The Iowa State Cyclones and Kansas Jayhawks meet on Saturday in a Big 12 matchup to kick off the early slate of games on Saturday. Although the Jayhawks were eliminated from bowl eligibility last week, both teams have plenty on the line.
Iowa State is coming off its biggest win of the year; a 23-21 squeaker over then-No. 19 Texas, its first victory over a ranked team this season. The Cyclones had previously dropped games to No. 19 Iowa at No. 9 Oklahoma by one point each, but last Saturday's win in Austin showed how dangerous they can be.
The win was Cyclones' sixth win, making them bowl eligible for the third straight year under head coach Matt Campbell. That's something that has been accomplished just two other times in program history. Iowa State (6-4, 4-3 Big 12) has a chance to improve its bowl positioning by finishing strong and could win nine games for the first time since 2000.
Kansas (3-7, 1-6) got off to a fast start under first-year head coach Les Miles, but has stumbled since entering conference play. Part of that has to do with the fact that the Jayhawks have faced four ranked teams in the last five weeks — picking up a win against unranked Texas Tech — but the 18.3-point average margin of defeat remains concerning.
With two games left in their season, KU still has a chance to pick up that elusive fourth win, which hasn't happened since 2009. Unfortunately, the Jayhawks have been dominated in this series for the better part of the last decade. The Cyclones have taken eight of the last nine matchups, and Kansas hasn't won in Ames since 2009.
Kansas at Iowa State
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 23 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: Iowa State -24.5
When Kansas Has the Ball
Pooka Williams Jr. continues to be the biggest threat on the Jayhawks offense, although the sophomore running back finally seems to be slowing down. After winning Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year honors last season, Williams burst out of the gate this season with 635 yards on 6.0 yards per carry through the first six games. However, opponents have held him to 156 total yards on 3.3 yards per attempt over the last three weeks.
For Kansas to have a chance against Iowa State, it will need to have a productive day out of Williams. On top of that, the Jayhawks need to stay close early on so that they can establish the run and not feel the need to pass and quickly make up points. However, that could be a tough ask against a Cyclones defense that ranks 25th in the nation by holding opponents to 121.0 rushing yards per game.
Iowa State's stout defensive front will put even more pressure on quarterback Carter Stanley to shine. The good news is he's found consistent playmakers in Andrew Parchment and Stephon Robinson Jr., who have combined to haul in 92 of his 190 completions, 1,354 of his 2,241 passing yards, and 13 of his 21 touchdowns. That's a welcomed change after Steven Sims Jr. (535 yards) was the only Jayhawk to top 350 yards last season.
When Iowa State Has the Ball
Like any good Big 12 school, Iowa State's bread and butter is its impressive aerial attack. Led by sophomore Brock Purdy, the Cyclones rank eighth nationally with 326.3 passing yards per game. While his yards per attempt are slightly down from last season, Purdy has completed passes at a slightly higher rate while lowering his interception rate from 3.2 percent to 2.1 percent.
Purdy has a number of quality weapons to work with, too. Deshaunte Jones, Tarique Milton, Charlie Kolar, and La'Michael Pettway each have at least 500 receiving yards, so Kansas can't try to shut out any single receiver. Running back Breece Hall may not have the name recognition of his Jayhawks counterpart, but he has been every bit as effective with 686 yards on 5.6 yards per pop as a true freshman.
Kansas will need big plays to stay in the game, but that has not been the Jayhawks' defensive forte to date. The unit is tied for 100th in the nation with just 16 sacks, while only NC State has fewer takeaways (6). Further spelling trouble, Iowa State has displayed great ball security with just five lost fumbles in 10 games.
Kansas looks improved under Les Miles, but a road trip to Ames will be tough sledding for the Jayhawks. Carter Stanley has an 8:2 touchdown-to-interception ratio in wins and a 13:6 ratio in losses, so keeping mistakes to a minimum will be crucial. Iowa State isn't known for its prolific pass defense, but its high-powered offense will likely be too much to keep up with for a Kansas team that has been held under 21 points in four of the last six games.