Reeling off brutal loss against West Virginia, our Red Raiders are hosting the Iowa State Cyclones for Homecoming. In the last few years, this game has been very odd indeed. Rarely has it been close, both teams have an affinity to blow out the other, and both teams always need this win to remain relevant (bowl eligible).
I’d like to thank Levi Stevenson from Wide Right Natty Lite again for answering a few of my questions below. I’ve been reading their blog for years, and they’ve got a really interesting slant on sports humor. They’re generally great during football season, but their basketball content is top notch. Check out their take on these questions here.
Anyway, let’s dive in!
1. For starters - what's the deal with Jacob Park disappearing? And which version of Kyle Kempt do you see showing up?
Levi: Officially, he's "working through personal issues." Unofficially, nobody has any clue, and any speculation is just that.
For Kyle Kempt, he had fairly meager numbers against Kansas, but that can largely be attributed a combination of the weather, extremely good field position, and a terrible opponent that allowed us to put in the second unit by the end of the third quarter. He only had 122 yards on 13-20 passing, so he didn't play poorly, but simply did have the volume of work to really pile on yardage. The 6ish yards per attempt are largely due to the weather, which prevented much of any downfield passing for a good portion of the game.
Through two games, Kempt has shown to essentially be Alex Smith. He is the epitome of a game manager. His greatest asset thus far has been his ability to make good decisions and not turn the ball over, which is really all you can ask for out a redshirt senior quarterback who had never started a game of college football in his life prior to the game at Oklahoma. If he continues to make smart throws that are within reach of our gigantic and/or speedy receivers, he'll be just fine.
2. David Montgomery appears to be the engine that powers this offensive. Walk me through his style of play, and how'd he beat out Mike Warren?
Levi: David Montgomery's best and most immediate comparison is Kareem Hunt, who played for Matt Campbell at Toledo. He's not particularly tall, but is exceedingly strong and elusive, and is a true threat in the passing game. His ability to make something out of nothing exceeds any Cyclone since Seneca Wallace, and he's virtually impossible to make solid contact with, much less tackle him on first contact. What's most impressive about him, however, is his leadership and selflessness. It's easy to see that his somewhat violent running style is infectious to his teammates, helping to create very real momentum for the offense.
Another multi-MT reception for Montgomery here, just refused to go down all game. pic.twitter.com/0rjuPQXhMJ— Ben Stockwell (@PFF_Ben) September 10, 2017
Ask Iowa how much fun they had trying to tackle David Montgomery, especially #5.
Mike Warren was a very good running back in Rhoad's zone running scheme, but his running style isn't as well suited for the current offense. That, and the fact that David Montgomery is an absolute boss, is why he's a legitimately a back up to Montgomery now, as opposed to a complimentary piece.
3. Obligatory questions about Joel Lanning: How many snaps do you think he will get at Quarterback? Is Paul Rhoads an idiot for not putting him at Linebacker earlier?
Levi: Depends on what you call quarterback. How many times will he actually throw the ball? Probably no more than 5. However, he'll likely lineup as a Wildcat quarterback somewhat frequently. After all, he did run for 5 touchdowns against Tech last year, almost exclusively out of the Wildcat.
Rhoads probably never considered it because, frankly, he was the best quarterback on the roster. I don't think any coach in America would give up their starting quarterback because he might be good at linebacker.
The real question is whether Campbell should have switched him over towards the end of last season after Jacob Park became the full time starter. In retrospect, it's probably for the best that he made the switch at the beginning of the last offseason, but it's certainly intriguing to think about where he could be right now had he gotten a few games under his belt last season.
Either way, CBS put Joel on the First Team Mid-Season All-American Team, he received actual Heisman votes last week, and is absolutely playing his way into draft pick status. His ceiling as a linebacker is pretty high, given his size, athleticism, and intelligence. The fact that he has become this good, this fast, has already gotten NFL scouts talking about how good he could become under NFL coaching.
4. Matt Campbell is going to be a hot commodity if he can get ISU to a bowl. What has he done to transform this football team, and is there chatter of him looking to go elsewhere?
Levi: To answer the second question: No. Absolutely none, and I'm okay with it, If you ask most Cyclone fans and listen to what Campbell has to say about the program, one has plenty of evidence to believe that, as long as program continues improving and is successful overall, he could be in Ames for quite awhile. Our only concern is that AD Jamie Pollard can't (or won't) pony up enough money to convince him to stay over going to an SEC or Big 10 school that can essentially write him a blank check.
5. Who do Tech fans need to keep an eye on that we're not already aware of?
Levi: On offense, Marchie Murdock. The senior has really emerged as a big play threat in the mold of a Doug Baldwin. He won't blow you away with size or speed, but he's an outstanding route runner that always seems to make a big catch.
On defense, Ray Lima is someone Tech fans will hear about on Saturday, voluntarily or not. To put it simply, he has transformed from an intriguing talent into a legitimate All-Big 12 defensive tackle. At first he was simply doing a good job at clogging the line and forcing running back to make decisions in the backfield. Now, Lima is not only eating up double teams, but regularly splitting the two lineman and collapsing the pocket or disrupting the run in the backfield. He seems to be improving snap-by-snap, and will absolutely force Nic Shimonek out of the pocket on multiple occasions.
Lima has almost single-handedly allowed Iowa State to consistently drop eight into coverage and shut down the passing game. His effect on the passing game was clear to see in both the Oklahoma and Kansas games. Kansas had actually been averaging just under 300 passing yards, and 450 total yards per game, but the combination of Lima's pressure and an eight man coverage held the Jayhawks to a grand total of 44 yards passing and 106 total yards.Those are incredible numbers, even given an opponent as terrible as Kansas.
6. What are the best matchups for ISU heading into this game?
Levi: The best, and most crucial, matchup will be Iowa State's offensive line (a receivers, by association) vs. Tech's defense in the running game. The offensive line has been average as a unit all a year, but has shone on a few occasions. The reason I included our receivers is because every single one of them has done an outstanding job in run/screen blocking. Take a look the blocking by Deshaunte Jones, Hakeem Butler and Allen Lazard on these plays against Oklahoma.
If the Cyclone offensive line can create any semblance of a push and allow David Montgomery to get to the outside and utilize his receivers as blockers, Iowa State should have quite a bit of success on the ground.
7. Any key injuries/suspensions to track?
Levi: LB Willie Harvey has been banged up the last couple games, but could play this weekend. True freshman Jake Hummel has stepped in for Harvey on multiple occasions and has played well. Otherwise, Iowa State is fairly healthy team. Yes, I realize I probably just sentenced us to a major injury this weekend.
8. Score Prediction?
Levi: Even if Tech ends up as a touchdown favorite by kick-off, this score line is so unstable that I wouldn't touch it at all. Both teams are equally capable of winning by a couple touchdowns or more. The game has only been within a touchdown 3 times ever, and the last two have been complete blowouts each way with the winner scoring 66 points in both affairs. Tech averages 44 points and Iowa State around 35. However, subtract out the Texas debacle (which was the dictionary definition of a fluke), and Iowa State is averaging 42 points per game.
The only possible way this game ends with both teams failing to score 40 is if Iowa State has success running the ball and does to Tech what it did to Oklahoma: keep the other offense off the field. Oklahoma only had four (!!!) offensive possessions in the second half, which was a huge contributing factor in the upset. I expect Matt Campbell & Co. to go in with same game plan, to force Texas Tech to beat Iowa State with it's defense.
In a toss-up game that will probably not actually end being that close either way, I'm going with homer pick and saying 42-31 Cyclones.