It’s not necessarily showing up in the win column, but Iowa State is gradually improving this season. The Cyclones followed up their first win of the season — and the first of Matt Campbell’s tenure as head coach — over San Jose State with last week’s near upset of Baylor. Given the state of the program that Campbell inherited, those incremental steps forward are noticeable.
Meanwhile, Oklahoma State continued its up-and-down campaign by mollywhopping Texas, 49-31. While the attention following the game primarily centered on the bungling of the Longhorns, the Cowboys played a clean game offensively. They generated an eye-popping 14 yards per passing attempt and rolled up 163 yards on the ground, albeit on 43 rushes.
This being the Big 12, of course, both teams’ defenses have left a lot to be desired. That puts the onus on the offenses to keep up with each other.
Iowa State at Oklahoma State
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 8 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPNU
Spread: Oklahoma State -16.5
1. Iowa State’s State of Mind
The Cyclones had Baylor on the ropes nearly the entire game last week, leading 42-28 going into the fourth quarter. They gave up 17 unanswered points in the final quarter, including a field goal at the gun, to drop what would have been a momentum-building win for a team that is desperately in need of one. Squads sometimes have trouble getting up off the mat after those kinds of heartbreakers, especially those that are in as deep of a hole as Iowa State.
2. OSU’s Newfound Running Game
The deep freeze that consumed the Cowboys’ running backs appears to be thawing. They’ve run for a total of nearly 400 yards in their previous two games. (To be fair, that might say more about the defenses of Texas and Baylor.) Freshman Justice Hill has seen his workload increase every game and offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich has no reason to stop giving him touches this week.
3. Exploiting the Cowboys Through the Air
The Pokes are giving up nine yards per passing attempt this year, one of the worst marks in the country. ISU’s aerial attack doesn’t have the same reputation as the rest of the Cyclones’ conference mates, but quarterback Joel Lanning and wide receiver Allen Lazard actually create a dangerous combination. Seeing as defenses also have to keep track of running back Mike Warren, it becomes hard to draw up coverages to keep Lazard in check.
Iowa State boasts enough pieces on offense to give Oklahoma State trouble. The underrated trio of QB Joel Lanning, WR Allen Lazard and RB Mike Warren keep defenses honest, giving the Cyclones the potential to move the ball up and down the field.
Unfortunately for first-year head coach Matt Campbell, the defense can’t stop opponents often enough to let Iowa State’s O do much damage. The D is allowing nearly 5.5 yards per rushing attempt, which ranks 122nd nationally.
Oklahoma State should use the opportunity let its running backs take some target practice as the Pokes coast to an easy victory.
Prediction: Oklahoma State 38, Iowa State 21
— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.