Powercat Gameday Panel: Iowa State

October 28, 20160 Comments

John: It was no doubt the offense. The first two and a half quarters of the game were about as good as it gets with the 2016 version of the offense. They scored touchdowns on three of their five drives in the first half and should have scored points on the first two drives of the second half (a Charles Jones fumble is the only thing that prevented that). They did all of this while completely controlling the clock and keeping the dangerous Texas offense off the field. Time of possession wound up being almost 39:00 to 21:00 in favor of K-State.

Say what you will about the Texas defense, and they have had their struggles this year, but this is a defense that has been good against the run. K-State was able to rack up 234 rushing yards and control the line of scrimmage most of the game against a UT defense that was 33rd in the country in yards per carry allowed.

Going into that game, I’m not sure I would have believed that K-State could control that much of a game like that offensively against anybody not named Kansas. The second half turnovers were certainly problematic, but overall this game was absolutely a positive for the offense.

Cole: K-State’s defense played well, but I’ll have to go with K-State’s running game. The Wildcats’ 4.9 yards per carry was the second-highest yards-per-carry average against Texas this season. In addition, K-State’s 234 rushing yards were the second-most against the Longhorns’ defense this year. Only Oklahoma was better in both of those categories against a Texas defense that was only allowing 3.7 yards per carry on the season.

As John mentioned, the Wildcats’ ability to run the football enabled them to own the time of possession. As a result, Texas only had 62 offensive plays in the game. The previous low for the Longhorns was 75 plays in a game this season and they came into Manhattan averaging 82 offensive plays a game.

Stanton: I was impressed with the offense in general but, specifically, I was most impressed with how the wide receivers blocked in the screen game and Jesse Ertz’s toughness.

The down the line screen pass was utilized early and often against Texas. The key to that play’s success is the outside receiver’s ability to make a long block on the corner. One of the first things wide receivers coach Andre Coleman said when he arrived 4 seasons ago was that his receivers were going to be disciplined blockers. It’s one of the small things that most players at that position pay no mind to, but on Saturday coach Coleman’s emphasis was showcased. Dominique Heath should buy DeAnte Burton and Byron Pringle some dinner for how well they protected his blind side while he caught a handful of screens with his back was turned to the defense. Burton and Pringle, among others, stymied the corners and gave Heath room to run. The screen game was a real spark in the offense this week and helped quarterback Jesse Ertz get in a rhythm.

Ertz, who was questionable to start against Texas after leaving the game early at Oklahoma with an apparent shoulder injury, produced a gutsy performance Saturday. The dual threat quarterback didn’t shy away from the run game even though every hit he took couldn’t have felt very good. He marched the team up and down the field on the way the K-State’s most impressive offensive performance against a conference opponent. His toughness was highlighted on maybe Ertz’s worst play, an interception in the 4th quarter, where he sold out to tackle 228 lb Texas linebacker Edwin Freeman who had only Ertz to beat for a pick six. Texas would not score on that drive and may have been the difference in the outcome of the ball game.

Cole: Seven of the last eight games K-State/Iowa State games have been decided by 8 points or less. So I expect this one will be competitive too, considering the Wildcats’ two Big 12 wins have come by 6 and 3 points. The Cyclones have been competitive and have led Baylor, Oklahoma State and Texas at the half but lost all three. Honestly, the Iowa State crowd is the biggest X factor in this game. It’s a tough place to play and the Cyclones will be excited for this one as it’s the first home game in Ames in four weeks. It will be key for K-State to get off to a quick start in this one and try to take the crowd out of the game.

Outside of that, my biggest concern is slowing down Iowa State’s offense, which probably sounds crazy considering the Cyclones only scored 6 points in their previous game vs. Texas. But prior to that, they’d averaged 39 points over their previous three games. Iowa State has a poor offensive line, but the offense does have playmakers on offense. I like both of their quarterbacks in Joel Lanning and Jacob Park, a talented four-star recruit out of high school. While running back Mike Warren is off to a slow start, he was a preseason All-Big 12 First-Team selection after rushing for nearly 1,400 yards while averaging 5.9 yards per carry last season. And Allen Lazard is one of the better receivers in the Big 12.

Stanton: K-State has been susceptible to the deep ball throughout the season and Iowa State will be trying to take advantage this week. Duke Shelley and DJ Reed will have their hands full with 6’5’’ wide receiver Allen Lazard streaking down the sideline. K-State needs to slow down an Iowa State offense that gashed the Cats for 35 points in the first half last year and nullifying the deep ball will be a good start.

John: There’s a lot that goes into playing Iowa State that typically makes it a tough game no matter what. I’ll cover some of that in the next response.

Outside of that, I’d say K-State’s offensive struggles this season make it hard to go into almost any game thinking that the Wildcats will have an easy time. I went on earlier about how encouraged I was by the offense last week, and yet they only scored 24 points. You’re going to have a hard time winning comfortably over anyone in the Big 12 when you only score 24 points. If Jesse Ertz really did aggravate his shoulder problem making a tackle late in the game last week, then there’s even more room to wonder how well the offense can play.

As far as the Cyclones are concerned, they’ve been very competitive in Big 12 play this year. They led Oklahoma State, Baylor and Texas at the half, but couldn’t finish any of those games. It appeared they ran out of gas against the Longhorns, but they’ve now had a bye week to recover. I’d imagine Iowa State will be rested and ready to go on Saturday.

Stanton: I put on the film every year to watch these Iowa State teams and I don’t ask myself, “why is this always a tough game,” I ask myself, “how is this team 1-6, they look like a bowl team?” Every year, Iowa State produces a hard-nosed team that is tough to get a win against. Trouble is for the Cyclones, they are the 9th best team in a solid 10 team conference that plays a round robin schedule. Even in 2012, when they made a bowl game at 6-6, they finished 9th in the Big 12. It doesn’t matter who they are playing, to think that a victory over Iowa State is a sure thing is unwise. They play very good football teams to the wire multiple times a year, sometimes even sneaking away with a win (#2 ranked Oklahoma State 2011). Not to mention, Jack Trice Stadium offers the Cyclones one of the best home field advantages in the Big 12 (if you don’t believe me, take a trip to Ames for a game and then we can talk). I’m interested to see if Matt Campbell can get Iowa State over the hump, turning that handful of close games into victories. So to answer your question, K-State plays Iowa State close every year because Iowa State is a good football team, just not quite as good as eight other teams in the Big 12, so their record doesn’t show it.

John: It’s well documented how close the games in this series have been recently. Six of the last seven games in this series have been decided by a touchdown or less. Those include the 2011, 2012 and 2014 games when K-State was ranked in the top 20 and still had a heck of a time getting out alive. Even though K-State has won eight straight over the Cyclones, it never seems to come easy. Those wins have included a blocked extra point to get it done, a go-ahead touchdown with less than four minutes left, a go-ahead touchdown with 1:30 left and the miracle comeback last year when K-State trailed by 7 with under two minutes left and didn’t have the ball.

Playing in Ames is always tricky. My theory on that is that Iowa State isn’t a team anyone really gets up for, yet they’re always up for you when you walk into their place. On top of that, Iowa State fans do a great job of packing their stadium and making it loud no matter how much the team seems to be struggling. That can be a tough combination to overcome.

Cole: It’s a good question and not sure I have an answer. It’s always tough playing in Ames. Iowa State fans support their team no matter the win/loss record. I do think the Cyclones get up for K-State. I really wish I had a better answer for you but it’s hard to explain.

John: There’s a legitimate discussion to be had right now as to whether or not Jordan Willis is the best defensive player in the conference. He’s leading the Big 12 in sacks and tackles for loss and is the reigning Big 12 defensive player of the week. Obviously he has great size at 6-5, 258 pounds which allows him to be a great power rusher off the edge. I’d guess there are some questions about his speed at the next level, but he should still get drafted. Right now CBS Sports projects Willis as a third-round pick.

I don’t see as much buzz about Barnett right now. He’s actually had a fairly quiet senior season so far. It’s not totally fair to judge him based on that observation, I’d be curious to know how he has graded out according to the coaches this year, but in some ways I think we expected a little bit more.

Cole: I don’t think there’s any question that Jordan Willis gets drafted. As John mentioned, he could be considered the best defensive player in the league and is the best defensive lineman in the league in my opinion. Willis ranks third in the country in sacks and is in the top 10 nationally in tackles for loss. And he has the prototypical size to play defensive end in the NFL.

I agree with John on Barnett. He has been quiet this season and I’m not certain he would get drafted as of now. But as long as Willis stays healthy, the draft streak will live on.

Stanton: I think the draft streak is safe this year thanks to Jordan Willis. I think the question is will any other Wildcats be drafted? With the team being relatively young at many positions, Willis may be the only player taken in this year’s draft from K-State’s roster. I could see Mike Moore as a sleeper to sneak into a late round if he puts up some big numbers in the second half of the season.

Cole: I have no issue with staying at 10 teams and think it’s the right move. It’d just be nice if it wasn’t made into a public circus. One of the reasons I didn’t want to expand is I don’t think you want to give more money and credence to schools like Houston, BYU or Cincinnati. Because if college athletics does eventually evolve to four 16-team conferences, you don’t want those schools to have a shot at getting in one of those over a current Big 12 member due to the Big 12 propping that school up by inviting it to the conference.

Now, all that being said, I don’t think the four super conferences occurs. We discussed expansion on the panel some last week and I have grown tired of the talk of the Big 12 being dead. So much can change over the next seven to eight years before the Grant of Rights ends. Stanton mentioned last week the possibility of an eight-team playoff in college football at some point before the Grant of Rights ends. If that occurs, I don’t see the Big 12 going anywhere. And the conference could also have a dominant couple of years in football before that time ends and that talk of the conference going away will start to die down.

Stanton: I agree with the league’s eventual decision to stay at 10 teams. There weren’t attractive enough options out there and I think that the College Football Playoff will expand to 8 teams and the Big 12 will receive an automatic qualifier for their champion. If that occurs, I think the Big 12 will be stronger, due to the fact that Texas and Oklahoma will be happy with a defined path to the playoff.

How it was handled, I don’t necessarily agree with. What started with a loud mouthed David Boren fabricating the idea that the Big 12 was at some kind of disadvantage, ended like a pitcher who catches a batted line drive right back at their face. A “look what I found” moment. In the pitcher’s case, an out, and in the Big 12’s case, $10 million from ESPN in a restructured contract.

Maybe, the Big 12 knew what it was doing the whole time, it jumped into the deep end of the pool when it couldn’t swim, like Squints from The Sandlot. The $10M from ESPN was the Big 12’s Wendy Peffercorn. Just picture David Boren being asked, “did you plan that?” He tilts his chin up, leans back in his chair and says, “course I did, been planning it for years.”

John: My firm position on the Big 12 in just about everything they do is that there’s way too much business that should be handled behind closed doors that makes it way out to the media. I’m fine with the Big 12 choosing not to expand. I don’t think you’re adding any real long-term stability to the conference by adding (for example) Houston and Cincinnati. That’s not going to do much to convince Texas and Oklahoma to stay on once the grant of rights is up in 2025. We all know that’s the best case scenario for all of the schools outside of the big two.

The problem is all the media leaks about what teams were considered, whether or not individual teams were discussed, etc. It gives the perception that the league is desperate and dysfunctional. We’ve even seen conflicting reports from David Boren and Bob Bowlsby that have come out in the days after the Big 12 expansion (or lack thereof) press conference. Other conferences are so much better at keeping their business behind closed doors.

The biggest problem of all has been David Boren trying to speak on behalf of the league multiple times. That “psychologically disadvantaged” quote has stuck with the league for a long time.

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