (Justin Hughes), was forced into a medical redshirt in 2019, but has come back for his senior year with a vengeance. He and Elijah Sullivan are both very heady players, who do not make mental mistakes for first-year defensive coordinator Joe Klanderman.
While the majority of sacks come from the first line of defense, K-State does blitz occasionally off the edges. Their secondary carries with it two starting seniors and three transfers, and are led by strong safety Jahron McPherson.
The corners have been stout, as Justin Gardner has two interceptions, including one pick-six against Kansas. Overall, just what you expect from a Kansas State defense. The numbers don’t blow you away, but they play sound, fundamental football, and do not make mental lapses of judgment.
The Verdict – EVEN
This matchup is a lot closer than you may think, as K-State can hold their own up front, and this Cyclone offensive line will have their work cut out for them. Again, Brock needs to take what the defense gives him, and let Breece run free!
Iowa State Defense
An interesting matchup for Iowa State fans on Saturday, as most Big 12 offenses display fast-tempo and athletic receivers. This K-State team does not.
The Wildcats had to completely overhaul their entire offensive line (zero starters return from 2019), so look for another work-man-like performance from the likes of Jaquan Bailey, Enyi Uwazurike and Will McDonald. You will also notice that K-State likes to carry a full-back and tight-end for majority of their offensive sets, and take advantage of the extra blocker with the quarterback run.
Second Key to Victory – Contain Deuce “Can’t Get Loose” Vaughn
This will be a challenge for defensive coordinator Jon Heacock and company. K-State has very few playmakers, but running back Deuce Vaughn is one of them, and is utilized tremendously in the passing game. It will be important for Iowa State to continue to contain the 5-foot-5 jitterbug on the outside, and wrap up in the open field.
Look for the Iowa State defense to play base for as long as they can, as Heacock is tremendously productive at making in-game adjustments. If Iowa State can contain the running game (another key), then we will be in for a good night’s rest. Look for Mike Rose to continue his All-American type 2020 season, and a player at all times shading the quarterback in spy coverage.
The secondary I’m not too worried about, but look for their tight end (especially in the red zone). I expect our do-it-all safety Greg Eisworth to spend most of his time near the line of scrimmage, helping in run support. Our corners will be fine on their own islands, and look for a lot of disguised blitzes, as all that will do is scare the F out of a true freshman quarterback.
Believe it or not, this Wildcat offense has TWO true freshmen at both starting quarterback and running back. After Skylar Thompson went down with a season-ending injury in October, Will Howard now has the keys at quarterback.
Howard started off with a bang, earning Big 12 newcomer of the week in a road win at TCU, but has fallen back to earth in recent weeks. He had a 3-interception affair against West Virginia, and a costly fumble that gave Oklahoma State the lead last week, but all in all, is still very raw. What Howard lacks in the passing department (54% completion rate), he makes up for with his legs, and is second on the team in rushing yards.
Getting back to Deuce Vaughn, this Darren-Sproles-look-alike is lethal, both as a rusher and pass-catcher. He is third on the team in catches, and has put together three games of at least 150 scrimmage yards. We can’t let Deuce get loose in this one.
The offensive line lost every single starter from last year, but so far have been serviceable. They allow the second-least amount of sacks in the Big 12, but only pave the way for a 3.7 yard-per-carry average on the ground.
The receivers have been a huge disappointment, namely Malik Knowles, who was expected to be their top threat in 2020. Sadly, only three wide receivers have caught ten or more balls on the year, as Chabastian Taylor is their top downfield threat, and Phillip Brooks is fast as all get out. Tight End Briley Moore (Transfer from UNI) is their best receiving option, but has been battling a back issue. If he plays on Saturday, he will be the #1 threat for Mr. Howard.
This offense will not WOW you with explosive plays, but will do what K-State always does – methodically move the ball down the field, eat the clock, and convert in the red zone. In fact, K-State is one of the best in the nation at converting inside the 20, as they started the year with 24-straight scores.
Oh, and another thing – they don’t beat themselves. That means no penalties, and no turnovers, as this Courtney Messingham-led offense (yes, him) is 7th best in the country at giving up the ball.
The Verdict – Iowa State
Again, a closer matchup than you might think, but the fact that K-State has a brand-new offensive line, and a true freshman quarterback, ya gotta give the nod to Iowa State here.
One of the best in the world at special teams, this coaching staff preaches special teams more than Donald Trump tweets. In fact, since 1999, no FBS program has more non-offensive touchdowns that K-State, and they have four already in 2020.
Gone is return man Joshua Youngblood (last year’s special teams player of the year), but not due to graduation. After playing in the first few games, the sophomore decided to transfer, and in his place is another good one – Phillip Brooks.
What you see in that GIF is 1 of 2 punt return touchdowns in a single game for this dangerous weapon. He and Malik Knowles are also very strong at returning kicks, and well, Iowa State is not very good at stopping it.
Third Key to Victory – Please, no Special Teams Mistakes
I expect our punters to use the sidelines to their advantage, and for Corey Dunn to continue to squib his kickoffs, keeping the ball out of the hands of the return men.
Oh, and there’s more. K-State is one of the best at blocking kicks (great), as they blocked punts in their first three games, and another kick in game #4. Woof
Verdict – K-State by a Freakin’ Landslide
Hold your breath if you have to…
Winning Scale from 1 to 10
As I said in my opening piece, the Bill Snyder gorilla is off our back, and this Iowa State team has stared adversity in the face – and beat it. The fact that K-State has been battling COVID-19 the last few weeks is a huge advantage for ISU, as you know their lack of prep and practice has hurt them.
For this week, on a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being the most overrated running back in ISU history (Bo Williams, 4-star Florida transfer with 2 career carries) to 10 - the greatest player (and running back) in all of ISU history (Troy Davis), I give the Cyclones an Alexander Robinson chance of winning.
PS Breece just isn’t quite to Troy Davis level yet…
You can’t underestimate the lack of K-State’s preparation for this game, and with ISU playing in the friendly confines of Jack Trice (fans or no fans), that bye week couldn’t have come at a better time to rally the troops.
I see a low scoring affair, as this will be a defensive slugfest, with few breakaway plays, and the kicking game may shed a brighter light than we would like. Iowa State’s defense can make K-State one dimensional, but I’m confident that K-State’s defense can not.
Breece “The Beast” Hall is just too good to let that happen.
Iowa State 24
Kansas State 20
Hit us up with your predictions in the comment section below!