116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Iowa State (3-1) hits the Big 12 road for the first time Saturday, facing a Kansas team off to a surprising 4-0 start.
Here are three keys to victory for the Cyclones.
1. Make Jalon Daniels anxious
Iowa State’s defense must find ways to make Kansas’ star quarterback uncomfortable from start to finish.
The Jayhawks have allowed just one sack in their first four games and the strength of their running game has helped keep pressure off of Daniels, who owns an 11-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Expect some creative approaches to applying pressure from Jon Heacock’s defense, which could yield several quarterback hurries and possibly multiple sacks.
Having safety Beau Freyler back after being ejected for targeting in the Baylor loss will be key in this regard.
2. Stretch the field
ISU star receiver Xavier Hutchinson failed to score a touchdown for the first time this season against Baylor and his ability to make plays downfield will help rattle a confident, but still unproven Kansas defense.
Hunter Dekkers is coming off a two-interception game — though one was fluky — and is unlikely to struggle two games in a row. The Cyclones’ passing game has been efficient most of this season, but must be explosive to spring a lot of points on the Jayhawks.
Jaylin Noel, who tallied a career-best 120 receiving yards against Baylor, will be the X-factor on Saturday, and his game-changing ability, along with Hutchinson’s, should help pave the way for a strong rushing performance from Jirehl Brock and others.
3. Stop the run
Kansas ranks eighth nationally in rushing yards per game (245.3), but has faced just one defense that ranks among the Top 50 against the run.
ISU ranks seventh, allowing just 75.3 rushing yards per game. So Saturday’s game will pit strength against strength and the Cyclones’ defense — with the critical caveat of keeping Daniels under control — should be difficult to run on.
ISU’s linebackers and safeties will be key in preventing the Jayhawks’ trio of Daniels, Devin Neal and Daniel Hishaw Jr. from compiling chunk yardage. So will the defense’s performance on first and second downs, which could force Daniels into third and long situations.
What’s at stake
The Cyclones have started 0-2 in Big 12 play just once in the past five seasons, but rebounded nicely to finish 6-3 when that did occur in 2018. So a loss on Saturday wouldn’t be devastating, but it would come at a bad time for young team that can point to bad luck (penalties) and less-than-crisp execution (two turnovers) as the primary reasons for last week’s 31-24 loss to Baylor at home.
ISU has proved to be physically capable of hanging with any team once again this season despite losing some of the program’s historically best players to graduation, but mental lapses have been a feature, not a bug, while starting the season 3-1. Eliminating most of those miscues is imperative if the Cyclones are to triumph on Saturday and continue their long-standing winning ways in the month of October.
The Jayhawks are understandably riding high after the program’s first 4-0 start in 13 years, but the Cyclones are capable of providing a reality check. Is Kansas much better than it’s been in the last several seasons? Yes. But ISU has yet to play anything resembling its “A” game. I expect that to change on Saturday.
Iowa State 41, Kansas 30