Before the first whistle of the season was blown, Iowa State was a sexy pick for being one of those trendy teams to watch. They were even included in both the AP and ESPN preseason rankings. But the Cyclones (2-2, 0-1 Big 12) have had a few heartbreaking losses in the first month of the season, by one point to rival Iowa and by two points last week at Baylor, along with a struggle in overtime to beat FCS member Northern Iowa. So things aren't trending upwardly for the 'Clones heading into October.
But TCU (3-1, 1-0) ain't exactly lighting things on fire either, having lost to Metroplex rival SMU two weeks ago before seemingly getting things back on track in their Big 12 opener vs. Kansas in blowout fashion. But take it all with a sizable grain of salt because the Cyclones will be the best team the Frogs have faced so far.
TCU at Iowa State
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 5 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: Iowa State -3.5
When TCU Has the Ball
Run. The. Damn. Ball. Last week Baylor often veered away from the running game, insisting on testing that rush-three, drop-eight defense of the Cyclones. But they eventually got their ground game going and it was effective, leading to a trio of touchdowns. The Frogs have to establish Darius Anderson (8.2 ypc) and Sewo Olonilua (5.2) to try their best to match last week's 61 carries for 319 yards. Let the run set up the pass.
Work the corners. Head coach Garry Patterson is sticking with freshman Max Duggan as the starting QB, though Alex Delton threw for 186 yards vs. Kansas in spot duty. For a unit that is stacked in experience, the weakest part of the Iowa State defense is their cornerbacks, who are both new this season in sophomores Anthony Johnson and Datrone Young. Whichever QB is in the game, Te'Vailance Hunt, TreVontae Hights, Dylan Thomas, and Jalen Reagor (last week's Big 12 co-Special Team Player of the Week) stretching the field will be a huge key to getting a win in Ames.
The red zone showdown. Interesting tidbit here; TCU leads the Big 12 in red zone offense, scoring on 23 of the 24 trips inside the 20 this season. Meanwhile, the Cyclones are second in the conference in red zone defense, giving up just five touchdowns in 12 opponent attempts. This'll be fun.
When Iowa State Has the Ball
Make the offense not so Purdy. There is no secret when it comes to the key to stopping the Cyclones, it's all about QB Brock Purdy. Last week against Baylor, it seemed like he wanted to try to do it all, scrambling for runs instead of staying in the pocket and throwing, and not having a ton of success. Running back Kene Nwangwu is close to being fully healthy again (15 carries, 119 yards) and will join Johnnie Lang (23 carries, 110 yards) to hope to establish more of a running game, which the coaches have insisted is important.
The Ames Skyline. Iowa State lost playmakers like David Montgomery and Hakeem Butler from last year, so now the tight ends have been leaned on more this season. Charlie Kolar already has 19 catches and backups Chase Allen (five catches) and Dylan Soehner (two catches) have played vital roles, especially when they've gone to two-tight end sets and for downfield blocking. Oh, and all three of them are over6-foot-6, which means they also lead the team in dunks and blocked shots.
The Toads are stout. TCU is now fourth nationally in total defense, giving up just 246 yards per game. And they looked the part against Kansas, holding the Jayhawks to 49 yards on just 24 plays in the first half after jumping out to a 38-0 lead at the break. Iowa State will be a huge challenge, but Patterson is happy with his stops unit and feels his Frogs are up to the challenge this week.
Neither of these teams is likely to contend for the Big 12 title, but if the Cyclones lose this week they are essentially eliminated from any reasonable chance at making the conference title game. TCU has the running game to keep pace with their stellar defense but the quarterback play has to improve.
Not to sell the Cyclones defense short, both defenses are really good in this one. These two could provide us one of those ugly knock-down, drag-out kind of rumbles here. That means, go with the team that runs better or the team that has home-field advantage. Man, this one is tough to call.
Prediction: Iowa State 16, TCU 13
— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.