THE Preview: Iowa State vs KSU

The Cyclones were money in bringing the ball-carrier down against Iowa and Tulsa, with missed tackles in the single digits. That's phenomenal. But in the big loss to Oklahoma State the Cyclones played their gaps poorly

Iowa State (1-6) plays at Kansas State (3-4) at 2:30 CST on Saturday morning (FS1) in a game it must win for bowl eligibility.

Forecast: High of 59, low of 36, 0 percent chance of rain, wind at 8 mph.

Spread: Kansas State (-17.5)

Here's a look at how the Cyclones and Wildcats match up.

ISU pass offense vs. KSU pass defense

Mum's the word on Saturday's starting quarterback, but the guess is that a healthy Sam Richardson would get the nod over Grant Rohach. Against Oklahoma State, Richardson completed three of seven passes in which the ball traveled 10 or more yards in the air; not a bad percentage, given the degree of difficulty.

The Wildcats play their cornerbacks eight, sometimes 10, yards off the line of scrimmage, forcing an offense to dink-and-dunk its way down the field. Can Iowa State do that in a consistent manner? That, more than success in the vertical passing game, is the big question in regards to this matchup.

Opposing quarterbacks are completing 58.3 percent of their passes against Kansas State. Only two teams, Iowa State being one of them, yields a higher percentage. The Cyclones need to be productive in the short and intermediate passing game and strike big a few times over the top.

Senior safety Ty Zimmerman is Kansas State's linchpin in the secondary. He's fifth in the Big 12 in total tackles.

Edge: Iowa State

ISU run offense vs. KSU's run defense

The two teams are similarly mediocre in this regard, as Iowa State is seventh in the conference in rushing yards per game and Kansas State is sixth in yards allowed.

Aaron Wimberly is doubtful with a hamstring injury, meaning Shontrelle Johnson and DeVondrick Nealy have to stretch outside their comfort zones Saturday. Each is ideally suited as a change-of-pace scat runner, who have a tendency to pick their holes too carefully and dance around in the backfield. Wimberly, on the other hand, chooses his hole quickly and cuts through it.

The Cyclones' offensive line for the first time all season should be starting the same five players up front. Manna from heaven for unit coach Chris Klenakis.

Linebacker Blake Slaughter and defensive end Ryan Mueller give the Wildcats an exceptional player at each level of the defense, to go with Zimmerman in the secondary. Mueller is tied for fourth in the Big 12 in sacks (four) and is a threat to swat down passes from the line of scrimmage. Slaughter is third in the conference total tackles, behind only Iowa State's Jeremiah George and Jacques Washington.

Edge: Kansas State

ISU run defense vs KSU run offense

This, right here, is it. How the Cyclones stop not only John Hubert but the Wildcats' slow-moving quarterback keeps will decide the game.

The ISU-KSU content this week has been mostly absent of Hubert. He's not having his best year, with 63 yards a game, but his 4.48 average is nothing to scoff at. The senior is still one of the best running backs in the conference.

"[He's] pretty good, he's been there a while," ISU defensive coordinator Wally Burnham said of Hubert. "Seems like he's been there since we've been here, he might have been, I don't know. He's a downhill runner and can bounce it outside on you and make some extra yardage if you're not careful."

Quarterback Daniel Sams, though, is easily the Wildcats' best running threat. He carries the ball 14 times a game, with an average of 5.38 yards per try.

The Cyclones missed 17 tackles last week against Oklahoma State, the result many poor angles. They'll benefit from the return of defensive end Willie Scott, out last week for disciplinary reasons, but will miss weak side linebacker Luke Knott if he's unable to go because of a hip injury. Jevohn Miller was OK filling in for Knott last week, but Knott's starting for a reason.

Edge: Kansas State

ISU pass defense vs. KSU pass offense

Often, usually with Jake Waters at quarterback, the Wildcats will fake their slow-developing runs and then hit a tight end over the middle. Jeremiah George said this week he'll be responsible for those plays, and there aren't many better linebackers in the country who can handle the challenge of playing a run gap honestly while staying ready for the pass.

There were signs of life in the secondary last week against Oklahoma State. Cowboys quarterback Clint Chelf completed a miserable 38.5 percent of his passes. Iowa State was responsible for plenty of incompletions, but it's fair to mention Chelf was off-target most of the afternoon. Nevertheless, it's a confidence booster to hold a Big 12 team to 78 yards passing.

In four of six games played, Kansas State wideout Tyler Lockett has over 100 yards receiving, including a 237-yard performance against Texas and a three-touchdown last week against West Virginia. The 5-foot-11, 175-pound speedster isn't a jump-ball guy but is a dynamite deep threat, one who will keep ISU's safeties from keying too much on the run.

Edge: Kansas State

Special teams

The Wildcats have returned only seven punts this season, with Tramaine Thompson averaging an awesome 33.75 yards. Thompson also has a kickoff return for a touchdown.

Iowa State has the edge in the punting game, thanks to Kirby Van Der Kamp, while the two place-kickers, Cole Netten of ISU and Jack Cantele of KSU, are essentially a draw.

Jarvis West is out several weeks with an MCL injury. The Cyclones will turn to DeVondrick Nealy to return punts.

Edge: Kansas State

Three Keys to a Win

1. Stop starting slow. The number keeps growing — the Cyclones after what Paul Rhoads called an "atrocious" start against Oklahoma State now have four three-and-outs on their first offensive possessions. Twice they went six-and-out. Only once have they made a legitimate drive on their opening possession.

It's a combination of things. Against the Cowboys it was missed blocks and then miscommunication on a passing route over the middle. Iowa State's defense can't continue to defend such a short field, but that's what happens when an offense takes over on its 25-yard-line and has to punt. On the road, it's doubly important the Cyclones get something going on their opening possession.

2. Limit the whiffs. If 17 sounds like a lot of missed tackles, that's because it is. The Cyclones were money in bringing the ball-carrier down against Iowa and Tulsa, with missed tackles in the single digits. That's phenomenal. But in the big loss to Oklahoma State the Cyclones played their gaps poorly, in part because the loss of two starting front-seven players (Willie Scott and Luke Knott) led to some communication lapses. Doing things like that leads to players being out of position, which leads to poor angles, which lead to, yes, missed tackles.

Iowa State knows what's coming this weekend. Kansas State will run, run, run. The key to stopping that will be staying patient and — like a broken record — keep plugging those gaps, but weak side linebacker Jevohn Miller must keep containment against Daniel Sams and his tendency to cut against the grain on his quarterback keeps.

3. Dink and dunk, all day long. The Wildcats play their defensive backs far off the line of scrimmage to discourage opposing quarterbacks from going deep. In doing so, they live with giving up short passing plays.

This is similar to what Iowa State does defensively, so Sam Richardson and the offense should be used to seeing it in practice. On the short routes, it's all about timing. The Cyclones have been inconsistent in that regard. Take, for instance, Richardson's pick-six last weekend, when a throw to the sideline to Quenton Bundrage was way, way late (it didn't help Bundrage's route wasn't sharp).

Fun with Stats

Quarterback Daniel Sams is a different animal, the backup to Collin Klein last season, a far less-polished passer but with the potential to become one of the most dynamic offensive threats in the Big 12. As his passing fundamentals continue to develop (in the last three games he has completed eight, seven and 21 passes; in the first four he attempted zero, two, two and zero), it's his ground prowess that has gotten him playing time. Twice he has gone over 100 yards in a game, his season-high being 199 yards on 30 attempts, and three touchdowns, in a 10-point loss to Baylor.

This is likely because the Wildcats have been down in many games, as their 3-4 record so obviously suggests, but Sams has 60 rushes when the Wildcats are losing by seven points or less. When they're winning any margin, he has 20 total rushes. And he's more than happy to pull down the leather and hit the hole on first down, with 53 attempts — more than any other down. On average, he picks up nearly five yards in that situation.

The only time Kansas State is rather predictable is in short yardage. The Wildcats have attempted 16 passes inside the opponent's 20, compared to 45 rushes (Sams accounts for 60 of those). On third down, with less than two to go, Kansas State has no pass attempts and 14 rushes.

Simply expecting the Wildcats to pass when Waters is in the game and run when Sams is in would be incorrect.

Quote to Note

"[Kansas State does] the best job — and not because we're playing them, I say this every year — they do the best job with the talent they have than anybody in the league. They manage games, they keep the ball away from the other team, make you play 34 minutes of defense which wears you out. They don't have a lot of superstars, they've got really, really good football players but compared to some other people I think they do the best coaching job in the league. No doubt." — ISU defensive coordinator Wally Burnham.

Predictions

AllCyclones.com: KSU 34, ISU 17.

FEI: KSU 30, Iowa State 18.

F/+ has KSU with a 85.4 percent chance of winning, a likely score of 35.1-19.8.

Massey Ratings: KSU 37, ISU 21

RealTimeRPI.com: KSU 35, ISU 12.

Matchup Preview | November 2, 2013
@
Iowa State Cyclones
(1-6, 1-2 Away)
Kansas State Wildcats
(3-4, 3-2 Home)
Offensive Stats Comparison
351 (102)Total Offensive Yards407 (72)
216 (80)Passing Yards226.9 (70)
135 (97)Rushing Yards180.2 (52)
25.4 (86)Points Per Game30.9 (56)
95.2 (6)Red Zone Percentage83.3 (63)
Defensive Stats Comparison
481.7 (117)Total Yards Allowed379 (42)
262 (103)Passing Yards Allowed230 (65)
219.3 (111)Rushing Yards Allowed149 (53)
39.7 (11)Points Per Game24 (50)
10 (107)Sacks13 (83)
3 (113)Interceptions5 (95)
86.6 (90)Red Zone Percentage84 (73)
Game Notes
Iowa State leads the all-time series vs. Kansas State at 48-43-4. Kansas State has the edge in games played in Manhattan at 24-21-1 ... The last Cyclone win in Manhattan was on Nov. 20, 2004 (37-23) ... The last four games in the series, all KSU's victories, have been one-possession games (2009, 24-23; 2010, 27-20; 2011, 30-23; 2012, 27-21) by an average margin of victory of 5.25.

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