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Kicking the Tires: Iowa State Cyclones

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K-State gutted out a much-needed road win against Texas Tech last weekend. Time for a Farmageddon finale.

Kansas State v Texas Tech Photo by John E. Moore III/Getty Images

Apparently, some people are #madonline about me predicting K-State losses in this weekly feature. Given that K-State is 4-3 in games in which I’ve predicted a loss this season, maybe I should just predict a loss every week.

Anyway, last week’s win in Lubbock was an odd game. Connelly’s postgame win expectancy for K-State was only 12%. That felt odd for a game in which I felt like K-State could’ve easily gone to halftime leading 17-3 and won by a couple scores. But a 31% Success Rate will do that. You aren’t always going to get two turnovers and a special teams touchdown, although K-State does that more often than other teams.

Interestingly enough, K-State won because of the aforementioned turnovers and the kickoff return touchdown, but also thanks to explosive plays. Less than one-third of K-State’s plays for the game were successful, but they made them count when they were. On Standard Downs, K-State sported a 1.98 IsoPPP (an explosiveness metric), well above the national average of 1.08. In short, K-State couldn’t stay on schedule at all, but they struck big on early downs. Consider this:

  • On K-State’s first scoring drive, the key play was a 26-yard completion to Wykeen Gill on first and 10.
  • On K-State’s second scoring drive, the key play was a 44-yard completion to Gill on second and 7 (that’s a passing down, but just barely).
  • In the third quarter, leading 20-17, Malik Knowles picked up 23 yards from just inside midfield to put K-State in position for another field goal. That play came on first and 10.
  • And finally, protecting a field goal lead late in the fourth quarter, Chabastin Taylor got loose for a 48-yard touchdown pass to ice the game. That one again came on first and 10.

Effectively all of K-State’s big plays came on standard downs against Texas Tech. That’s not necessarily surprising, standard downs put defenses in a bind because the offense can keep them off balance. But K-State needs to do a better job of generating more standard downs by staying on schedule. We’ll see if they can do that against a very good Iowa State defense.

Players to Watch

K-State

Passing: Skylar Thompson, 162-271-4, 2,134 yards, 7.9 yards/attempt, 12 TDs, 194.0 yards/game

Rushing: James Gilbert, 125 carries, 679 yards, 5.4 yards/carry, 6 TDs, 75.4 yards/game

Receiving: Dalton Schoen, 34 receptions, 568 yards, 16.7 yards/reception, 4 TDs, 51.6 yards/game

Iowa State

Passing: Brock Purdy, 280-415-9, 3,590 yards, 8.7 yards/attempt, 26 TDs, 326.4 yards/game

Rushing: Breece Hall, 151 carries, 806 yards, 5.3 yards/carry, 8 TDs, 80.6 yards/game

Receiving: Deshaunte Jones, 70 receptions, 822 yards, 11.7 yards/reception, 2 TDs, 74.7 yards/game

Purdy is having an outstanding season and has improved over the course of the year. Keep an eye also on tight end Charlie Kolar, who has 47 receptions and seven TDs this season. La’Michael Pettway is a matchup problem at 6’2” and 223 lbs., and he also has 48 receptions on the year. K-State’s banged up secondary will be put to the test today.

Defensively, linebacker Marcel Spears leads the way with 80 tackles on the season. Spears’ sidekick at linebacker, O’Rien Vance, leads the team with 9.0 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. Surprisingly, the Cyclones only have five interceptions on the season.

Advanced Stats

None of Iowa State’s advanced metrics is particularly outstanding, but the Cyclones are solid across the board by Success Rate (57th/59th/51st). K-State remains solidly above average on offense in each category (39th/29th/51st). Keeping Iowa State off balance and remaining on schedule will be crucial.

As Drew noted yesterday, keep an eye on ISU’s linebackers and safeties, who are typically the playmakers for this defense. K-State needs to find a way to counter a sound scheme with well-coached players.

One area where the Cyclones are very good is preventing big plays. Skylar Thompson will have to have a big game by making good reads and taking advantage of openings when they’re available. Courtney Messingham will also earn his paycheck this week if he can find ways to attack quickly against a defense built on cutting down slow-developing plays.

Iowa State’s offense (27th/12th/54th) will similarly be a very tough matchup for Scotty Hazelton. With Purdy and all his passing game weapons, the K-State linebackers and secondary will have to play a very good game. It would help if Wyatt Hubert and Reggie Walker can put some pressure on Purdy and if Trey Dishon, Jordan Mittie, Drew Wiley and everyone else inside can hold their own against ISU’s run game. The LBs and safeties have to remain free to blanket the secondary.

Conclusion

Connelly projects Iowa State to win by about a touchdown, covering Vegas’ -5.5 spread. This could be a lower-scoring game than expected, as the wind is presently howling outside my window here about 60 miles from Manhattan. The wind is expected to blow 20-30 mph all day, with gusts as high as 40 mph. It’s possible that could limit the ISU passing game somewhat.

The formula for K-State in this game is pretty much the same as any week: don’t turn the ball over, force a turnover or two (Iowa State is -3 on the year, so ... possible!), maybe break a special teams play, and find a schematic advantage or two to generate a couple other scoring drives. That’s not impossible, but it’s a tall task against what I consider probably the best-coached team in the Big 12.

Cyclones 28, Wildcats 24