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Kicking the Tires: Iowa State Cyclones

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After a home win over Texas, K-State takes to the road. The goal is a ninth straight win over Iowa State.

NCAA Football: Texas at Kansas State Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

Last week’s win over Texas looked like it would be a blowout after the first quarter. K-State got the win, and was never really threatened, but a slow second half and Jesse Ertz’s lingering shoulder issues raise concern.

A bye week to help Ertz heal would be welcome, but that’s not in the cards. Instead, K-State travels to Ames, looking for its ninth straight win over Iowa State. The streak is long, but K-State has only won its last two games in Ames by four and six points.

Players to Watch

K-State

Passing: Jesse Ertz, 79-146-3, 927 yards, 6.3 yards/attempt, 6 TDs, 132.4 yards/game

Rushing: Charles Jones, 76 carries, 402 yards, 5.3 yards/carry, 2 TDs, 57.4 yards/game

Receiving: Dominique Health, 26 receptions, 312 yards, 12.0 yards/reception, 3 TDs, 44.6 yards/game

Iowa State

Passing: Joel Lanning, 91-154-3, 1,196 yards, 7.8 yards/attempt, 9 TDs, 170.9 yards/game

Rushing: Mike Warren, 118 carries, 496 yards, 4.2 yards/carry, 3 TDs, 70.9 yards/game

Receiving: Allen Lazard, 34 receptions, 448 yards, 13.2 yards/game, 4 TDs, 64.0 yards/game

That’s a familiar cast of characters for the Cyclones.

Warren and Lazard are legitimate and familiar threats, but Iowa State is not a highly functional offense this year. Lanning is having a good season, but he’s spent half the season on his back. The Cyclones have allowed a whopping 27 sacks through seven games.

Advanced Stats (charts courtesy JeffP)

K-State fans understandably worry about the Iowa State matchup, because while the Cyclones are 8-28 in their last three seasons, they’ve played K-State close all but once in those years. But there are a number of reasons why K-State looks like a bad matchup for the Cyclones this season.

Defensively, Iowa State is good at limiting big plays, which is precisely what K-State is bad at creating. But the Cyclones allow their opponents to move the ball more consistently than almost any other team in the country. Iowa State is 122nd nationally in Success Rate, including 124th against the run and 96th against the pass. The Wildcats should be able to move the ball. K-State is 33rd, 12th and 74th in those measures, respectively.

What about the end of those drives? Ideally, a bend-don’t-break defense allows a solid Success Rate, but stiffens up when the field gets short. But Iowa State is 109th nationally at Finishing Drives (points per trip inside the 40). So they bend and then often break. K-State is 25th nationally at finishing drives.

On the other side, Iowa State’s offensive line is about as bad as it gets at protecting their quarterback. The Cyclones are 123rd nationally in Adjusted Sack Rate (K-State’s defense is 58th). Jordan Willis and Reggie Walker should hound Lanning all afternoon.

Iowa State’s offense is nearly as inexplosive as K-State’s offense, so they likely won’t take advantage of the Wildcats’ relative defensive weakness. They’re also not terribly efficient. There’s a good chance Iowa State doesn’t have a ton of success offensively on Saturday.

Oh, and Iowa State is minus three on the season in turnover margin. Even with last week’s uncharacteristic three-turnover game against Texas, K-State is plus four for the season.

Conclusion

All of the above is probably setting us up for disappointment if K-State loses or struggles to a tight win over Iowa State this weekend. Losing should be cause for concern, because despite solid performances in losses to Oklahoma State and Baylor, the Cyclones don’t profile as a very good team. But K-State is still finding its way, so road wins won’t be easy to come by.

Both teams play slowly and neither is explosive, so this looks like a relatively low-scoring affair. If Ertz is healthy, then K-State should win fairly easily. But if he’s out or less effective because of his injury, then it gets dicier.

Wildcats 31, Cyclones 14