Wildcats look to extend 10-game winning streak against Cyclones and become bowl eligible
The Iowa State Cyclones are set to host the rival Kansas State Wildcats Saturday in an important Big 12 clash. The Cyclones had their five-game winning streak snapped and saw their conference title hopes dashed in a 24-10 loss to Texas a week ago. With the loss, Iowa State fell to 6-4 overall and 5-3 in conference play.
Kansas State kept its bowl hopes alive with a 21-6 victory over Texas Tech last weekend. Now 5-6 overall and 3-5 in Big 12 play, the Wildcats need only a victory over Iowa State to secure an eighth consecutive bowl bid. K-State is a big underdog, but the Wildcats have beaten the Cyclones in 10 consecutive games. Another victory would give Kansas State the longest winning streak in series history.
Kansas State at Iowa State
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 24 at 7 p.m. ET
Spread: Iowa State -13.5
Three Things to Watch
1. The quarterbacks
After some struggles early in the season, the Iowa State offense took off when head coach Matt Campbell turned to Brock Purdy, who exploded onto the national scene and captured Big 12 Player of the Week honors with 318 passing yards, 84 rushing yards and five total touchdowns in an upset victory over Oklahoma State in his first start. Purdy would go on to lead the Cyclones to wins in each of his first five starts, but he suffered through his first extended on-field adversity last week against the Longhorns. The freshman set career lows in completion percentage (43.5) and passing yards (130) and was held without a TD pass for the first time as a starter. Overall, Purdy has completed 64.6 percent of his passes and is averaging 10.0 yards per attempt, throwing for 1,445 yards and 13 touchdowns with only three interceptions in seven games.
Kansas State got a boost when Skylar Thompson returned to the field to face Texas Tech last week after missing the previous game against Kansas. The sophomore, who has split time with Alex Delton at times, completed 17-of-26 pass attempts for 213 yards and a touchdown, as well as one interception, against the Red Raiders. It was arguably his best passing game of the season, but Thompson did not display his typically dangerous running ability and was held to minus-9 yards on 11 carries. This season, Thompson has 351 rushing yards and four touchdowns in addition to 1,208 passing yards and six TDs with four interceptions.
Both quarterbacks also benefit from a standout go-to receiver. Iowa State wideout Hakeem Butler is an All-America candidate and legitimate pro prospect, while K-State's Isaiah Zuber is a big-play threat who also contributes on special teams.
2. Talented tailbacks
Quarterback might be the most important position on the field, but running back is the strongest position for both Iowa State and Kansas State. David Montgomery was forced to sit out the first half of the Texas game because of his ejection the previous week, and the Cyclones missed him immensely. Montgomery posted season lows in carries (10) and rushing yards (33) against the Longhorns, but he did score the only Iowa State touchdown. He now has 798 rushing yards (fifth most in the conference) and seven scores.
K-State running back Alex Barnes leads the Big 12 in both rushing yardage (1,172) and rushing touchdowns (11). Barnes ran for 136 yards in the win over Texas Tech — his third straight 100-yard game and the sixth time he's hit the century mark this season — but he was held out of the end zone for the third time in his last four contests.
3. A defensive battle? In the Big 12?
The Big 12 is known for fast-paced, high-scoring offenses — and both Kansas State and Iowa State are capable of scoring quickly because of the talented offensive playmakers at their disposal. But the 101st meeting between the Wildcats and Cyclones could offer one of the best matchups of defenses in the Big 12 this season.
Iowa State ranks second in the league in both total defense (350.3 yards allowed per game) and yards allowed per play (5.01), but both of those figures are mere percentage points behind leader TCU. The Cyclones (who have yet to play an FCS opponent, unlike the Horned Frogs) lead the league in both categories when facing FBS competition. Iowa State also leads the league in scoring defense (20.8 points allowed per game). Much of that success can be attributed to the Big 12’s best run defense (116.4 rushing yards allowed per game), a unit that ranks No. 18 in the country, No. 11 in yards allowed per carry (3.2) and second nationally in rushing touchdowns allowed (6).
K-State ranks in the middle of the road in the Big 12 in yards allowed per play (5.76) and ninth in the conference in yards allowed per carry (4.85). But thanks in part to a methodical offense, the Wildcats are often able to shrink the game by keeping the ball away from its opponents. As a result, Kansas State ranks third in the league in scoring defense (23.9) and fourth in total defense (395.3). The unit is also peaking at exactly the right time: The Wildcats held Texas Tech to just 181 total yards last week, posting season lows in rushing yards allowed (31), passing yards allowed (150) and yards allowed per play (3.23) against a Red Raiders offense that came in averaging more than 500 yards per contest and more than 6.0 yards per snap.
After slogging through the first three quarters of the 2018 season, Kansas State has found its stride over the last two weeks and is now one win away from bowl eligibility. The return of Skylar Thompson at quarterback and the consistency of Alex Barnes at running back give the Wildcats a punch offensively, and the defense, which put together its best all-around performance a week ago, is capable of shutting down opponents. Iowa State tasted its first defeat with Brock Purdy as the starting quarterback, and a bounce-back performance from the freshman will be key for the Cyclones, as will a full game from the talented David Montgomery. Unlike K-State, the Cyclones have been strong all season defensively — especially against the run — and that reliability should help Iowa State snap its decade-long losing streak while keeping Bill Snyder and the Wildcats out of a bowl game.
Prediction: Iowa State 27, Kansas State 10
— Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasIAllen.