Iowa State Rush Offense vs. Kansas Rush Defense
The Jayhawks are porous up front, allowing 183 yards per game on the ground (88th nationally). Cue Cyclones running backs Shontrelle Johnson and James White, who should see significant work today. If they rush a combined 30-plus times, that elusive 200-yard team rushing effort may come. Advantage: Iowa State
Iowa State Pass Offense vs. Kansas Pass Defense
Jayhawks aren’t good against the pass (106th nationally) but the Cyclones haven’t been able to throw against a marginally legit defense since the TCU game. Steele Jantz needs to make quick, sound decisions as Kansas is likely to bring plenty of pressure. Big play receiver Josh Lenz could play. (Slight) Advantage: Kansas
Kansas Rush Offense vs. Iowa State Rush Defense
This might be the biggest test of the season for the deeper Cyclone defensive line. Reason: Jayhawks not only run with regularity (49 carries or more in five of past six games), but do so effectively (213.1 yards per game). Fully healthy James Sims and slasher Tony Pierson cause headaches. Advantage: Kansas
Kansas Pass Offense vs. Iowa State Pass Defense
Pass offense? What pass offense? The Jayhawks switched from drop-back passer Dayne Crist to more mobile quarterback Michael Cummings three games ago. Kansas’ passing yardage since? 164. But that’s not the point. The Jayhawks attempted only 15 passes last week against Texas tech. Advantage: Iowa State
ISU punter Kirby Van Der Kamp’s touted as an all-America candidate and it’s easy to see why. Just two touchbacks have come off his foot, which leads the Big 12. He’s also dropped 42 percent of his punts inside the s 20-yard line. Kansas’ kickers haven’t converted a field goal from more than 37 yards out. Advantage: Iowa State.
It’s senior day in Lawrence and while the crowd may be sparse, the Jayhawks have showed plenty of fight lately, taking Texas and Texas Tech down to the wire and losing by just six points to Oklahoma State. Kansas has lost 19 straight Big 12 games and likely see a Cyclones team that has lost four of its last five as a plum breakthrough target. The amount of narrow misses doesn’t seem to be wearing on Kansas, either. Instead, the Jayhawks seem more determined each week to rid themselves of that onus. ISU has the sixth win thing looming, which is still a big deal when playing in the nation’s most explosive conference. The Cyclones’ added incentive is a chance at seven regular season wins if they can beat Kansas and West Virginia next week. That would ensure coach Paul Rhoads’ second winning season — and first season that included four conference wins. (Slight) advantage: Iowa State.
Iowa State will win if … it owns the trenches. Holding Kansas under 200 yards rushing and managing at least 180 yards on the ground should virtually guarantee getting bowl eligible. Bonus: Wining the turnover battle again. Despite going minus-two at Texas last week, ISU is second in the Big 12 at plus-three in conference games.
Kansas will win if … Tony Pierson breaks off a few big runs and James Sims delivers knockout blows to Cyclones’ front seven. Duo rushed for 390 yards in last week’s loss at Texas Tech. And if Jayhawks can get off the field on defense, tipping the TOP scales, ISU could be staring at an extra-tense Black Friday game against West Virginia.
Prediction: Iowa State 28, Kansas 20
Three things to watch
ISU’s red zone defense. Kansas has scored points in only 69 percent of its trips inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. That’s tied for 115th nationally, better only than UTEP, Bowling Green, Maryland and Florida International. The Cyclones get stingy in the red zone, allowing points 71.4 percent of the time (third best in Big 12 play).
ISU’s red zone offense. The Cyclones aren’t world beaters when trying to score on drives treading inside the 20 either, churning up points 77 percent of the time, which is tied for 89th in the FBS. Kansas is tied with much better in-state rival Kansas State in red zone defense at 21st nationally (74 percent).
Punt returns. It’s a small sample size, but the Cyclones are one of the nation’s leaders in punt return average at 16.1 yards. Trouble is, there have only been seven such returns. There figure to be more today. Kansas has punted 52 times (still 10 fewer than ISU) and ranks 96th in net average at 35.2.
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