116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Iowa State hosts defending Big 12 champion and 17th-ranked Baylor on Saturday at Jack Trice Stadium. Kickoff is set for 11 a.m. (ESPN2).
Here are three keys to a Cyclone victory.
1. Force Baylor to pass
Bears quarterback Blake Shapen has proven he can win his team football games, but he’s also excelled as a game manager.
Given Baylor’s penchant for running the football and controlling the line of scrimmage, that makes sense. But Shapen is capable of beating a team on his own — he was named the Most Outstanding Player of the 2021 Big 12 championship game — and Iowa State must force him to try to do just that.
It’s a bit of a “pick your poison” situation because the Bears will almost certainly have some success on the ground. Whether the Cyclones can limit that impact will greatly impact the game’s outcome.
2. Pump up the ratio
The turnover ratio, that is.
ISU has been unusually good early this season in compiling takeaways, totaling seven in the past two weeks alone. And despite a three-giveaway performance in a 10-7 win at Iowa two weeks ago, the Cyclones have generally excelled at taking care of the football. That will be of paramount importance against a Baylor team that thus far has forced just two turnovers, but also has given up only three.
ISU has never been plus-1 in turnover margin in the Coach Matt Campbell era, but that’s where it sits now through three games. The Cyclones are tied for ninth nationally in takeaways with eight and expanding that number at last a bit will be crucial against the always-sound Bears.
3. Stop getting punts/kicks blocked
The Cyclones have seen two punts and one extra-point kick blocked in three games this season. That’s one per game — and an alarming trend that must be corrected immediately.
ISU was fortunate the two blocked punts it allowed against Iowa only resulted in one touchdown. Both occurred in the red zone. The blocked extra point last week against Ohio didn’t impact the game itself at all (the Cyclones had taken a 30-7 lead when it happened), but it does point to chronic execution issues in the kicking game and on special teams in general.
Such miscues can swing football games, as ISU has proven in the past.
What’s at stake
If the Cyclones can beat the Bears, they’ll be 4-0 to start the season for the first time since 2000. That’s significant historically, but mere window dressing as ISU seeks to add another layer of proof that it has “arrived” as a program.
Campbell and his team already own a modern era-record streak of five consecutive winning seasons, but the Cyclones are one of the youngest teams in the country in 2022. The Big 12 also appears to be a wide-open round-robin race this season, so toppling the defending conference champions would go a long way toward demonstrating ISU could be among the handful of teams capable of rising toward the top.
Baylor-Iowa State prediction
The Bears are able to strike for a couple big plays in the running game to take an early lead, but the Cyclones battle back with a balanced attack as their defense stiffens. ISU takes the lead in the second half, but can’t hold it as Baylor scores in the closing moments to break Cyclone fans’ hearts — and snap ISU's 11-game home conference winning streak — in a game where every mistake will be magnified.
Baylor 21, Iowa State 20