Cyclones can't afford another loss if they want to stay near the top of the Big 12 standings
The Iowa State Cyclones will travel to Lawrence on Saturday to face the Kansas Jayhawks. On paper, it's a game that shouldn't be close, as the Jayhawks are looking for their first win of the season, while the Cyclones are a Top 25 team still very much alive in the race for a spot in the Big 12 Championship Game.
As we know, however, games are not played on paper. The pads and helmets are going to bang together, and when they do, anything can happen.
For the reason, the Cyclones — coming off their first conference loss to No. 6 Oklahoma State last weekend — must be dialed in and focused if they want to avoid being victims of what would be one of the biggest upsets of the 2020 college football season.
Iowa State at Kansas
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 31, 12 p.m. ET
Spread: Iowa State -28.5
When Iowa State Has the Ball
The Cyclones should be able to do whatever they want on offense since Kansas ranks second-worst in the Big 12 in total defense (437.6 ypg) and worst in scoring defense (45.0). That will eventually allow them to work on the things that need some attention. If the Cyclones are to jump out to an early lead, look for head coach Matt Campbell to start rotating in a couple of different running backs to ensure they got a true backup plan in the event that something happens to Breece Hall. Hall has been the textbook definition of a workhorse this season, touching the ball on 37 percent of the team's plays. If nothing else, Hall needs a rest, and Campbell needs to find a way to spell his star back while minimizing the impact on offensive production.
You may also see Cyclone quarterback Brock Purdy taking some deep shots early on, as the Iowa State passing attack could use more explosive plays moving forward. After running an impressive aerial attack last season, the Cyclones are just seventh in the Big 12 with 12 passes of 20 or more yards and five passes of 30 or more yards through five games. This is the game to fine-tune that part of the offense.
When Kansas Has the Ball
As is the case most weeks for this Jayhawks team, keeping the game close and short is the goal. Kansas simply doesn't have the athletes to get into track meets with opponents. This is a team that has scored more than 20 points once this season — and that was in the opening week loss to Coastal Carolina. As a result, you'll see a healthy dose of running backs Velton Gardner and Daniel Hishaw Jr. early on, along with some designed quarterback runs from Jalon Daniels.
Iowa State has a solid if unspectacular defense, but it's slightly weaker against the pass. Only four teams that have played multiple games have allowed a higher completion percentage than their opponents' 67.5 percent mark. When head coach Les Miles does decide to pass, Kwamie Lassiter II is the guy the Jayhawks like to force the ball to when possible.
It's the same story every week when it comes to Kansas football games. It's always a lopsided matchup where the Jayhawks have inferior talent at pretty much every position. That's the case again on Saturday, and I'm not sure when this will ever change for Kansas. Iowa State wants to get out ahead early and rest their starters. I don't see Kansas doing much in the way of preventing that. Look for a couple of big plays off the arm of Brock Purdy early on to put the Cyclones up early and leave Kansas chasing points. The second half should be dominated by Iowa State's rushing attack as both teams look to get out of this with as healthy a roster as possible.
Prediction: Iowa State 48, Kansas 6
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— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo!, SBNation, USA Today and Bleacher Report. He is a three-time FWAA writing contest award winner. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.