A closer look at Saturday’s Big 12 Conference football game between No. 17 Iowa State (5-2, 5-1) and Kansas State (4-3, 4-2) at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames (3 p.m., Fox).
Iowa State offense
Running back Breece Hall and Iowa State just finished their third bye week of the season.
Even with the off week, the sophomore still is the nation’s leading rusher with 1,072 yards.
“I think Breece Hall is as good of a running back as I’ve seen this year,” Kansas State Coach Chris Klieman said. “He reminds me a lot of David Johnson when I was at Northern Iowa, who is playing in the NFL. You say, ‘Well, you’re comparing him to an FCS guy.’ Well, David could have played for anybody in the country and I was fortunate enough to recruit him and coach him and then battle against him (on the North Dakota State staff). He reminds me so much of David Johnson.”
Iowa State defense
Kansas State is starting true freshman quarterback Will Howard because senior Skylar Thompson is out with an injury.
The Cyclones have had success over the years facing young quarterbacks.
This season, Iowa State held Oklahoma freshman quarterback Spencer Rattler in check and got an interception at the end of the game to secure the victory. Kansas freshman quarterback Jalon Daniels completed 16 of his 29 pass attempts for just 165 yards and he also threw an interception.
Going back to last season, TCU freshman quarterback Max Duggan struggled against the Cyclones, completing 17 of his 25 pass attempts for 215 yards in a 49-24 loss.
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Klieman said Iowa State’s defense makes it difficult for young quarterbacks. He said he’s spent extra time with Howard this week in the film room to assist him.
Kansas State offense
Thompson was ruled out for the season after having surgery for an “upper body” injury he suffered against Texas Tech on Oct. 3.
Thompson was having a good season, throwing for 626 yards and four touchdowns in Kansas State’s first three games, including an upset win over Oklahoma.
Since the injury, Howard has been Kansas State’s quarterback. Howard has been a bit erratic at times, completing just 54 percent of his passes and throwing five interceptions.
On the flip side, he’s also thrown for 884 yards and five touchdowns.
“He had a good week of practice and continued to grow and mature,” Klieman said. “We spent some time watching film and seeing things pre-snap and seeing things post-snap. It doesn’t happen overnight for a young quarterback to feel comfortable but I’ve still been impressed with how he’s played and how he’s handled himself. He knows he has to eliminate the turnovers and hopefully we can continue to improve that. I’m pleased with his progress.”
Kansas State defense
Iowa State’s defense is often viewed as a “bend but don’t break” defense. It’ll give up yards at times, but it gets stingier the closer a team gets to the end zone.
Kansas State takes the “bend but don’t break” philosophy to a new level. Kansas State gives up just 25.1 points per game, fourth best in the Big 12, but gives up an eye-popping 411 yards, the third worst.
The Wildcats are good in the red zone, allowing scores on just 80 percent of trips, but where Kansas State shines is in forcing turnovers.
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Kansas State has forced 11 turnovers — seven interceptions and four fumble recoveries, second best in the Big 12.
Jahron McPherson and Justin Gardner each have two interceptions to lead Kansas State and the Wildcats have recovered every fumble they’ve forced.
Kansas State has dealt with COVID-19 issues all week and who knows who’s been practicing or who’s going to be available to play. I’m always going to favor the team that’s been able to practice uninterrupted. That being said, this game is always close.
Prediction — Iowa State 31, Kansas State 27