Kansas has had this game circled since the beginning of the season. It is on the road, but has to be the one they figure they can win and take another step in their rebuilding process. Likewise, Iowa State has counted this game as a win since the beginning of the season, and a win on Saturday will give the Cyclones its fourth win on the season, which would be the highest win total for an Iowa State squad since 2012.
Both programs are rebuilding in an improved conference. While there are signs of improvement from both teams, Iowa State seems to be on a faster trajectory back to bowl eligibility.
DATE & TIME: SAT, OCT 14, 11:00 AM CT
LOCATION: Jack Trice Stadium, Ames, IA
FORECAST: Rain and 58 Degrees
BETTING LINE: ISU -22.5
Kansas Jayhawks (1-4, 0-2)
Kansas expected better than their current plight. One or two more non-conference wins would have put them in position to have a breakthrough season for the fighting David Beatty’s. Instead, turnovers and a struggling defense have conspired to put the Jayhawks in a tough position half way through the season.
Kansas plays offense fairly well. The running game is solid with Herbert and they have found yards through the air. The passing game ranks sixth in the Big 12 based on yards per game. Undoubtedly, some of that production has come in garbage time, but it is an improvement. They are also sixth in the conference in rushing yards per attempt. The problem is that they lose the turnover battle each game to the tune of almost 1.5 turnovers.
Defensively, Kansas is dead last in the conference by a wide margin giving up more than 500 yards per game. Woof. Kansas is not without talent on the defensive side of the ball. However, it has not translated to a consistent performance since the first game of the season. They are capable of putting together a solid effort on defense, but have not found a way to do so yet.
If Kansas hopes to get off the mat here in 2017, this is the game to it. Iowa State ranks only slightly ahead of Kansas in defensive numbers, and slightly behind in offensive numbers. There is a chance to overcome this spread and get a win, especially with sloppy conditions and a strong running game. Control the clock and hang on to the ball and they have a chance to shock ISU.
Iowa State Cyclones (3-2, 1-1)
A 3-2 record is not unexpected for Iowa State, just the sequence of those wins and losses is surprising. After struggling against Texas, Iowa State, in turmoil, pulled off a massive upset of conference big wig Oklahoma. With a tough Big 12 slate, largely on the road (only home games remaining against TCU and OSU), ahead Iowa State is in a must win situation against the feisty Jayhawks.
Iowa State plays a multiple defense led by a stronger than expected defensive line and the exploits of Joel Lanning at linebacker. Thus far, the bend-but-don’t-break style of defense has paid dividends for Iowa State. They are solid against the run and if you don’t block well up front, they can cover their deficiencies in the secondary. Rain or shine, Kansas will have an opportunity to either shred the ISU defense or be shredded by it.
The offensive for Iowa State is led, now, by Kyle Kempt. The walk-on, transfer, senior is a cool customer who is best when playing within his limitations. I suspect Kansas will force him to look downfield further and move a bit out of his comfort zone. Whether or not that can be effective for Iowa State is a wait and see question. They have the receiving talent to do it and Kempt will have to play a bit different game than he did against Oklahoma.
However, the star of the show is running back David Montgomery. Iowa State has yet to unleash Montgomery with the number and type of carries that his talent demands, but Saturday may be that opportunity. If Montgomery is established against any opponent, then beating the Cyclones becomes a difficult task.
Keys for Kansas
Do the Running Man – Control the clock, don’t put the ball on the ground, and play to your strength. Running the ball on Iowa State has not been easy, but there are plays to made there. Kansas can make those plays. A strong running game limits the turnover opportunities and sets Kansas up for victory.
Pressure Kempt – Texas pressured the ISU QB and had a positive result as ISU failed to take advantage or adjust to the pressure package. Kansas needs to pressure Kempt and test his mettle. They also need to pressure him by alternatively playing drop coverage. Keep him off-balance and uncomfortable and there will be three and outs.
Turnovers – As I mentioned above, Kansas has a negative turnover margin of -1.6 per game while Iowa State sports a positive turnover margin of +.80 per game. If Kansas is to have a chance they will buck the trend and win the turnover battle. Run it, pressure Kempt, and win the turnover battle.
Keys for Iowa State
Don’t Overthink – Iowa State needs to get the ball in the hands of its play makers wherever and however they can. Montgomery, Lazard, Butler, Jones, Ryen, and Murdock have all flashed brilliance in the open field. Just get them the ball with some degree of space and there will be plenty of yards available to sustain drives.
Stop the Run – Iowa State should consider forcing Kansas to beat them through the air. Last year, Kansas nearly pulled off the upset by running the ball. Kansas stayed close to West Virginia by running the ball. Sell out to stop the run and dare them to pass. This should present turnover opportunities and allow the offense to gain a foothold on the score board.
Score Early – Interesting stats here, Iowa State is averaging 12.8 points in the first half while their opponents are averaging 15.2. In the second half, it’s a different story. The Cyclones are averaging 20.4 points while holding their opponents to just 9.4 points in the half. In fact, Iowa State’s last three opponents have only managed 10 points in the second half collectively. Time to reverse the trend and put Kansas away early. Letting an underdog hang around is never a good plan — see last week for ISU. Iowa State needs to score early and then put the clamps on in the second half.
If Iowa State can rise up and beat Oklahoma, then Kansas can rise up and beat Iowa State. Iowa State will have to establish themselves early and often. Inclement weather is a major X factor here. But, I don’t see Kansas avoiding the turnover bug against Iowa State. I expect Iowa State to force turnovers and capitalize.
Look for David Montgomery to have a player of the week type game and the Iowa State running game to get a foothold here. I expect Iowa State to cover the spread, but they won’t pull away until the second half.
Back to the drawing board for Kansas, and Iowa State will have to figure out how to get two more wins in their last six in order to make it to a corner turning bowl game.