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Play Action: No. 24 Iowa State Cyclones at Kansas Jayhawks

Iowa State travels to Kansas for a Big 12 football game Saturday. (USA TODAY Sports)
Iowa State travels to Kansas for a Big 12 football game Saturday. (USA TODAY Sports)

Kansas (3-5, 1-4 Big 12) has shown signs of life this season as No. 24 Iowa State (4-3, 3-2) heads to Lawrence this Saturday.

Kickoff is 11 a.m. and the game is televised on Fox Sports Midwest. Here are a few pregame thoughts.

Kansas

Kansas has the second worst defense in the Big 12 in terms of yardage and the third worst in scoring defense. The Jayhawks give up 433 yards per game and 29 points per game.

They seem to either go big or go home on defense.

Kansas leads the Big 12 in turnovers forced. They have forced 23 turnovers, 10 fumble recoveries and 13 interceptions.

“Outstanding defensive front,” Iowa State Coach Matt Campbell said. “You see a linebacking corps that’s all been there. They’re veterans. And their secondary, especially in the safety world, is maybe as good as anybody in the conference. You see guys that have played a lot of football that are really confident to go make plays on the ball. It’s really a group that’s done it, really, from game one through the entire season. So, defensively, it’s a very veteran group. I would say a lot like what we played last week in Texas Tech.

“They’re playing really hard. They run to the football. They do a great job, so I think that confidence in what they’re doing allows them to be very aggressive and make plays on the ball.”

Similar to the defense, the offense also is statistically bad. The Jayhawks have the third worst rush offense and the second worst pass offense. Combined they have the worst offense in the Big 12 in terms of yardage, averaging just 338 yards.

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The biggest threat on offense is true freshman running back Pooka Williams, who is averaging 93.3 yards per game and has four touchdowns.

“Quite honestly, I think he’s one of the elite playmakers in our conference,” Campbell said. “You talk about spatial football players, he’s as good as I’ve seen so far. We’ve played some really good ones this year and I think he’s right up there with any of the great ones that we’ve played. I think the misconception is it’s just (his) speed. He’s got the ability to transition that speed to power really fast and I think that’s what makes him really dangerous. A guy that really brings a lot to the table. He can catch the ball out of the backfield. He can certainly create matchups in the passing game equal to what he can do in the running game. It will be, certainly, a great challenge for our defense.”

Iowa State

Iowa State’s offensive identity differs from the rest of the Big 12 in a couple of ways. Yes, it’s a spread offense, but the Cyclones play methodically and have no problem chewing the clock and running the ball, controlling the tempo.

A big key to that is running back David Montgomery, who is statistically the best running back in the Big 12, averaging 108 yards per game with six touchdowns on the ground.

“It goes back to this rhythm of game,” Campbell said. “I think we’re a patient football team. We’re a team that’s going to understand and find the flow to the game and I think our kids know that offensively. We’re not going to abandon the running game. We’re going to continue to find ways to put the ball in our running backs’ hands and do a great job then throughout the game of that. What are people going to give us and give us the opportunity to do? I think that’s where I credit a lot of those guys in that offensive room and our kids to be able to handle that. I think, as you’ve seen the last four or five weeks, it just keeps getting better as the game goes. So I think it takes a special group of people to be able to do that, but I think our entire team understands the flow that we need to play in for us to be successful.”

Iowa State is second in the Big 12 in sacks with 22. The Cyclones only got two last week against Texas Tech but had nine hurries.

The Red Raiders made a point to get the ball out of Alan Bowman’s hand fast.

Kansas, on the other hand, gives up the second most sacks in the conference, averaging 3.12 sacks against.

“The best thing that goes unknown about what our defense is, is that it is fairly simple,” Campbell said. “There’s a really good foundation to it and when there’s a great foundation to anything you have the ability to build off of it. I think that’s what that defensive staff has done a great job of, creating a great foundation and then having the ability to adjust off of that foundation.

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“All those guys on that side of the ball are great teachers. The neat thing for our defensive staff is they’ve all invested in the defense, so they all know — every coach on that side of the ball knows — what the changes, or what the fixes maybe need to be in any certain moment. I think that’s huge when everybody’s speaking the same language.”

Prediction

Iowa State 42, Kansas 14

The Cyclones are too well coached to drop this game to Kansas.

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