There comes a time in every season where the teams become who they are and the stats reflect that. Similarly, there are matchups every season where you look at the stats and go “Yeah, that seems right.”
This is one of those games. I won’t bore you with a detailed intro as to why - or even spend time talking about Kansas State - today’s column is purely devoted to Oklahoma State and how Iowa State wins on Saturday.
The Models & Spread
When the opening spread came out on Sunday in Iowa State’s favor by a touchdown there became questions about how this happened. Then the popular models validated it and it became a talking point about the Cyclones being favored by as much as a touchdown at home over a Top 10 team.
Models love balance, or teams that are so extremely good in one area and not deficiently awful in others. Unfortunately for Oklahoma State only one team with that balance will be in Ames on Saturday and it wears red.
Iowa State is an analytical darling because the offense has really only played three bad halves of meaningful football (Iowa and 1st half against Baylor) and the defense has been great to elite all season. Models crave balance and Iowa State has it in spades.
Conversely, Oklahoma State has an elite defense paired with an offense that would be the worst in the Big 12 if Kansas didn’t exist. The gap between the two units drags Oklahoma State’s overall numbers down, reflects in their standings, and in Vegas.
Iowa State: SP+: 21st, FEI: 12th
Oklahoma State: SP+: 80th, FEI: 44th
Offensive Line: With the palette cleansers of the Kansas schools behind us let’s check in on how the offensive line is doing with Points Earned Per Snap
- Jarrod Hufford (LT): .042 (Foster has dropped to .036)
- Trevor Downing (LG): .041 (.06 increase post-Kansas schools)
- Colin Newell (C): .035 (.03 increase post-Kansas schools)
- Darrell Simmons Jr. (RG): .036 (.09 increase post-Kansas schools)
- Derek Schweiger (RT): .028 (.13 point increase post-Kansas schools)
While none of these numbers are elite, the offensive line has done exactly what they needed to do against inferior opponents: dominate and grow. While the schedule gets tougher, the trend upwards should continue as the line gels and gets comfortable in their roles.
On the other side of the ball, the Oklahoma State offensive line is not a sieve, but not a strength. Their starters average out in the mid-.02 range across the board and will give up opportunities to Iowa State’s defensive line.
The Quarterbacks: Brock Purdy is still playing some of the best ball of his career even if the TD/INT ratio does not reflect it. He’s only pressured on 28.8% of his dropbacks, throwing over 80% of his balls on target, and almost 90% are rated as catchable. He’s as efficient as he’s ever been and his spots where he pulls out Pump Fake Purdy have been opportune and worked in Iowa State’s favor.
Spencer Sanders: Not Brock Purdy. While the senior is a solid enough threat to keep defenses honest, it’s his ability as a thrower that holds Oklahoma State back. He’s throwing only 59% of his balls on target and 80% of them rate as catchable. His legs remain his biggest advantage as he’s only been sacked on 5% of dropbacks despite being pressured 31% of the time. It’ll be critical that Iowa State finds a way to limit the impact with his legs with spies and varied pressure packages on Saturday.
The Running Backs: Breece Hall. Still good. He's hitting his designed gap on 75.4% of plays and running for a 1st down on 30.6% of rushes. The K-State game did him no favors on havoc numbers and he now stands at being hit at the line 35.1% of the time and stuffed behind the line 19.4% of the time. Anecdotally, however, those stuffs happen less when Iowa State needs the yards and more when they're purposefully chewing clock.
As for Oklahoma State's Jaylen Warren, he's talented but probably not the second coming of Mr. Hall. He doesn't have the line in front of him that Hall does and it shows up with him hitting the designed gap on only 52% of runs and being hit at the line 34.5% of the time. His gap choices will be even more critical against the disciplined run defense of the Cyclones.
Iowa State: SP+: 15th, FEI: 14th
Oklahoma State: SP+: 10th, FEI: 7th
Defensive Line: Will McDonald is 4th in the conference in QB pressures with 18. Oklahoma State has FOUR players who have at least 13 EACH, including linebacker Devin Harper. They try to create havoc and generally are successful at it.
Above all else this is the most worrisome spot for Iowa State's offense. If Tom Manning calls a game that gets the ball out quickly and takes advantage of space then this could get out of hand. If Want It All Manning shows up then it's Iowa 2.0.
Secondary: Oklahoma State corner Jarrick Bernard-Converse has played 211 coverage snaps this season, faced 33 targets, allowed 16 catches, and is allowing only 42 yards per game. He'll likely draw Xavier Hutchinson, which makes it even more important for a solid WR2 to step up on Saturday.
This game has college football cliche written all over it. 2:30 fall afternoon kick. Strong defenses. Game comes down to the margins.
What are those margins?
Again, very cliche. Turnovers and field position. Oklahoma State thrives on pressure driving bad decisions and Iowa State forces you into bad decisions due to lack of disciple/focus. It'll come down to which team blinks first and breaks their mold.
If the Iowa State that lost in 2019 shows up it'll be another loss in Ames. If last week's team shows up then the Vegas line may not be enough.
Fortunately for this fan base the metrics are trending in the right direction for the good guys in this month of Brocktober.