KSU pulled out an ugly 27-17 win over the Cyclones last season in which the Wildcats completed just five of their 12 pass attempts for 57 yards and an interception. K-State ran the ball 49 times in the game and maintained possession for 35 minutes.
Is another clock-grinding Big 12 thrill ride in store this season? Here's what to watch on Saturday.
Kansas State at No. 17 Iowa State
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 21 at 4 p.m. ET
Spread: Iowa State -11
When Kansas State Has the Ball
Paradoxically, the KSU offense seems to revolve more around its quarterback these days than it did before an injury knocked starter Skylar Thompson out of action for the season. Freshman Will Howard is now running the show from behind center. KSU coach Chris Klieman clearly appreciates Howard's ability to use his size (6-foot-4, 230 pounds) as a runner. In a win over TCU, Howard carried the ball 13 times for 86 yards and a touchdown. He had 14 carries for 125 yards and a score last week in a heartbreaking loss to Oklahoma State.
Of course, Klieman may simply prefer seeing Howard running the ball versus throwing it. The rookie has thrown five interceptions in four starts, and he has topped 200 yards passing just once — against lowly Kansas. As a result, KSU has lost a significant degree of explosiveness from its O in recent games.
The ISU game plan won't involve much respect for Howard's arm. It will take hitting on a few early passes to force the Cyclones to loosen up. However, the Cyclones could be vulnerable, as their pass defense ranks seventh in the Big 12 and 85th overall with 251.7 ypg allowed.
When Iowa State Has the Ball
Once considered a potential first-round pick in the upcoming NFL draft, ISU quarterback Brock Purdy's inconsistent play this season has put a fork in that talk. Too often, the Cyclones are overcoming games like the one he played two weeks ago versus Baylor. Purdy threw three interceptions on just 24 pass attempts in the game, a 38-31 comeback win for the Cyclones.
Instead, ISU has shifted the focus of its offense to running back Breece Hall. The sophomore is averaging 6.3 yards per carry this season and has already found the end zone 13 times. He has already surpassed his impressive freshman totals (897 yards, nine touchdowns) in five fewer games.
The good news for K-State is that it has the personnel to exploit Purdy's weaknesses. Specifically, the Wildcats pressure the passer well, and the ballhawks in their secondary can swoop in on any ill-advised throws.
The loser of this game will be all but eliminated from the Big 12 conference race, so don't expect either squad to mail in an effort. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, trying hard only gets a team so far.
Iowa State has the edge here by virtue of the limitations of what K-State can do on offense. To avoid costly mistakes from Purdy, ISU offensive coordinator Tom Manning should try to mix up play calls on early downs to keep KSU's defenders on their heels. Well-managed drives will help Purdy avoid the temptation to force throws into danger.
Even an interception or two from Purdy, however, wouldn't be enough for Kansas State to upset the Cyclones if the Wildcats can't manufacture points. A touchdown on special teams, for example, would boost KSU's sagging offense.
KSU's style of play will probably help the Wildcats avoid a blowout, but ISU appears poised to move on to a Big 12 title elimination game versus Texas on Black Friday.
Prediction: Iowa State 24, Kansas State 16
Podcast: Week 12 Preview and Predictions
— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is the founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.