AMES — A closer look at Saturday’s Big 12 football game between No. 17 Iowa State (3-1, 3-0) and No. 6 Oklahoma State (3-0, 2-0) at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Okla. Kickoff is 2:30 p.m. (Fox).
Iowa State offense
Iowa State’s Breece Hall is statistically the best running back in the Big 12.
He leads the league in yards per game (132.8), yards after contact (297), forced missed tackles (22) and rushing touchdowns (8).
“With the shortened season and shortened camps, I think the ability to run the football and play defense certainly gives you the ability to get off to a good start,” ISU Coach Matt Campbell said. “Those two things have certainly helped us.”
Add in the fact Brock Purdy and the Iowa State receivers are beginning to find their stride and Iowa State’s offense is in a good position moving forward.
Iowa State defense
The only thing Campbell loves more than the “margins” are his wife and kids. And luckily for him, Iowa State’s defense has performed well in the margins so far.
Teams are converting third downs just 34 percent of the time and the Cyclones are performing well in the red zone. Opposing teams have moved within the 20-yard line 11 times against the Cyclones and have come away with touchdowns just six times.
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“We’ve done a really good job of trying to home in on the margins — get off the field on third down, being successful in the red zone and forcing teams to field goals,” Campbell said. “Those are things that good teams have the ability to do and grow in as the year goes on.”
Iowa State’s third-down success can be attributed, at least in part, to JaQuan Bailey and Will McDonald — the two biggest disruptors in the Big 12.
McDonald leads the Big 12 in sacks with 4.5 and Bailey is third with 3.5. Bailey is second in tackles for loss with six.
Oklahoma State offense
Like Iowa State, Oklahoma State’s offense starts on the ground. Chuba Hubbard has been electric since he stepped foot on OSU’s campus and that hasn’t changed this year.
The junior averages 113 rushing yards per game and has four rushing touchdowns.
“He’s a talented back,” ISU safety Lawrence White said. “We have a lot of them in this conference. But his speed is the most impressive thing — he’s extremely fast and has great vision. He hits the hole and turns it on.”
The question for the Cowboys comes at quarterback. Will Spencer Sanders play for the first time since an injury in the first game, or has true freshman Shane Illingworth won the job outright with his impressive play?
Illingworth has completed 73 percent of his passes for 483 yards and three touchdowns.
Oklahoma State defense
Oklahoma State has gotten in on the defensive revolution in the Big 12.
But head coach Mike Gundy admits the Cowboys haven’t exactly played powerhouse offenses in Kansas and West Virginia.
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“We’re going to face some really good quarterbacks that are experienced and have had a lot of success,” Gundy said. “We’ll find out exactly where we’re at defensively based on the talent and skill positions we’re going to face.”
Even though the defense hasn’t necessarily been tested at a high level, it’s still giving up just nine points per game.
“The reality of the entirety of their defense is they have experience,” Campbell said. “They have nine of 11 starters back, of the guys that are back on their defense, there are probably 20 guys who have played a ton of football. They’re a physical and very experienced defense that has the ability to create havoc in a lot of ways. Their linebacking core certainly has a veteranness and a physicality about it.”
Iowa State is a team that’s been tested by Oklahoma and TCU, two teams that usually finish near the top of the Big 12. Oklahoma State hasn’t been tested at all, really, playing two teams that finished at or near the bottom of the Big 12 last season.
Add in the Cowboys coming off back-to-back bye weeks — one scheduled bye week and one because Baylor had a COVID-19 outbreak — and they will have some rust to knock off.
Prediction — Iowa State 28, Oklahoma State 27