The Iowa State Cyclones are set to travel to Lubbock Saturday to face the Texas Tech Red Raiders. Matt Campbell led Iowa State to a huge upset win over Oklahoma and improved to 2-1 in Big 12 play with a 45-0 shutout of Kansas. Kliff Kingsbury took himself off the hot seat with wins over Arizona State, at Houston and guided the Red Raiders into the Top 25 ahead of last week’s game at West Virginia, which resulted in a 46-35 loss after failing to protect an 18-point lead.
Preseason expectations were modest for both squads, but both have played like legitimate bowl teams through the first half. Both come in with 4-2 records, and there’s not a bad loss to be found on either schedule. The S&P+ analytic system developed by SB Nation's Bill Connelly ranks the Cyclones No. 28 in the country. Iowa State has solid rankings in special teams (22nd), field position (21st on offense, 11th on defense), defensive opportunity rate (19th) and adjusted sack rate (22nd). Texas Tech isn’t far behind. The Red Raiders ranks 32nd overall in S&P+ thanks in large part to a top-five offense that ranks 12th in Connelly’s efficiency rating and 11th in explosiveness.
Iowa State at Texas Tech
Kickoff: Saturday Oct. 21 at 12 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FS1
Spread: Texas Tech -6.5
Three Things to Watch
Kliff Kingsbury has a terrific track record coaching and developing quarterbacks, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that his starter, Nic Shimonek, has put up some of the best passing numbers in the nation. Shimonek has completed 70.1 percent of his passes for 2,134 yards with 18 touchdowns and four interceptions. He ranks second in the Big 12 with 355.7 passing yards per game, which is good for fifth most in the nation. The senior also has a 168.7 passer rating (seventh in the FBS).
Iowa State has had a bumpier road at QB. Initial starter Jacob Park took a leave of absence from the program earlier this month, and was removed from the team depth chart earlier this week. Fortunately, junior college transfer Kyle Kempt has played very well in his first two career starts. Kempt has completed 31 of 44 passes (70.1 percent) for 465 yards and four touchdowns without an interception. The senior has averaged 10.57 yards per attempt, which would rank in the top five nationally. Only three full-time FBS starters have posted a higher average through the first half of the season. And, when necessary, head coach Matt Campbell calls on former starting QB now starting linebacker (and top tackler) Joel Lanning, who has contributed 25 passing yards and 70 rushing yards this season.
2. Iowa State WR Allen Lazard
Fans interested in pro prospects or in circling the most talented player on the field in a particular game will want to focus on Lazard. The 6-foot-5, 220-pound senior leads the Cyclones with 30 receptions, and though he only ranks second with 350 yards and has averaged just 11.7 yards per catch, he’s moved the chains consistently and has hauled in four touchdowns. Lazard has also caught at least one pass in 41 straight games, which is the longest active streak in the country. His size, hands, and dependability — particularly in the red zone — is a big reason why NFL Draft Scout ranks Lazard No. 3 among receiver prospects in the 2018 NFL Draft.
3. Good defense?
Texas Tech is still a long way from having an elite defense, but the Red Raiders have made strides this season. Tech ranks seventh in the Big 12 in total defense (430.5 ypg allowed), and sits sixth in yards allowed per play (5.52). Given the pace the Red Raiders operate with on offense, which forces Texas Tech to defend more plays than most units across the country, those are actually pretty decent numbers. And, for comparison’s sake, the Red Raiders surrendered 554.3 yards and 7.0 yards per play in 2016.
But diving deeper into the numbers, Tech has limited opponents' explosive plays, and also has come up with big plays of its own. The Red Raiders have allowed just nine plays of 30-plus yards this season, which is the third fewest among Big 12 teams. Perhaps most importantly, Tech leads the conference with 15 turnovers created, which ranks 11th in the country, and also has the best turnover ratio in the league (+9), which is 12th best at the FBS level.
As for Iowa State, the slower-paced Cyclones rank second in the Big 12 in total defense (356.2 ypg) and fourth in yards allowed per play (5.14). Iowa State has the second-best turnover margin in the league (+6), and third-most turnovers created (11). Both teams have 12 sacks in six games.
Texas Tech has a more explosive offense than Iowa State, and part of that is the stability Nic Shimonek brings at quarterback. The Cyclones have one of the top receivers in the nation and a solid running back in David Montgomery (478 rushing yards, 8 TDs), giving head coach Matt Campbell some appealing options. And though Iowa State has the edge defensively, the Red Raiders have showed more big-play ability. In an evenly matched game of fringe, top-25 bowl contenders, the turnover battle will be paramount.
Prediction: Texas Tech 34, Iowa State 31
— Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, a member of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasIAllen.