Is Week 6 of the college football season too early for a must-win game? Because that's the scenario we might be in for the Iowa State Cyclones (3-2), who are 0-2 in the Big 12 as they get set to host the Kansas State Wildcats (4-1, 2-0).
After beginning the season 3-0, the Cyclones have lost two straight conference games by a combined 10 points as they fell to undefeated Kansas last Saturday, missing a last-second field goal that would've sent the game to overtime. After scoring just 11 points, Iowa State has sunk to the bottom of the Big 12 leaderboard in scoring, rushing, and total offense. Things won't get any easier facing the No. 2 scoring defense in the conference on Saturday.
As for the Wildcats, they've rattled off two straight impressive conference wins after a disappointing home loss to Tulane. Nebraska transfer Adrian Martinez has been the big reason why with nearly 700 yards of total offense and nine touchdowns in the last two games alone. He'll need another big performance on the road against the conference's best defense statistically.
No. 20 Kansas State at Iowa State
When Kansas State Has the Ball
It's a two-man show for the Wildcats with Martinez and star running back Deuce Vaughn. After five games, the duo accounts for 87 percent of the team's total yardage gained and 15 of the 18 offensive touchdowns. Kansas State is fourth in the country in rushing yards, averaging well 6.1 yards a carry as a team (sixth nationally) after piling up 343 yards on the ground against what was a top-40 rush defense coming in with Texas Tech.
After what sounded like an impassioned halftime speech from head coach Chris Klieman, 225 of those rushing yards came in the second half with three plays that covered more than 50 yards. There really is no secrecy to what Kansas State wants to do with the football, ranking 13th in the country as they keep the ball on the ground 61.7 percent of the time. Saturday will be the biggest challenge to date for Martinez and Co., facing an Iowa State run defense that ranks atop the Big 12, holding opponents to just 83 yards per game. Since the opener, the Cyclones have held their last four opponents to under four yards a carry.
When Iowa State Has the Ball
There was always bound to be regression for the Iowa State offense when you lose three NFL draft picks in Breece Hall, Brock Purdy, and Charlie Kolar. But not "worst in the conference" regression. The Cyclones have sunk to 10th in the Big 12 in scoring, rushing, and total offense. Iowa State is the only team in the conference to not average more than 400 yards of total offense or 30-plus points per game. And the Cyclones head into this week's matchup possibly without one of their top players in running back Jirehl Brock, who suffered an injury in the first half against Kansas and did not return.
If throwing out blame, aside from the coaching staff, the offensive line has been the culprit for many of Iowa State's issues on that side of the ball in 2022. There are the 12 sacks allowed, the second-worst mark in the conference. The Cyclones also are 88th in line yards created, 63rd in stuff rate, and 106th in second-level yardage (per CollegeFootballData). The performance of the O-line has been a sore spot for a few seasons now, and there is no prolific ball carrier like Hall to alleviate those issues himself.
Offensive line troubles are not what you want to be worrying about in advance of a matchup with Kansas State, which has one of the nation's best in defensive end Felix Anudike-Uzomah. He already has registered 5.5 sacks to rank among the nation's leaders. But there are some warts with the Wildcats' D, including ranking 68th nationally in passing (226.4) and 71st in rushing (143.8) yards allowed per game.
This is a dangerous matchup here for Kansas State, going on the road and facing a good Iowa State team that will undoubtedly play with some desperation after consecutive conference losses. And what the Wildcats do well (run the ball), the Cyclones are more than equipped to stop or at least limit. But given Iowa State's offensive struggles, I give a slight edge to the road team here, although it's a razor-thin margin in this pairing of Big 12 teams that appear to match up well against each other.
Prediction: Kansas State 24, Iowa State 23
Podcast: Week 6 Preview, Predictions, the Latest in Coaching Changes, and Picks Against the Spread
— Written by Mike Bainbridge, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bainbridge is a graduate of Northern Illinois University. Follow him on Twitter @MBainbridgeCFF.
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