College Football

2-Minute Drill: Iowa State Cyclones at Kansas State Wildcats

Kansas State hosts Iowa State in the regular-season finale Saturday.
Kansas State hosts Iowa State in the regular-season finale Saturday.

Breaking down Saturday’s Big 12 football game between Iowa State (7-4, 5-3) and Kansas State (6-5, 4-4) at Bill Snyder Family Football Stadium in Manhattan, Kan. Kickoff is 2:30 p.m., televised on ESPN2.

Iowa State rush offense vs. Kansas State rush defense

Iowa State running back David Montgomery injured his ankle late in the fourth quarter in the game against Baylor last week. Montgomery and Coach Matt Campbell said he’s fine and will play in Saturday’s game. How effective he’s going to be is a different story.

A healthy Montgomery has rushed for 1,080 yards and 11 touchdowns, both second in the Big 12. There’s no doubt if he’s healthy, he’ll be a handful for Kansas State.

More: Sheldon Croney is Iowa State's next man in

Montgomery makes his living on his ability to cut, make guys miss and force arm tackle attempts. A bum ankle will certainly hamper his ability.

Even if he is healthy, the Wildcats pose a good run defense. It ranks third in the Big 12, holding teams to 122 yards per game.

Advantage: Kansas State

Iowa State pass offense vs. Kansas State pass defense

Kansas State has the worst pass defense in the Big 12. The Wildcats allow 314 yards per game. Campbell said on Monday he wasn’t sure if quarterback Kyle Kempt would be healthy enough to play on Saturday, so Zeb Noland could get the reins once again.

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Noland poses a big arm and a willingness to take risks. He completes just 55 percent of his passes, but when he does, they go for big gains. He averages 15 yards per completion.

Last week against Baylor, Noland threw two touchdown passes, both greater than 35 yards. Given the Wildcats propensity to give up yards through the air, Noland could have a big day with receivers like Allen Lazard and Hakeem Butler.

Advantage: Iowa State

Iowa State rush defense vs. Kansas State rush offense

Kansas State runs the ball with a lot of success. The Wildcats rank second in the Big 12, averaging 194 yards. Running back Alex Barnes gets the bulk of the carries. He averages 5.3 yards per carry and 61.7 yards per game.

Bowl projections: Where the Cyclones are picked after Baylor win

Kansas State also likes to incorporate its quarterbacks into its run game. Current quarterback Skylar Thompson averages 42 yards per game.

Iowa State’s run defense is normally stout against running backs, but mobile quarterbacks have found rushing lanes in the Cyclones’ three-man front. If Iowa State doesn’t close those down, the Cyclones could have trouble slowing down the Wildcats.

Advantage: Kansas State

Iowa State pass defense vs. Kansas State pass offense

Kansas State, like Iowa State, is on its third quarterback. Thompson is a redshirt freshman who led Kansas State to wins over Kansas, Texas Tech and No. 10 Oklahoma State.

Thompson doesn’t put up gaudy numbers in the passing game, completing 60 percent of his passes and averaging just 85 yards per game.

Iowa State’s pass defense is the classic bend, don’t break. The Cyclones keep everything in front of them, not letting receivers get open down field.

Thompson has a chance to complete a high percentage of his throws, but Iowa State’s No. 3 ranked pass defense in the Big 12 will make it hard for him to complete any passes for a significant gain.

Advantage: Iowa State

Special teams

Kansas State kicker Matt McCrane has made more field goals than any other kicker in the Big 12. McCrane is 21 of 26 with a long of 54 yards. Iowa State kicker Garrett Owens has made 11 of 15, including a perfect 3 for 3 last week against Baylor.

Kansas State also boasts a punter with the ability to flip the field and pin teams deep in their own territory. Nick Walsh averages 43.3 yards per punt and has 10 punts that have gone more than 50 yards. He’s pinned opposing teams inside the 20-yard line 19 times. Iowa State punter Colin Downing has similar numbers, but with less yardage. He averages 40 yards per punt and has had nine punts travel more than 50 yards. He’s had 20 punts downed inside the 20-yard line.

The similarities end at the returners. Kansas State has a difference maker in D.J. Reed, who averages 17 yards per punt return, and 35 yards per kick return, both best in the Big 12. He’s returned both a punt and a kick for a touchdown. Iowa State’s coverage teams have done a good job this season, but their hands will be full.

Advantage: Kansas State

Intangibles

1. Details — Both teams do all of the little things right. They rank No. 1 and No. 2 in turnover margin and penalties, with Iowa State ranking first in both. Neither team makes it easy to score in the red zone either, both allowing 22 touchdowns once teams get inside the 20-yard line. That’s just two touchdowns per game in a prolific scoring conference.

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2. Close calls — Bill Snyder hasn’t lost to Iowa State since he came back as Kansas State’s head coach in 2009. All of the games have been one-score games except in 2013 when Kansas State won 41-7.

3. Backups shine — Both teams are on third-string, redshirt freshman quarterbacks. Both have done a good job controlling the offense and neither team has had much of, if any, drop off.

3 and out

Three keys to an Iowa State victory Saturday.

1. Control the ball — Zeb Noland likes to take chances, but Kansas State’s defense, while porous, is opportunistic. The Wildcats have 12 interceptions, led by D.J. Reed who has four.

2. Control the line — Defensively, Iowa State needs to contain Kansas State’s potent run game and contain quarterback Skylar Thompson when he decides to keep it.

3. Control the emotions — Iowa State has found some incredible ways to lose this game in the past. The Cyclones need to keep their composure when this game is inevitably close in the final minutes.

Iowa State-Kansas State prediction

Iowa State will win if ... It wins the turnover battle. Iowa State is 7-0 when it wins the turnover battle and 0-4 when it loses it.

Kansas State will win if ... It is able to rattle Noland with a few early turnovers and take care of the ball on offense.

Prediction: Iowa State 31, Kansas State 27

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