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Ask the Expert: The Cyclones are plenty confident this week

The folks at Wide Right & Natty Light connected with us prior to Saturday.

NCAA Football: West Virginia at Iowa State Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

Our game against the Jayhawks was plenty sloppy, but good teams still get it done against inferior competition - which is exactly what we did. This week we face a surging Iowa State squad brimming with confidence. If you have checked the boxscore of their game against West Virginia I compel to you to do so. Simply put, the Cyclones dominated the Mountaineers in every facet of the game. Yet, when you review some of Iowa State’s earlier games this season (i.e. how they arrived at 3-3), you’ll see an sputtering offense but an above average defense. So, which team is going to show up this week? I’ll admit Brock Purdy makes me nervous, and David Montgomery is an elite runner. Unlike Oklahoma State with Justice Hill, I don’t expect Matt Campbell to abandon the run against the Red Raider defense. So, your guess is as good as mine as to what will happen this week.

Before we hop into questions, I’d like to thank Levi Stevenson for answering questions this week. Toss our sister site a follow on Twitter, and check out Wide Right & Natty Light if you want to scout the enemy. Also, I returned the favor to those guys so feel free to review my hot takes on the game this week too. Let’s dive into the Q/A.

#1 - The Cyclones have looked unstoppable, and beatable across the six games this season. Which version of the team do you expect to show up on Saturday?

Thankfully, it appears this team is trending farther and farther away from the beatable side over the last two games, and last two years as a whole. On Saturday, I fully expect to see essentially the same team we saw against West Virginia. A suffocating defense that will likely apply fairly significant pressure on Alan Bowman to get him running around. Against Will Grier, Jon Heacock made it a priority to collapse the pocket from the interior and force Grier to scramble to his side, where Iowa State’s athletic defensive ends were able to chase him down to the tune of seven sacks by six different players. Bowman isn’t any more mobile than Grier, so my guess is that we’ll see a similar strategy to force him out of the pocket.

While definitely improved, the Tech defense still hasn’t necessarily played a good Power 5 offense yet, with the exception of West Virginia. Iowa State is certainly not to the caliber of Oklahoma or probably not even West Virginia, but when the offense is clicking and the offensive line is getting push, the Cyclones have the playmakers to put up points with anyone. It would be a lot to ask of Brock Purdy to continue his torrid pace given his youth, but as long as he is still efficient and doesn’t turn the ball over, Iowa State will have a great opportunity to put up some points.

#2 - Matt Campbell is likely going to be one of the hottest names in coaching this off-season, but my gut tells me that he stays in Ames. The same thing happened with Fred Hoiberg until the Bulls came calling. What would it take for Campbell to leave town?

This is a question that Cyclone fans have fielded for each of the last few years, and the answer actually seems to be getting clearer and clearer. Unless Ohio State or *maybe* Notre Dame is on the other end of the phone, Matt Campbell isn’t leaving anytime in the near future. Last offseason, the Tennessee job could have been his if he wanted it. It’s more money, more resources, a bigger brand, and a more fertile recruiting, but Matt Campbell didn’t even give them the time of day. He’s a different kind of cat than most people are used to seeing. He (obviously) didn’t come to Iowa State because of money or program tradition, but since his introductory presser, has preached a consistent message that the both the fanbase and his relationship with Jamie Pollard were by far the biggest reasons he came here. Campbell and his staff have consistently and constantly talked about wanting to turn Iowa State into a championship football program. Yeah, I know every coach says that, but, for some reason, when Matt Campbell says it, I believe him. He has this feeling of sincerity and honesty that I’ve never seen before in a football coach.

I know everyone likes to say that it’s impossible to build a perennial winner in Ames, but if someone can build a football dynasty in Lincoln f***ing Nebraska and a solid program in Iowa City, then there’s no reason to believe that it can’t be done in Ames.

To make a long story short, Matt Campbell is more interested in building Iowa State into a perennial Big 12 title contender than taking over a blue-blood program. Will he stay forever? Probably not, but he’s given us every reason to believe that he’s planning on being here for quite a while.

#3 - The Iowa State offense has been rolling lately, and a lot of that is due to Brock Purdy, and a healthy David Montgomery. What can we expect to see from the offense this weekend?

I would argue that the biggest reason for the turnaround on offense has been the progression of the offensive line. Early in the season, the line took some licks against a few really talented defensive lines, but have shown substantial improvement over the last three games. With the insertion of Collin Olsen at right guard, the line has been much better and getting push in run blocking and actually getting some second level blocks (what a novel concept). As shown last week, when David Montgomery gets second level blocks and can starting taking on defensive backs in one-on-one situations, good things happen for the Cyclones. He’s the best running back in the Big 12, and probably the best all-around back in the country when you take into account his ability as a receiver and pass blocker.

Not to be undersold, Purdy’s emergence has been huge for the offense. His running ability has opened up a whole new section of the playbook that was previously unexplored. Having run an RPO system in high school, he was a perfect fit for what the coaches have been wanting but unable to do given Zeb Noland and Kyle Kempt’s lack of mobility. Suddenly, read-options aren’t auto-handoffs anymore, and the offense is able to run a handful of unique play concepts out of the same formations and personnel. However, Purdy is still a very talented passer that actually fielded a ton of interest and a scholarship offer from Alabama before signing with Iowa State. He’s got the arm talent to make every throw you could ask for, and the intelligence to work through progressions. Now, it’s just a matter of seeing whether or not he will continue to play at such a high level, or if his youth and inexperience will become a factor. If his performance over the last two weeks is a ten and a full-on freshmen slump is a zero, my guess is that he’ll be somewhere between a six and an eight on Saturday.

#4 - What do you feel like are Iowa State’s best matchups heading into Saturday?

On the defensive side of the ball, Iowa State is probably top three in the conference at every position group, and can arguably lay claim to having the best defensive line and cornerbacks in the conference, with the linebackers and safeties not far behind.

Over the last two seasons, CB Brian Peavy has essentially completely removed his assignment from the game, regardless of the player, and D’Andre Payne has been an elite open-field tackler. Behind Peavy and Payne are Richard Bowens and Anthony Johnson, two freshmen corners that have seen a ton of playing time and played well beyond their classification, to the point that they’ve even allowed Peavy and Payne to come off the field at times to catch a breather. Tech has run the ball more and more each of the last few seasons, but the offense is still focused around the passing game, which is heavily concentrated towards the receivers. Iowa State’s talent at the cornerback position is a really nice counter to Tech’s talented receivers.

On the offensive side of the ball, the most obvious favorable matchup for Iowa State is Hakeem Butler. He’s every bit of 6’6”, has a knack for making difficult catches, and is extremely dangerous on runs after the catch. Just ask Oklahoma. Brock Purdy has found him pretty consistently since taking over, and I expect that to continue this weekend.

#5 - I’ve read about your defense, and it sounds like you’ll deploy a 3-2-6 for quite a lot of the game and this is what stymies spread offenses. How does your personal match this configuration, and how do teams have success against this defense?

The base formation varies largely between a 3-2-6 and a 3-3-5 stack, but the personnel doesn’t change much when switching between the two. The main key for the defense is the use of “cloud” coverage. Essentially, it’s a coverage designed to use a cornerback as an extra safety and allow another corner to play press coverage and take away short routes and the screen game. This allows the defense to use linebackers to apply pressure on the quarterback from all different angles and keep the quarterback guessing. Jon Heacock has never been known to be very fond of blitzes, but the defense has racked up 7 sacks in each of the last two games, with the safeties and corners even getting in on the action in both weeks. As we’ve seen, this extra pressure not just from the linebackers, but from safeties and nickelbacks (Iowa State calls it the STAR positon) as well has created a whole new level of disruption on defense. Will Grier was constantly running for his life, and had a ton of difficulty finding open receivers even when he did have a chance to throw.

#6 - Are there any key injuries or suspensions for the Cyclones?

Last week’s bye week could not have come at a better time, as they’ve had a chance to get lots of people healthy. David Montgomery has been dealing with deep bruise in his shoulder (the one he throws that stiff arm with) for most of the season, and was probably playing at something like 80 or 90 percent against West Virginia after missing the Oklahoma State game entirely. Now, David is likely at or very close to 100% healthy, which makes him a lot of fun to watch.

World-beating nose guard Ray Lima will also likely be returning from a concussion, which is huge. He’s the most important player on the defense, and is probably the single biggest reason for the massive growth of the Cyclone defense over the last two seasons. Most of us were pretty worried when we found out he was out vs. West Virginia, but Jamahl Johnson stepped in without any dropoff in the play of the defensive line.

Kyle Kempt has also returned to depth chart, and will be backing up Brock Purdy, but it’s highly unlikely that he sees snaps on Saturday unless Brock were to get injured.

#7 - Score Prediction?

I know it’s tempting to pick a high-scoring game given the quality of both offenses, but I think this one will be a defensive showdown. Tech’s defense has improved significantly from last season, but still has some issues in pass coverage, which Iowa State will look to take advantage of with Hakeem Butler, Tarique Milton, Matt Eaton, Landen Akers, Deshaunte Jones, and Charlie Kolar (an actual real-life tight end catching passes for Iowa State!).

The strength-on-strength matchup of the Red Raider offense and Cyclone defense will be fascinating to watch. Tech’s offense has put up a ton of yards so far behind the play of Alan Bowman, and will probably continue that to an extent on Saturday. However, Tech hasn’t faced a defense as good as Iowa State’s (including TCU), and especially one that isn’t as adept at stopping offenses just like Tech’s. Fortunately for Iowa State, Tech runs a similar scheme to West Virginia with similar personnel, so they already have at least half of a blueprint to slowing down Tech’s prolific offense. In the end, I think Jon Heacock’s mature and versatile defense frustrates and pressures Bowman into a handful of sacks, and possibly a turnover or two, giving the ball to Iowa State to eat lots of clock with David Montgomery.

27-17 Cyclones.