Iowa State (4-7, 1-7) at TCU (11-0,8-0)
Date: November 26th, 2022
Time: 3:00 PM
Place: Amon G. Carter Stadium
Line: Iowa State -3
When we last left off...
Our beloved Cyclones took the field last Saturday and laid an egg against Texas Tech. Moving the ball between the 20s wasn’t the issue, as the good guys accumulated 422 total yards without a single turnover, but failed on four of five attempts in the redzone to put any points on the board. In fact, the only redzone score of the day was a Drake Nettles field goal that came after a Dimitri Stanley touchdown catch was nullified by a holding call on Trevor Downing. Isn’t that just the tale of the season? Iowa State just couldn’t get out of their own way on offense. At least the running game was solid, if uninspiring, accumulating 128 yards, but doing so by an inefficient 3.0 yards per carry.
Oh, and the defense was spectacular. Again. Jon Heacock’s bunch held Texas Tech to 246 total yards (4.6 yards per play) and 20 points below their season scoring average. Heacock being left off the list of finalists for the Broyles Award is horrendous.
What a story the TCU Horned Frogs have been. After parting ways with longtime head coach Gary Patterson, TCU has been resurgent this season under new head coach Sonny Dykes, amassing an undefeated 11-0 record full of nail-biting finishes that has them in position to make the College Football Playoff by winning their last two games.
TCU leads the all-time series 8-5, but the Cyclones have won three in a row and four of the last five.
Iowa State Offense
Well, most of everything is still bad, which is an improvement from last week, in which everything was bad. What we did see against Texas Tech was at least some competency in moving the ball between the 20s, but we also saw two consecutive drives end inside the opponent’s five-yard line after running four consecutive inside handoffs. We also saw a “gadget” play where Iowa State lined up in the I-formation near midfield with **Xavier Hutchinson** lined up at running back. The play was intended to be a halfback pass (with a wide receiver throwing the ball), and ended with Xavier not finding anyone open and chucking it back over to Hunter Dekkers.
That particular play was evidence enough for me that this offense is deep inside it’s own head, and trying to play 4D chess while everyone else is just playing regular chess because nobody is playing 4D chess and it’s dumb to try to play a different game that nobody else is playing.
Just in time for the end of the season, Iowa State will be playing one of the more solid units on the recent schedule (having played four of the five worst defenses in the conference over the last month), and one that ranks in the middle of the pack within the conference. This isn’t good news, considering the Cyclones made all of those bad defenses look very good.
The Horned Frogs are solid across the board, ranking in the top 50-ish or better in most defensive categories. Interestingly, they do rank 11th in opponent completion percentage, but it’s hard to know how much weight to put on that, as it can be affected by teams choosing to throw more deep balls against TCU.
One interesting wrinkle to all of this though is that while they do have a solid overall unit, one weakness for this unit is the speed at linebacker. Why does this matter? As much as we hate all of those crossing routes, they do specifically test the alignment and lateral speed of linebackers and could theoretically be a place to exploit the TCU defense. Getting the running game to the edges is another way to exploit that weakness, which means those speed options could theoretically come in handy.
Verdict - TCU
Despite finding the potential wrinkle that Iowa State could look to exploit, there’s absolutely no way I can pick the Iowa State offense to win this matchup. They’ve consistently underperformed against some of the worst defenses in college football, and I don’t have a lot of faith that the Cyclones will suddenly figure everything out on the road at the end of a bad season when there’s virtually nothing to play for.
Does that mean something whacky is going to happen and Tom Manning will turn into Andy Reid overnight and Iowa State puts up 40 on TCU? Probably, but absolutely nothing about this offense makes sense, so I’m not sure why that would change this weekend.
Iowa State Defense
Ho, hum. Another week, another ridiculous performance by Jon Heacock’s defense where they hold an opponent to just a tiny fraction of their typical offensive output. The Cyclones have held every conference opponent below their scoring average, with Baylor getting the closest at just four points short of average, but most teams ending up two to three scores short.
MJ Anderson continues to make his case as the best pass rusher in the conference across from Will McDonald, is just a half sack away from breaking the Big 12’s all-time record, which is owned by Texas Tech’s Aaron Hunt. Meanwhile, TJ Tampa has continued his ascendance to being arguably the best cornerback in the Big 12 alongside his running partner Myles Purchase, who has had his own very good season.
However, maybe the single most impressive performance of the season goes to Anthony Johnson, who should be in consideration for Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year at safety, where he has thrived after switching from the cornerback position he played at an All-Big 12 level for four seasons.
The high-flying Horned Frogs are back, as Heisman candidate and Iowa-native Max Duggan has well and truly broken out this season. The Frogs are well-balanced, ranking 13th in the country in rushing efficiency and 15th in passing efficiency. They also don’t turn the ball over much, averaging less than one turnovers allowed per game.
While throwing the ball is obviously a huge portion of Max Duggan’s game, plays like this are where he really does some significant damage. The kid is absolutely tough as nails, and is more than happy to lower his shoulder to pick up a few extra yards on these read-option keepers. The Cyclone linebackers will need to be disciplined and contain Max Duggan on these read-option plays and not allow TCU to gash them on the ground.
However, these Frogs love to connect on deep balls, and they’ve got the weapons to do it. Fortunately for Iowa State, it appears as though star wideouts Quenton Johnston and Derius Davis may both miss the game on Saturday (but it’s us, so they’ll probably be healthy), but that doesn’t mean TCU doesn’t have plenty of weapons to go to. Taye Barber will be priority number one in the passing game to keep tabs on and prevent from getting open deep downfield.
Kendre Miller is the workhorse running back of the offense, totaling 1188 yards on the season with a 6.5 yards per carry average. He and Duggan form a formidable partnership on those read options. Containing those two will be paramount if Iowa State wants a shot at winning this thing.
Verdict - Iowa State
TCU has the best offense in the Big 12, and Iowa State has the best defense in the Big 12. A true strength-on-strength matchup. That said, I think Iowa State wins this matchup and potentially by a decent margin. Even without the injuries to Johnston and Davis, TCU was likely going to have some tough sledding this Saturday against one of the best defenses in college football. Factor those injuries in, and it feels extremely unlikely that the Frogs are going to be able to operate at or close to full power.
As is true with any matchup, it’s certainly possible that TCU may find a wrinkle and exploit it for a long score or two, but I would be extremely surprised if they were able to consistently move the ball easily and exploit that wrinkle for the entire game. Jon Heacock is one of the best in the game, and this is his best unit yet.
Last week, TCU pulled off this incredible fire drill field goal to beat Baylor and remain undefeated:
TCU FIRE DRILL FIELD GOAL FOR THE WIN!!! pic.twitter.com/h2raCAm4mn— Sickos Committee (@SickosCommittee) November 19, 2022
This is genuinely one of the most impressive special teams plays I’ve ever seen.
Verdict - TCU
The beatings will continue until morale improves.
Winning Scale from 1 to 10
On a scale of the best numbers between one and ten ranging from 9 to 3, I’d give this one approximately a five’s chance of winning. Five has some nice consistency, being a divisor of ten, but has limited upside being an odd number and is just a weird quantity of things to have. When food companies put five of something in a box, they’re just trying to introduce chaos into the lives of anyone that isn’t part of a household of exactly five people.
Iowa State - 10
TCU - 14