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Iowa State hosts Texas Tech on Saturday in its final home game of the season at Jack Trice Stadium.
Kickoff is set for 6 p.m.
Here are three keys to victory for the Cyclones.
1. Slow down the foe
Iowa State defensive coordinator Jon Heacock said Wednesday Texas Tech’s offense plays “extremely fast” and, of course, he’s right. But how fast?
The Red Raiders have racked up the most offensive plays in the country — 852 — and that’s 83 more plays than the second-fastest Power Five offense, Purdue.
So if the Cyclones’ offense struggles as usual, even more pressure is heaped upon Heacock’s group. It’s stood up to that pressure extremely well this season and ranks among the top 12 defenses in the country in the most meaningful statistical categories.
Continuing that trend against Texas Tech is job No. 1 if ISU hopes to notch its second conference win in advance of a potentially huge regular-season finale at fourth-ranked TCU.
2. 100 or more
The Cyclones are 4-0 this season when eclipsing 100 rushing yards in a game, so surpassing that number — and ideally by a healthy margin — will be key to keeping the Red Raiders’ potent offense off the field.
It’s also obviously one of the main factors in determining whether ISU wins or loses, so jump-starting the ground game early, especially on a frigid night on natural turf, is critical to the Cyclones’ fortunes.
The bad news: Texas Tech’s below-average rushing defense is in the neighborhood of Oklahoma State’s, which held ISU to just 59 net yards on the ground in last week’s 20-14 loss in Stillwater.
3. Bounce back
The Cyclones can point to one chief reason they’ve lost close games this season: Turnovers. And last week against the Cowboys, they coughed up five, the most by an ISU team in a single game in the past 13 seasons.
Quarterback Hunter Dekkers must shake off the ghosts of turnovers past and showcase the efficient aspects of his game that have been on display occasionally throughout this season.
But the turnovers aren’t remotely all on him. One week after a breakout rushing performance against West Virginia, backup tailback Deon Silas fumbled early in the loss at Oklahoma State. Wide receiver Sean Shaw also fumbled near the red zone in that setback, so ball security issues don’t rest solely on the quarterback.
The good news: Texas Tech has turned the ball over as frequently as the Cyclones (19 times). And the Red Raiders likely won’t be enjoying forecasted temperatures in the low teens on Saturday night — just as they didn’t in a 66-10 loss to ISU late in Cyclone head coach Matt Campbell’s first season with the program in 2016.
What’s at stake
It’s quite possible the Cyclones will be invited to a bowl game for the sixth consecutive season if they win just one more game.
So this is a big one. Even bigger would be playing clean, turnover-free football as ISU did in the recent 31-14 win over West Virginia, which would set the stage for a chance to get to .500 in an admittedly thorny spot at TCU next Saturday.
The Cyclones have proved they can play with any team in the Big 12. They’ve also proven to be just good enough to lose when a win hangs in the balance and a play needs to be made (or prevented).
A victory Saturday would allow ISU to at least retain slim hopes of forging a sixth consecutive winning season — and standout seniors who chose to come back one last time such as O’Rien Vance, Xavier Hutchinson, Anthony Johnson and Will McDonald deserve to go out with a few more positive scoreboard memories.
Texas Tech-Iowa State prediction
The Red Raiders are one of the top teams in the country in terms of tempo and if the Cyclones are to top them they’ll have to continue to be one of the best defenses in third-down situations.
On a cold and dreary Saturday night in Ames, that’s likely to occur unless ISU’s offense self destructs again.
Iowa State 30, Texas Tech 21