Know Your Enemy: Iowa State

By RossWB on August 20, 2018 at 3:54 pm
can't decide which one has bigger teeth

© Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

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The 2018 season is just a few weeks away now, which means we should probably take a moment to talk about the 12 regular season opponents on Iowa's schedule this fall. So let's Know Our Enemy.

Previously: Northern Illinois

IOWA STATE CYCLONES

2017 record: 8-5 (5-4 Big 12)
Head Coach: Matt Campbell
Notable Wins: #3 Oklahoma (38-31), #4 TCU (14-7)
PPG: 29.2 ppg (56th)
PPGA: 20.9 ppg (26th)
OFF: 386.0 ypg (86th), 27.9 Offensive S&P+ (71st)
DEF: 366.2 ypg (43rd), 23.2 Defensive S&P+ (31st)
Enemy Coverage: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

WHEN LAST WE MET

In the CyHawk rivalry's last installment, Iowa and Iowa State had one of the most thrilling encounters in the history of the series. Iowa used a last-minute Akrum Wadley touchdown to tie the game at 38-all in the fourth quarter and then prevailed 44-41 in overtime. It was a doozy of a game, with big swings and impressive play on both sides. 2019 will have a hell of a job producing an encore performance as good as that game. 

SERIES HISTORY

Iowa leads the overall series 43-22 and has dominated the rivalry for long stretches. Iowa State won the first three games in the series back in 1894-1897, but Iowa then won 16 of the next 21 games between the schools until the series went on a 43-year hiatus due to bad blood. Iowa also famously won 15 games in a row in the series under Hayden Fry, from 1983-1997. Iowa State won four of five from 1978-1982, but the modern history is very even: since 1998, Iowa and Iowa State gone 10-10 against each other. Most recently, Iowa has had an edge in the series, taking three in a row and four of the last five games, including last year's thriller in Ames. 

WHEN IOWA STATE HAS THE BALL

Iowa State in 2018 will be dealing with an unfamiliar opponent: expectations. Their success last year, particularly those eye-catching upsets over Oklahoma and TCU and their Liberty Bowl win over a high-powered Memphis team, have many pundits thinking they can equal or surpass their eight-win tally this season. One of the drivers behind that hype is the fact they return starters at quarterback and running back. 

Kyle Kempf, an Oregon State transfer, took over as their starting quarterback with the Oklahoma game and had one hell of a debut: 18/24 (75%), 343 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions. He ended the season with very solid numbers: 161/243 (66.3% completion), 1787 yards, and 15 touchdowns against three interceptions. The standout numbers there are the completion percentage (66.3%) and TD:INT ratio (15:3), but he also posted yards per attempt of 6.2 or less in five games last year, suggesting that he was throwing a lot of shorter, safer passes in many games. He had some dazzling big plays in the OU game and his yards per attempt ticked over 7.3 against Kansas State and Memphis, but he's probably going to need to show off more deep ball prowess to keep defenses honest this year.

That could be tricky because Iowa State returns just one of their top four receivers this year, Hakeem Butler. Butler was their top big play threat (he averaged 17.0 yards per catch) and he was second on the team in yards (697) and touchdowns (seven) and third in receptions (41). He's going to have to be the leader of a young, somewhat inexperienced group in 2018. Tight end Chase Allen has earned some preseason All-Big 12 love, but that seems due more to his blocking prowess than his pass-catching skills; he caught four passes for 39 yards last year. In fact, Iowa State has not had a tight end catch more than four passes or 49 yards in a season since E.J. Bibbs in 2014 (45 receptions, 382 yards, 8 TD). 

They'll need some presence out of their receivers, though, to take the pressure off a player who ought to be their best offensive player: RB David Montgomery. He ran for 1146 yards and 11 TD on 258 carries (4.44 ypc) and was probably a bit better than his stats suggested: he was a Pro Football Focus All-American and forced over 100 missed tackles. But if he thought defenses flooded the box to stop him last year, wait until he sees what they do this year when they don't have to worry about Allen Lazard, Marchie Murdock, or Trever Ryen in the passing game. Montgomery is going to have carry the load for Iowa State's offense this year, despite a questionable wide receiver corps; maybe he can call Akrum Wadley for some advice on how to do that. 

Up front, Iowa State will have to rebuild the left side of their offensive line after losing second team All-Big LT Jake Campos and LG Robby Garcia. Their other three starters return and overall they're a much more experienced unit than the squad that Iowa pushed around with impunity in Iowa City just two years ago. 

WHEN IOWA HAS THE BALL 

For us, their 44-41 loss to Iowa is probably our most vivid memory of their 2017 season and nationally their 38-31 win over Oklahoma in Norman is probably the most enduring memory of Iowa State's surprising 2017 season. But those games were really aberrations for the way their season went. They didn't get to eight wins by prevailing in a bunch of high-scoring shootouts; they got their by, frankly, following a very Iowa-esque blueprint and winning with defense. They ranked 26th in points allowed (20.9 ppg) and 31st in defensive S&P+ (23.2). 

They were particularly good against the run, holding opponents to 128 yards per game (3.62 yards per carry) and 10 touchdowns last year. They posted a rush defense S&P+ of 117.4 (average is 100), 22nd best in the country, and held opposing rushers to a success rate of 35.9%, 16th best in the country. They should be pretty stout again up front, too. They lose J.D. Waggoner, their leader in tackles for loss (13.5), and Joel Lanning, their leader in tackles (114), but everyone else in the front seven should be back. That includes Marcel Spears, Jr., who was second on the team in tackles (107) and fifth in tackles for loss (8.5), and Willie Harvey, who was second in tackles for loss (11.5) and fifth in tackles (76). They also bring back their sack leader, JaQuan Bailey (7.0). They're losing a lot of leadership and production in Waggoner and Lanning, but the cupboard's not completely bare in the front seven. 

The secondary is more uncertain. Their top three cornerbacks are all back -- Brian Peavy, D'Andre Payne, and De'Monte Ruth -- but they're going to be breaking in two brand-new safeties. Their pass defense wasn't very good last year, either. They allowed 238.2 yards per game and 23 touchdowns (against 12 interceptions) on a stunning 67.1% completion percentage. Only four teams in the entire country allowed opponents to complete a higher percentage of passes than Iowa State did last year and their passing success rate prevention was just 44%, 96th in the nation. If you wanted to throw on Iowa State last year, you probably could -- and did. 

Aside from their stout rush defense, what made Iowa State's defense good last year -- and what powered a lot of their 8-win success -- was turnovers. It wasn't necessarily that they forced a lot of turnovers -- they had 20 combined fumbles recovered and interceptions, which put them in the middle of the pack nationally. (By comparison, Iowa forced 26 turnovers, which put them in the top 20(ish) nationally.) But they avoid turning the ball over themselves -- just 10 giveaways (nine interceptions, one fumble lost). That was tied with Alabama and Army for the second-fewest turnovers lost in the nation. Turnovers can be pretty random from year to year, so duplicating that level of ball security again figures to be difficult.

On a game-to-game basis, turnovers played a big role as well. In their five losses Iowa State had a negative or neutral turnover margin in all of them and a total turnover margin of -3. In their eight wins, they had a positive turnover margin in seven of them and a total turnover margin of +13. When Iowa State won the turnover battle in 2017, they won the game. When they didn't, they almost always lost it. They had a significant amount of turnover luck in 2017 as well, per SBN's Bill Connelly, posting +10 turnover margin when their expected turnover margin was around -2; that's a 12-turnover swing! Absent that same kind of turnover luck in 2018, Iowa State is going to either need to force a lot more turnovers or get better at the non-turnover aspects of defense. 

ETC.

* Last year's win gave Kirk Ferentz a winning record (10-9) against Iowa State for the first time in his career.

* Iowa State's first seven games include trips to Iowa, TCU, and Oklahoma State, as well as visits from Oklahoma (probably still a little ticked off about that loss in Norman last year!) and West Virginia (projected to be one of the 3-4 best teams in the Big 12). They also have a sneaky-tough home opener against South Dakota State (picked to be one of the top FCS teams). There will be a lot of opportunities for the ISU hype train to derail during the first half of the season, is what I'm saying. 

* Iowa State has won two of their last three games in Iowa City, although before that they had lost four in a row there.

* Iowa has a less-than-stellar record against Iowa State in years ending in -8 since the series resumed in 1977. Iowa State won 31-0 in 1978 and famously ended Iowa's 15-game winning streak against them in 1998 with a 27-9 win. Iowa won very ugly games in 1988 (10-3) and 2008 (17-5). 

* Iowa State won as many games last year (8) as they had won in total between 2014-16. They've won eight or more games twice in the last 20 years; Iowa has done so eight times. 

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