Iowa State rush offense vs. Kansas State rush defense
The Cyclones finally broke out of their rushing funk last week against Missouri's porous defense with a 177 yards on the ground, most of which came in the second half. However, the caliber of defense they're facing this week is much greater. Against teams with winning records this season Iowa State is averaging just 118 yards rushing per game, including 75 yards combined against Oklahoma and Texas. Unfortunately, the K-State defense is actually better against the run statistically then either of those juggernauts. In fact, the Wildcats lead the Big 12 Conference in total defense, scoring defense, and rushing defense. K-State is also averaging almost seven tackles-for-loss per game. It's aggressive front has given ISU fits the past two seasons, holding the Cyclones to 103 yards rushing combined. Keep in mind those two Iowa State offensive lines were better than this current one. Advantage: Kansas State.
Iowa State pass offense vs. Kansas State pass defense
The Wildcats are a little more vulnerable here, but not by much. They still rank third in the league and 10th nationally in pass efficiency defense. The Wildcats are tied for eighth in the nation in interceptions, and have picked off 23 passes in their last 14 games. That includes three off of Seneca Wallace in last year's game. Cornerback Terrence Newman is one of the best in the nation, and he specializes in the glove-like (see that as holding) coverage the Wildcats are known for. Speaking of Wallace, his school-record 493 yards of total offense against Missouri last week was certainly Heismanesque. His quartet of receivers is the best of the Dan McCarney era. However, we have consistently seen the ISU aerial assault struggle to get off the ground the past two years against aggressive and quick defenses. The one they're facing this week certainly fits that profile. I'd like to think these Cyclones are more equipped to succeed, but I need visible confirmation of that first. Advantage: Kansas State.
Kansas State rush offense vs. Iowa State rush defense
This is the biggest physical mismatch of the game. The Wildcats have pounded the ISU run defense for 710 yards on the ground the past two seasons. The Cyclones simply haven't been physical enough to stand up to K-State. These Wildcats can also run the ball with the best of them. They rank second in the Big 12 and eighth overall nationally in rushing. Quarterback Ell Roberson ranks among the most prolific rushing quarterbacks in the country. Tailback Darren Sproles continues the K-State tradition of diminutive, yet productive, runners and is just 59 yards shy of breaking the school-record for rushing yards gained by a sophomore. The Cyclones are improving on run defense, but still rank a mediocre 61st in the nation, allowing 153 yards per game. The magic number here for Iowa State is 200. Roberson is not nearly the passer his predecessors Jonathan Beasley and former All-American Michael Bishop were. Therefore, if ISU can hold K-State under 200 yards rushing they stand a better chance of winning. But based on what we've seen in recent seasons, even that's probably too tall an order. Advantage: Kansas State.
Kansas State pass offense vs. Iowa State pass defense
Taco "don't call me burrito" Wallace is the Wildcats' leading receiver, and he averages just 57.1 yards per game. Obviously, K-State is a running team and not very balanced. But don't let that fool you, they still scored 40 points on Iowa State last year in Ames while completing just 5-of-13 passes for 88 yards. When Coach Bill Snyder does call for the pass, it's usually a big play. The Wildcats have 19 pass plays of 25 yards or more this season. Therefore, discipline is what John Skladany has been preaching this week. The Cyclones will likely be forced to deploy safeties Marc Timmons, Anthony Forrest, and JaMaine Billups close to the line of scrimmage against the run. If they get too close or lose focus, we'll see a repeat or two of the 91-yard pass play Nebraska converted earlier this season. On the road, in a hostile environment, and against an opponent you haven't had a lot of success against a play like that early could get your daubers down. Nonetheless, Iowa State has better material here. Advantage: Iowa State.
This is another advantage for K-State, which traditionally ranks among the nation's leaders in this category. In terms of kicking, ISU's duo of Adam Benike and Tony Yelk ranks slightly ahead of their counterparts Joe Rheem and Travis Brown. However, on returns and coverage the Wildcats are among the nation's elite, ranking second in the country with eight special teams/defense touchdowns this season. And they've done it with blocked punts, blocked field goals, and kickoff and punt returns for touchdowns. That's bad news for an Iowa State team that surrendered a blocked punt and a punt return for a touchdown last week against Missouri on consecutive possessions. Advantage: Kansas State.
Bill Snyder has accomplished the greatest rebuilding job in the modern history of college football at Kansas State. Just scroll down the inside flap of this year's media guide and you can instantly tell he has molded the Wildcats into one of the top programs in the sport. Dan McCarney coached with Snyder on Hayden Fry's teams in the 1980s and has accomplished a similar rebuilding task in Ames. However, the Wildcats' learning curve is more accelerated than Iowa State's at this point. Also, former Cyclone assistant Bobby Elliot is now the co-defensive coordinator in Manhattan. Needless to say he's got some trade secrets. Advantage: Kansas State.
This game won't necessarily decide who will win the Big 12 North Division, but it may decide who won't. Kansas State is the veteran in this situation. The Wildcats have been a regular contender for conference honors for a while now and have represented the division in the conference championship twice in the last five years. This is rarified air for the Cyclones, who haven't played in a meaningful conference game in November for over 20 years. Plus, they still haven't beaten a ranked team on the road under Dan McCarney. Kansas State is ISU's nemesis, and it knows that. The Wildcats are the program Iowa State aspires to be, and they're standing in the way of the Cyclones taking that next step. They're also playing at home where they are tough to beat. Advantage: Kansas State.
If you want to be the man, first you have to beat the man. So far, the Cyclones haven't proven they can do that. Kansas State knows it can beat the Cyclones, and Iowa State knows it can be embarrassed by the Wildcats. This game will not be played between the hash marks; it will be played between the temples.
Kansas State 30, Iowa State 17