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2023 Iowa State Football Preview: Kansas

A big one at Jack Trice Stadium

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 28 Iowa State at Baylor Photo by David Buono/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Iowa State (5-3) vs Kansas (6-2)

6 pm


Last Time Out..

After getting a quick three-and-out stop to start the game, the Cyclone offense started hotter than two hamsters in a wool sock, marching down the field in just four plays and finishing the drive with an 18-yard Jayden Higgins touchdown.

Iowa State forced another punt on the ensuing Baylor possession, but Abu Sama fumbled the ball away, the first lost fumble of the season for the Cyclones. Fortunately, the defense followed that up by earning a turnover on downs for the next Baylor possession.

Chase Contreraz then finished off Iowa State’s next drive with a 42-yard no-doubt field goal to push the score to 10-0. Malik Verdon picked off a deep ball on Baylor’s next offensive possession, but the Cyclones weren’t able to turn it into any points. After recovering their first fumble on the season, Iowa State then marched down the field, capping the drive off with a Cartevious Norton touchdown run at the goal line to make it 17-0.

The last two minutes of the half were an unmitigated disaster for Iowa State, as they not only failed to score after forcing a punt, but threw an interception, which eventually led to a Baylor score to bring it to 17-6 heading into the locker room. It was a two-score lead, but a blown opportunity for a pick-six by Jeremiah Cooper, a couple of missed deep throws by Rocco Becht, and a TJ Tampa targeting call left a sour taste in the mouth of Cyclone fans the felt like it should be a comfortable 24-0 game.

Iowa State received the ball coming out of halftime, and put together what turned out to be the deciding scoring drive, as Cartevious housed a 49-yard run to bring the score to 24-6. Iowa State did tack on two more Chase Contreraz field goals before the final whistle, but neither of those made the game feel remotely comfortable, as the defense’s tackling ability seemed to suddenly vanish into thin air.

After what felt like a 200-year torture-fest of bad tackling, the Iowa State defense stepped up and made the game-winning fourth down stop on 4th-and-4 on what was a pretty terrible play call by Baylor to run the ball between the tackles.

Rocco Becht finished 19-of-31 passing for 238 yards, one touchdown, and one interception, but the film will show a rough game for the redshirt freshman, as he missed a number of wide-open throws (which would have ended in scores) and fumbled a snap.

Eli Sanders led the team with 90 rushing yards on 14 carries, but the star of the day at running back, whose two touchdowns sealed the win for Iowa State.

Jaylin Noel and Jayden Higgins both had good days catching the ball, but freshman tight end Ben Brahmer was the real star pass-catcher making a few crucial first-down catches, including a 48-yard catch and run on Iowa State’s final scoring drive that felt like a breath of fresh air as the team appeared to be collapsing in front of ours.

Kansas Tidbits

Bill Self is entering his 20th season as the Jayhawks head coach... wait never mind we have been informed that yes, this is in fact a big game between Iowa State and Kansas in football. Lance Leipold is in his third season as the Jayhawks head coach. His record currently sits at 14-19 with now two straight bowl seasons in Lawrence. The Jayhawks are fresh off a win over Oklahoma and sit at 6-2 overall and 3-2 in the Big 12.

Iowa State Offense

Last week, the offense was...fine. They did enough to win, but Rocco Becht struggled. His final stat line didn’t really show anything major, but he missed a handful of deep throws and a few easy throws down the middle of the field that he shouldn’t be missing. There was also a very frustrating series of play calls from 1st and goal, including a fade route on third down to Jayden Higgins on the near side of the field. That said, the rainy weather certainly didn’t help matters and this is a young football team playing on the road, so stuff happens.

Coming back to Jack Trice Stadium, I expect Rocco to play much better and look more comfortable, which helps the rest of the offense continue to move the ball efficiently. Eli Sanders has firmly taken a hold of the starting running back spot, but a healthy Cartevious Norton provided a nice spark last week with a couple touchdowns.

Jayden Higgins took another nice step forward as well, and we got to see Ben Brahmer’s wheels on a long catch and run. As long as Iowa State is able to maintain a good balance with their playcalling and Rocco takes care of the football, the Cyclones should continue to improve and see success on offense against Kansas.

Kansas Defense

Speaking of Kansas, the Jayhawk defense is...not great. They’re currently giving up almost 6 yards per play, which ranks in the bottom 25% of college football. Despite their struggles, especially on the road, they do have an outstanding corner in CoBee Bryant, who might just be the best cornerback in the Big 12 not named TJ Tampa. Brian Borland’s 4-2-5 scheme typically runs a lot of Cover 4, which means Bryant likely won’t be following receivers across the field. Iowa State can minimize his impact by sending Jaylin Noel and Jayden Higgins to the opposite side of the field and using a tight end on Bryant’s side to prevent the defense from overloading one side of the field.

The main route concepts that work best against Cover 4 are ones Iowa State already likes to run, particularly double posts (with and without a wheel/flat route by the running back) and dagger concepts, which utilize a post from the slot and a dig from the X receiver to change levels and find space in the middle of the zones. Keep an eye out for a backside post to either Jayden Higgins or Jaylin Noel, which could see them find some big space to run after the catch.


Iowa State’s offense is obviously far from elite, but the offensive line and the unit as a whole have been steadily improving over the last month to the point where it no longer feels like pulling teeth just to move the football. Meanwhile, Kansas’ defense is one of the worst in the conference. Look for the Iowa State offense to try to establish the pass early on to spread the Jayhawk defense out and keep them on their heels. If Kansas isn’t able to dedicate a heavy box to stopping the run on a regular basis, the running backs could be in for a big day.

Iowa State Defense

The Cyclone defense may be without one of its best players this weekend. Jeremiah Cooper was listed at 50/50 according to Matt Campbell, and we all know that means he is now dead and will never be heard from again. While they are building depth at safety, it just isn’t as physical as the starters at safety. Certainly, this is something to monitor as the game approaches.

The Cyclones were able to hold the line of scrimmage against Baylor for most of the game last Saturday. The Cyclones held Baylor to 67 total yards rushing, just around 2.7 yards per carry. It’s an effort that will be needed this weekend and a much taller task against the Kansas rushing attack.

The Cyclones should be fine against the passing attack of the Jayhawks. I would like to see more pressure dialed up on passing downs and force Jason Bean into mistakes. If the Cyclones can shut down the run, they will have the opportunity to do just that.

Kansas Offense

At 213 yards per game, the Jayhawks are one the of the best teams rushing the ball in the country. Devin Neal is a huge part of that equation alongside the scrambling ability of Jason Beans. The junior running back has rattled off 771 yards rushing and 7 touchdowns on 6.7 yards per carry. Daniel Hinshaw Jr. will come in for relief but he is averaging over 6 yards per carry himself. It’s a loaded backfield for the Jayhawks and one that can keep you up at night.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 28 Oklahoma at Kansas Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The passing attack for Kansas works, but is rather inconsistent. It may just be that running the ball has worked so well for Kansas they really haven’t been forced to make it consistent. Jason Beans can throw, but is a virtual certainty to turn the ball over if he’s forced to try to win a game with his arm.

Mason Fairchild is a weapon in the passing game Iowa State will have to account for. The senior tight end has 21 receptions on the season for over 14 yards per reception. The Cyclones really haven’t been beat up by a tight end this season, and this seems to be one that has more focus in an offense than some of the teams over the past few weeks. This will be a test for some of the linebackers.

Verdict - Even

The Jayhawk rushing attack is potent and worries me. Iowa State has shown they can shut down a running attack, but they have also been leaky from time to time. This will be a stiff test for Jon Heacock and the boys and if they control the line of scrimmage and force passing situations they will be alright in this one.

Special Teams - Iowa State

Both Chase Contreraz for Iowa State and Seth Keller for Kansas sit around 80% on made kicks this season. So there is no real clear advantage there for either side. The weapon lies within the punt game. Iowa State holds the advantage there and field position will be key in this one and keeping Kansas pinned back. Tyler Perkins has been great all season punting for Iowa State and should be able to help flip field position if called upon on Saturday.

Winning Scale 1 to 10...

This one is like black uniforms during a night game at Jack Trice Stadium. A Lock!

Final Analysis

This will come down to Iowa State stopping the run. Iowa State should be able to move the ball on this Kansas defense and they should be able to hold their own against Jason Bean’s passing game. If Kanas gets on a roll on the ground it will be a very long night. While I certainly think Kansas will get theirs in situations throughout the night I think Iowa State will be able to do enough defensively and come away with a win here.

Final Score Prediction

Iowa State - 30

Kansas - 21