Iowa State may be far from a BCS conference heavyweight, but the Cyclones are on their way up after defeating Kent State last week, in the process ending a 17-game road losing streak that stretched back to 2005. The Cadets know a little something about losing streaks against BCS conference teams, and have not defeated one since an overtime upset of Baylor in 2006. With only four more wins needed to get to the prerequisite six to become bowl eligible, the Black Knights can take a major step forward in proving they're for real with a win this week. Here are three personnel matchups which will help decide the game.
Perhaps the most talented player on the Iowa State roster, Arnaud played horribly in the Cyclones' week two loss to in-state rival Iowa, completing less than 50% of his passes while throwing four interceptions. After being benched during the fourth quarter of that game, the junior from Ames, Iowa came back with a strong showing against Kent State last weekend, hitting 61% of his throws while also accounting for three total touchdowns. Arnaud presents problems for defenses because of his unique dual-threat ability. Not only does he have a strong arm and generally good throwing mechanics, but he is also mobile enough to evade the rush and make plays with his feet, having scored three rushing touchdowns this season. While Arnaud is a solid player, his offensive line has struggled in giving him adequate time to make plays, and will likely be challenged by an aggressive Army front. Army defensive back Donovan Travis has been a do-it-all playmaker through the first three weeks of the season, and proved his ability again last week by recording two picks against Ball State. As we saw against Iowa, the Cyclones are not a good enough team to overcome turnovers, making Travis' penchant for being in the right place at the right time all the more important to Army's chances during the visit to Ames.
Parker has been one of the Big 12's best kept secrets on defense, and is coming off of an honorable mention All-Conference year last season. While undersized at only 5-foot-11, 254-pounds, Parker is extremely quick off the edge, and can play out of either a three point stance or standing up. His quickness and discipline against the run make him the perfect defender for taking on run-first option quarterbacks, a category which Army freshman Trent Steelman certainly falls into. Steelman proved he could lead Army with a road win over Eastern Michigan in week one, but he'll be facing a more hostile crowd – not to mention more talented defense – in Ames this weekend. He'll need to be on his best in reading Parker on option plays, otherwise the plebe signal caller could find himself struggling to outrush the potential pro prospect to the edge.
Iowa State RB Alexander Robinson vs. Army ‘Quick' Josh McNary
One of the reasons Iowa State was able to bounce back from their loss at Iowa and have offensive success against Kent State last week was because the Cyclones established running back Alexander Robinson early on in the game. Robinson has already raked up 326 rushing yards through three games, and is averaging 5.6 yards per carry. He's an athletically gifted runner who sees the field well, as has benefited from the move to the new zone-read offensive system. Robinson will likely have a much tougher go of it this week however, as Army's attacking defense has allowed an average of just 77.0 yards per game on the ground through three weeks (good for 16th in the nation.) Josh McNary has been an integral part of that defensive success, and has shown the ability to disrupt running plays in the opposing backfield through the first three games of the year. With Iowa State's offensive line still learning how to block in the zone-read scheme, expect the Cyclones to feature a heavy dose of Robinson on Saturday. If McNary and the rest of the Army front can shut him down however, they'll make life all the more difficult for Arnaud and the Iowa State passing game to get going.