Iowa State finds itself as a big underdog for the third straight game. How can the Cyclones pull another stunner on the Cowboys? Below are three keys to the game.
1. Get going early. At this point the Cyclones ought to just skip their first offensive series. They've gone three-and-out on three of their six offensive series and six-and-out twice. The last time they made a serious opening drive was against Northern Iowa, capped by a missed Edwin Arceo field goal.
A combination of uninspired play calling, lethargic tempo and poor execution have undone Iowa State on early drives and, usually, most of the game. Iowa State's offense has been at its best when attempting a late-game comeback, snapping the ball quickly and stretching the field from sideline to sideline with the pass.
It is a mental burden for the Cyclones' defensive players to take the field early and often in the game with the expectation they have to get stops because their offense can't move the ball.
2. Compensate for a beat-up offensive line. Nobody outside the program should expect Iowa State's offensive line, a unit under construction, to play well against the imposing d-line of Oklahoma State. It'd be surprising if Sam Richardson had more than 2.5 seconds in the pocket on obvious passing downs, so offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham needs to call quick-hitting plays while leaving in extra protection — here's a vote for Jeff Woody — without compromising the things he wants to do offensively. Which, you ask, is what?
In his utopia, Messingham operates an offense built on power-run schemes — pulling guards, centers and tackles — while exposing defenses with play-action plays. You can gather how a poor offensive line makes doing that impossible.
3. Make plays in the secondary. Goodness, the number of dropped interceptions is a major problem. Of Iowa State's two picks — only three FBS teams have left — one came courtesy of a middle linebacker, the other off a tipped pass that hung in the air and floated back to earth like a struck dove.
Oklahoma State's quarterbacks, J.W. Walsh and Clint Chelf, have a shared 2/1 TD/INT ratio, so there will be bad balls for the taking. Iowa State's defensive backs need to convert those into turnovers.