The Iowa State Cyclones play host to the Kansas State Wildcats on Saturday night from Bill Snyder Family Football Stadium. In what is expected to be a crucial Big 12 dual, the two teams enter this weekend with identical records, at 3-2. Iowa State had lofty preseason expectations behind bringing back nearly their entire team from last season but have failed to meet expectations, dropping games to Iowa and Baylor early on. For the Wildcats, it's been a bounce-back year of sorts, and now that they already have Oklahoma and Oklahoma State done with, the sky is the limit for how this team might be able to finish things out. In the preseason Big 12 poll, Iowa State was picked to finish second, garnering four of 39 total first-place votes, while Kansas State was picked to finish seventh. The two teams have split the last four games but this is a series that Kansas State has historically dominated. Over the last ten meetings between the two teams, the Wildcats have eight wins and if they can make it another one on Saturday, it could be a demoralizing loss for the Cyclones. Expect this matchup to be one of the BIg 12's best for the weekend and the standings could look quite a bit different once this one finishes up.
Cyclones Looking To Match ExpectationsComing into this season there might not have been a team in the Big 12 with higher expectations compared to historical success than the Cyclones. Yes, Oklahoma was picked to win the Big 12, but Lincoln Riley has turned that program into a machine, much like Matt Campbell is doing to Iowa State. It's been a tough start though for the Cyclones, sneaking past FCS Northern Iowa in the opener, followed up by a defeat at the hands of their in-state rival, the Iowa Hawkeyes. A win against UNLV proved little and then a Big 12 opening loss to Baylor was a shock to the system. With a win against Kansas last week, there's still quite a bit of uncertainty surrounding the state of the program and Saturday's game should do a good job to fix that. From an injury standpoint, the Cyclones have no one appearing on this week's list and they'll need all the depth they can get going on the road against an always tough Kansas State team. They'll need a full 60-minute performance on Saturday to grab the win but it could be one that sets them down a path of success the rest of the way.
Iowa State's numbers are actually quite impressive considering their record and it might be bad luck causing some of their issues. They rank 38th nationally in points per game and 21st in total yards per play. They could do better to get things going on the ground game given their personnel, ranking 94th nationally in rushing attempts per game. Brock Purdy came into the season highly touted but has struggled to live up to the lofty expectations. He has eight touchdowns but also has four interceptions and will need to take much better care of the ball on Saturday. The key to the Cyclones' success on Saturday is going to be Breece Hall. As one of the top returning backs in the country this year, he hasn't disappointed, averaging 110 yards per game on the ground. Add in eight touchdowns, and it's shocking that the Cyclones aren't giving him more touches. Expect that to change on Saturday as they test one of the nation's best rush defenses. Purdy will need to be ready though and fans can expect him to rely on Xavier Hutchinson (31 catches, 381 yards, three touchdowns) to move the offense.
The defensive side is where the Cyclones have shined this year. They rank tenth nationally in scoring defense and while they don't rank near the top of the country in interceptions and sacks, they're far from the bottom as well. They boast a pair of tacklers with over 30 each in Jake Hummel and Mike Rose, while Eyioma Uwazurike has added three sacks, and Will McDonald IV another 3.5. In the secondary, Isheem Young leads the way with two interceptions. The Cyclones have one of the most athletic defenses in the country and Kansas State could be in for a surprise if they aren't game-planned properly to take advantage of what is expected to be only a few big-play opportunities.
Wildcats Riding Highs and LowsKansas State already finds themselves 0-2 in Big 12 play and after a season-opening win against Stanford that turned some heads, coming out on top has been harder ad harder to come by. They are coming off a six-point loss to Oklahoma the last time out and an eleven-point loss to Oklahoma State the week before. Moving the ball consistently continues to be a problem and now facing a defense as aware as Iowa State's, could mean trouble for the Wildcats. Iowa State is fourth nationally in fewest penalty yards per game and won't beat themselves, meaning that Kansas State has to make sure to take full advantage of any of the slight advantages they do have. Much like their opponents on Saturday, the Wildcats also enter without anyone on the injury report, which means they'll have their full complement of depth ready to at it. Knowing that they've already seen potentially the two best Big 12 teams already, the season still has quite a bit of hope and promise for this team if they can get a little win streak started on Saturday night at home.
CONGRATS @skylarjthompson, a @MayoClinic Comeback Player of the Year Nominee, who has returned from arm surgery & a knee injury in week 2 to lead @KStateFB. Learn his story: https://t.co/nfuXgG5Xus #MayoClinicCPOY #KStateFB pic.twitter.com/FfrH6oRKQJ— ComebackPlayrFB (@ComebackPlayrFB) October 12, 2021
Kansas State only ranks 67th nationally in points per game and given they rank 102nd nationally in passing yards, moving the ball through the air could be a massive issue. A heavy dose of the ground game is to be expected but it also helps that the offense is fully healthy and they should operate quite a bit better through the air. Skylar Thompson, the longtime quarterback for the Wildcats might finally be back and healthy, as he looks to improve on his two touchdowns and three interceptions. He's going to need help in the receiving game though and expect the Wildcats to try to push through the ground game, even though Iowa State has had success there. Deuce Vaughn remains one of the most elusive running backs in the country and is averaging nearly 90 yards on the ground per game and another 41 through the air. His ability to make defenses uncomfortable is exactly what the Wildcats need for Saturday and fans can expect to see the ball in his hands quite a bit.
Defensively, things aren't a ton better for the Wildcats, ranking right near the middle of FBS in points allowed per game. Unlike their opponents though, they do pride themselves on pressuring the quarterbacks, ranking 19th nationally in sacks per game, and if they can make Purdy uncomfortable early, doubt could quickly start to set in on the Iowa State sideline. Cody Fletcher is the team's leading tackler, with 30, but it's Felix Anudike-Uzomah that fans need to keep their eyes out for. The in-state product leads the team with five sacks. The secondary is a concern, where they lack a big-time playmaker, but given Purdy's struggles this season, it might be an issue if the pass rush is on point.
Best Bets for this Game
Full-Game Side Bet
Both these teams find themselves in an interesting position as the middle of the Big 12 schedule takes shape. The Cyclones have failed to meet expectations this season and going on the road to Kansas State could be seen as a make-or-break game for them. For Kansas State though, they've been able to hang around with both Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, the two top teams in the conference, and are due for a big win at home. Their pass rush is elite and given Purdy's struggles this season, could be a huge factor in getting him out of his rhythm early. The offense could be seen as a concern but Thompson has another week of practice under his belt and the staff will surely have a game plan that positions him for success this go-around. Additionally, according to covers.com, the underdog is 6-1 ATS in the last seven meetings between the two teams. For Iowa State, they're 5-2 ATS in their last seven meetings with Kansas State, are 0-4 ATS in their last four games after allowing less than 20 points in their previous game, and are 1-5 ATS in their last six games after scoring more than 40 points in their previous game. For Kansas State, they're 4-1 ATS in their last five games after accumulating more than 280 yards passing in their previous game.
Full-Game Total Pick
Kansas State has been involved in some high-scoring games each of the last two weeks and that doesn't appear to be a trend that is going to end this week. For the Wildcats, with Thompson continuing to get more reps and confidence under his belt during the week, the offense should be ready to keep the scoring going. For the Cyclones, they have the athleticism, experience, and talent, to score on will on opponents, but that has rarely been the case. An adjustment of the game plan could be in the works to give Purdy a little more freedom and if that happens, the offense could be dangerous. Additionally, according to covers.com, for Kansas State, the home team, the over is 5-0 in their last five games as an underdog, is 4-0 in their last four conference games, and is 4-1 in their last five games against a team with a winning record.