The conclusion for the 2017 regular season comes Saturday afternoon for the Wildcats and the Cyclones, each of whom hope to put a nice finishing touch on this year’s campaigns. There are a lot of parallels between these two teams, but each appears to be trending in a different direction late in the season.
Iowa State has had big wins over the league’s best teams in October, but the Cyclones seem to be stumbling somewhat to the end of the season. Kansas State, who at one point looked like they might not even make a bowl game, picked up big wins in November to get to bowl eligibility.
The winner of this game will make themselves more attractive as a bowl team, while the loser will finish that much closer to the bottom of the conference.
DATE & TIME: SAT, NOV 25 at 2:30 PM CT
WHERE: Bill Snyder Family Football Stadium (Manhattan, KS)
FORECAST: Low 60s, Mostly Sunny
BETTING LINE: KSU – 2.5
IOWA STATE (7-4, 5-3)
The Iowa State Cyclones have been the surprise team in the Big 12 this season and find themselves entering Saturday with a chance to get to eight wins. That would be the most wins earned by Iowa State since 2000.
Injury at quarterback might hinder their ability to do that, however.
Head coach Matt Campbell’s team has overcome adversity all season, but they’ve had four different signal callers. That appeared to affect the Cyclones last week, as they did just enough to get past Baylor 23-13.
The Cyclones have relied on David Montgomery to power their running game all season. Montgomery, who surpassed 1,000 yards last week, might be the best running back in the Big 12.
Iowa State also has a corps of talented, tall wide receivers capable of making big catches. Allen Lazard leads that group with over 700 yards receiving.
Of course, not all is well offensively. The quarterback situation for the Cyclones has been in flux all season. Zeb Noland, technically the fourth string player at that position, has been the starter since Kyle Kempt went out against Oklahoma State.
Noland, a redshirt freshman, had an up-and-down game last week against Baylor. He can throw the ball deep, but he still needs to develop.
With the defense playing like it has been in 2017, though, the offense hasn’t had to do too much. Iowa State has had some of the best defensive performances in the Big 12.
The key to the Cyclones success is their ability to stop the run and then defend the passing game by rushing only three lineman. That approach has managed to keep opponents from getting on the scoreboard, enabling Iowa State to hold other offenses to 21.1 points per game.
Turnovers have also helped the Cyclones stop offensive units in the Big 12 and the team currently leads the conference in turnover margin.
KANSAS STATE (6-5, 4-4)
Last week, the Wildcats found a way to get to bowl eligibility despite being a three score underdog against Oklahoma State. They avoided missing a bowl for the first time since 2009.
The Wildcats jumped out on Oklahoma State early, racing out to a 42-13 lead late in the fourth quarter before the Cowboys went on a 27-3 run that almost won them the game.
Getting turnovers early in the game was a big part of the reason why Kansas State was able to get such a favorable lead. Defensive backs Kendall Adams and Duke Shelley both had good games all day and came away with an interception a piece.
Overall, however, the Kansas State pass defense has been a liability for the Wildcats, who have a penchant for giving up big pass plays.
The run defense has been more of a strength. It’s powered by the almost unblockable Will Geary up front and linebackers like Trent Tanking. Tanking had the best game of any Big 12 linebacker last week, according to Pro Football Focus.
Wide receiver Byron Pringle had a big day last week, logging three receiving touchdowns and a touchdown on a kick return. That was by far his best game of the season and it provided a spark to a Kansas State passing offense that is ranked last in the Big 12.
Where the Wildcats really are able to pick up yardage is on the ground. They average 193.7 yards per game with a power running game that relies heavily on quarterback lead plays.
Players like Justin Silmon, Alex Barnes and Winston Dimel are all tough runners capable of picking up yards after contact.
Quarterback Skylar Thompson, a redshirt freshman, is a third string quarterback who is undeniably the center piece of the offense. Like most other Kansas State quarterbacks, he is a hard-nosed runner capable of making just enough big passing plays down the field.
Late in the season, Kansas State has looked good in special teams with capable returners and a go-to kicker in Matthew McCrane.
KEYS TO THE GAME FOR ISU
Stick With The Running Game – Kansas State has one of the best run defenses in the Big 12, but Iowa State needs to keep feeding their running backs even if they don’t get a lot of success early. Preventing themselves from becoming one-dimensional will allow the Cyclones to possibly open up some big plays deep later in the game.
Prevent Big Plays Downfield – The Wildcats have struggled to move the ball this season, but they’ve been able to capitalize off explosive plays in order to get points. Limiting those plays will be key for the Cyclone defense, which has been good all season at doing just that. Continue to do that in this last contest.
Tackle Well On Special Teams – Last week, Kansas State got points off a kick return that ended up being the difference in a game that was decided by five points. The Wildcats are good at taking advantage of the hidden yardage provided by special teams and the Cyclones will need to tackle well on returns to minimize that damage.
KEYS TO THE GAME FOR KSU
Prevent Big Plays On Defense – Iowa State is a team that is fine with marching down the field, but they will also drop back and try to throw deep on occasion. The Wildcats need to make sure and keep everything in front of them in order to make the Cyclones earn every yard. Playing a young quarterback, the more plays Iowa State runs on a given drive gives them more opportunities they have to make mistakes.
Be Ready To Make Field Goals – Bill Snyder is no stranger to this philosophy, but Iowa State is not a team that gives up a lot of points and field goals will probably matter a lot in this game. Be ready to jog Matthew McCrane out onto the field and let him attempt a kick if it’s close to his range.
Take Advantage Of Turnovers – The Cyclones have only given the ball up nine times this year and they do an outstanding job of not hurting themselves. Kansas State mostly does a good job of that as well, but if they want to win this game, they will have to force a mistake or two from the opponent. If the Wildcats can manage to get a turnover off Iowa State’s young quarterback, they need to be able to convert it into points.
There are definitely reasons to go either way in this one. Iowa State’s best resource right now would seem to be their defense and in a game where both teams are playing with guys who are the backup’s backup, taking the squad with the better defense wouldn’t be a bad bet.
The team that wins this game, however, is probably the team that can run the ball and stop the run. As a team, Kansas State has a slight edge in those departments. As amazing of a name as “Farmageddon” is for a rivalry, I think this one might be the opposite of a high scoring, entertaining affair. I’ll take the Wildcats to crawl across the finish line and win by the slimmest of margins.