Offensive Player to Watch: Landen Akers
Well, here we are, it’s November 25th and Iowa State is in first place of the Big 12 with a chance to clinch a spot in the Big 12 title game for the first time in school history. Texas also is playing for a chance in that title game, but a red-shirt wideout would like a word. Landen Akers has not necessarily played a huge role in the ISU offense this year, reeling in 14 catches for 216 yards, but he could be a great 3rd or 4th guy to get touches this week.
The Longhorns have the 3rd worst pass defense in the Big 12, only ahead of Texas Tech and Kansas State (also worth noting they give up a league-worst 283 passing yards per game). Charlie Kolar will be the usual suspect to be Brock Purdy’s favorite target with Xavier Hutchinson being a close second, but a team can only prepare for so much. With the linebacker play being Texas’ strength, the run game for ISU could easily not be as successful as it was against the Garbage Cans Wildcats of Kansas State.
Landen Akers is on the shorter end of the spectrum for ISU receivers at 6 foot even, but he is just a playmaker. Guy can flat out ball, even though he’s only got 14 catches on the year. He’s got great hands that could come in handy to be a reliable target for BP. Also, someone who started as a walk-on, how could you not love this guy’s story?
Akers has really come on late (aside from the K-State game) as not only a guy who could be a spark plug for the offense, but a great special teamer. He finds open spots in coverage as a receiver and has been killing it in the 3rd phase of the game, a blocked punt against Baylor being the most notable.
Landen Akers has not recorded a touchdown to this point in the season, but he does all the little things right to set the team up for success. As the last recruit of the Paul Rhoads era, Akers deserves a lot of credit for making it to where he is today and where he has put the Cyclones.
Defensive Player To Watch: Will McDonald
Will McDonald is well on his way to putting some serious pressure on JaQuan Bailey’s newly broken career sack record. The redshirt sophomore currently sits at 13.5 career sacks, 6.5 those are in 2020. McDonald came on strong to end the 2019 season and he really hasn’t slowed down since. That is going to have to continue on Saturday as Sam Ehlinger will be sitting behind a beefy Texas offensive line.
Texas throws a variety of plays at you on the offensive side of the ball and being a versatile defender certainly helps against that. We have seen Will McDonald primarily at the defensive end spot but he has also spent time in coverage at the linebacker position. This type of play will be critical in stopping this Texas offense and the utilization of McDonald’s speed off the edge only helps against a big time offensive line.
While the talk this week has been 2018 and the biggest game in Iowa State history and avoiding that same type of result again is going fall on the defensive line creating havoc and McDonald can certainly be apart of that. Texas has big play ability but they are also methodical in their approach and utilizing all their options on offense. Iowa State will have to be ready for anything.
I expect a big game from McDonald, he doesn’t have to get the sacks but he needs to help JaQuan Bailey and Enyi Uwazurike disrupt and slow down Texas when they posses the ball. Buckle up Iowa State fans, this is a big game.
WRNL Interrogates: Burnt Orange Nation
Matthias Schwartzkopf with Gerald Goodridge
1) Iowa State and Texas are basically going to duke it out for a spot in the Big 12 title game. Similar to 2018, Iowa State just happened to be there and just wasn’t quite ready for that step just yet. 2020 they are more mature and ready. What is the feeling about this Iowa State team for Texas fans?
I don’t think there are many (knowledgeable) fans who are overlooking this ISU squad — they shouldn’t be, at least. By now, we know what the Cyclones have in Brock Purdy, and Breece Hall is a star in the making. The defense has been a bit inconsistent, but it’s one that Texas fans should know can find success against a Longhorns offense that hasn’t looked the part this year. And, of course, momentum is a thing — I don’t think fans consider Iowa State as an elite team, but six wins in seven games speaks for itself.
2) This Texas defense sits middle of the road statistically but has been better as of late as Chris Ash makes his mark in Austin. Giving up right now around 400 yards of offense a game and close to 300 yards through the air. We just saw Brock Purdy play his best game of the year. What is going to be a key for this Texas defense?
Throughout their three-game winning streak, Texas has swarmed the line of scrimmage, totaling nine sacks and 25 tackles for loss, and they’re essentially forcing opponents to become one-dimensional by effectively eliminating the run game. Given what Breece Hall brings to the table, I expect Chris Ash to try to contain him and force Purdy to beat Texas through the air.
3) Flip to the offensive side of the ball. What is going to be the key offensively against this Iowa State defense?
First, the offensive line, which has played pretty poorly this season, needs to keep Sam Ehlinger upright and create running lanes for the backs. But given what’s at stake in this game, Texas almost certainly needs Ehlinger to have one of those games where he establishes an early rhythm and puts the offense on his back.
4) Give us one player that Iowa State fans don’t know yet, but will come at the end of the day on Friday.
For those who follow recruiting, they’re probably familiar with Bijan Robinson, the top-ranked running back prospect from the 2020 class. Robinson started the season behind Keaontay Ingram and Roschon Johnson, but injuries and inconsistencies have seen him become the key option out of the backfield. Now that he’s adjusting the the game speed at this level and learning more, he’s become a factor, averaging 6.1 yards per carry in his last three games.
5) Give us your prediction and why
More than anything else from either team, I have confidence in what the Texas defense is becoming in recent weeks under Chris Ash. The defense paved the way for each of Texas’ three straight wins, and the back-to-back bye weeks were ideal because so many key Longhorns, including Sam Ehlinger, were banged up. For a team that didn’t get to enjoy a normal offseason to learn two new systems with two new coordinators, I think the time to heal and extended practice time will show up on Saturday. Texas wins close, 31-27.
Opposing Player to Watch: Sam Ehlinger
Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger doesn’t need any extra motivation. The Longhorns are trying to make their way to the Big 12 Title game, and they have seemingly hit their stride, winning three straight games after back-to-back losses to TCU and Oklahoma. Yet Ehlinger has even more to play for - after four seasons of football for Texas, Friday marks his last-ever start in Austin.
Ehlinger has been steady all season, completing 58.8 percent of his pass attempts for 22 touchdowns and five interceptions. He has not thrown an interception in over a month, since the Longhorns’ win over Baylor on Oct. 24, and has rushed 90 times for 323 yards this season. One other thing to call attention to — BEWARE OF THE TRICK PLAY — Ehlinger has at least two receptions in every season he has played since 2017, but does not have any this year.
Ehlinger is as confident as they come, and maintains his composure in the pocket while allowing the play to develop, as seen in both of his touchdown passes vs. West Virginia. You can see them below at the :45 second and 3:35 marks below:
Though he’s not the typical scrambling quarterback, he can get it done on the ground when it needs to be done. Emotions will be running rampant, and the Cyclones will have their hands full while trying to win in Austin for the first time since 2010, and against Texas for just the fourth-ever time.
2020 Game IX: #15 Iowa State at #20 Texas Football Preview
We have witnessed very few impactful games in Iowa State history, but the one upcoming might be the biggest one yet.
Cyclone football history is about as heralded as a stick of gum. It tastes good at first, but after a while, loses its flavor, and before too long - is gone.
To put it in perspective, the 2020 Iowa State football team has equaled its most conference wins in school history, and has the opportunity of a lifetime (or any of our great-grandfather’s lifetime) – a conference championship.
In year’s past, Iowa State would be laughed out of the stadium against bigger and badder Texas, but Matt Campbell’s 2020 crew is just as good, if not better than the Longhorns.
It is eerily similar to 2018, where Iowa State had the same opportunity, and lost 10-24. This program is taking a step in the right direction, as Campbell said it best in his weekly press conference:
“We were babies, (and) were just evolving. (Now) There’s a really good rhythm to the entirety of our program, and expectation and standard I think we want to live by. I feel we’re a lot closer to that type of program today than maybe we were even the last two years.”
I hope you all have Friday off work – strap your seat belts on – this one is gonna be a dandy!
When we last left off….
I’m not going to get into much detail on the Kansas State game. It was an absolute thrashing by the Clones in all phases, and was truly a joy to watch. Granted, COVID-19 played a factor into K-State’s prep and practice, but the fact that ISU has kept themselves clean of this pandemic is a victory in itself.
I absolutely loved the article put out by Pete Thamel on Yahoo Sports last week, and if you haven’t read it already – you should.
Now on to Texas. There have been three programs who have had Matt Campbell’s number since he arrived in Ames. First is the “Team Out East,” second is the Bill Snyder/Chris Klieman-led Kansas State, and third is Texas.
What do these three teams have in common? They all play physical, run-the-ball-down-your-throat and turnover-free football. In years past, Iowa State tried to game-plan or scheme their way out of mismatches, and well, it didn’t work. Granted, Campbell has won a few games against this three-headed monster, but entering 2020 he is 2-10 in the record book.
It will be a tremendous matchup on Friday, and one that on paper is as close as they come.
The Longhorns have had a tumultuous 2020 season. First, they started off by scoring 122 points in their first two victories, and followed that up with two straight losses. Now, they have circled the wagons and won three straight.
Those early high-scoring affairs were the direct effect of newly hired offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich (formerly Oklahoma State OC). Then, when they played real competition (OU and TCU), the high-tempo and pass-happy attack faltered, and so did the Longhorn alumni and boosters thoughts on if Tom Herman was the right man for the job.
After a much-needed bye week, the team turned to a more balanced approach, where running the ball allowed the defense to breathe, and so far it has worked. The Longhorns have averaged 41 rushes for 152 yards in their last three wins versus Baylor, Oklahoma State and West Virginia. Their time of possession has improved from 24 minutes (in losses) to 29 (in the 3-game win streak).
Texas has been decimated by injuries, namely their playmakers on offense (running back, tight end, and multiple wide receivers), but after TWO bye weeks, expect a number of those student-athletes back on the field.
Albeit picked third in the preseason polls, many media pundits had Texas as their dark-horse candidate to compete for a Big 12 title, especially since quarterback (and fourth-year starter) Sam Ehlinger returned. To say Tom Herman is on the hot seat is an understatement, as we have heard reports (even recently as last week), that many boosters are ready to open up their pocket books and offer Urban Meyer the job..
Texas leads the all-time series 14-3, but Iowa State and Connor Assalley kicked their way to victory in Ames in 2019.
Iowa State Offense
Brock Purdy will have his work cut out for him on Friday, especially against the talented pass-rush from Texas’s edge. This Iowa State offensive line has been outstanding at run-blocking, but their pass-protection has holes. Look for multiple tight-end sets, as Dylan Soehner and Chase Allen have been top-notch, and for Iowa State to establish the running game early.
I expect a very similar outing like the one we saw at Oklahoma State, as Texas will stuff the box, and force Cyclone receivers to create separation. That scares me more than another shutdown due to COVID. That means Breece Hall will be hard-pressed for running lanes, but if he does break through – he will have some big gainers.
First Key to Victory – Receivers Get Separation One-on-One
Texas loves to play aggressive on the outside, and has the talent to man-up one-one-one against Iowa State receivers. I thought last year La’Michael Pettway was the player of the game against Texas – as he played physical and made huge third-down catches. That means the likes of Xavier Hutchinson, Sean Shaw and Charlie Kolar need to run precise routes and hold on to that ball for impact.
Brock has added the run game to his repertoire recently, and it has made this offense multi-dimensional. He will be forced to tuck it and run on multiple occasions, but if he does get in the open field, he needs to make sure to slide (ask baseball dad for help), and not fumble.
Again, a very important week of prep for our offensive line, as they need to make sure they communicate on blitz pick-ups. I expect another 100+ yard effort out of Breece “The Beast” Hall, as he will be on national television displaying his greatness for all to see. He is going to have to put his hard hat on for yards though.
Believe it or not, Texas fired both coordinators in the offseason, and brought in former Rutgers coach Chris Ash to coach defense. He not only coached two different times at ISU, but also with Tom Herman at Ohio State. This unit used to be your hair-on-fire blitz-everything defense, but have recently turned to a bend-but-don’t-break mentality.
They run a 4-2-5 scheme, and have been right in the middle of the pack of the Big 12. They are led up front by Preseason All-Big 12 (and most likely 2020 All-American) outside-linebacker Joseph Ossai. The junior leads the conference in tackles-for-loss, and had a stat-line for the ages against OSU – 12 tackles, SIX tackles-for-loss, 3 sacks, and a forced fumble. Coaches will need to know where is on the field at all times on Friday.
The rest of the defensive front has been formidable at stopping the run, most recently shutting down Chuba Hubbard and West Virginia’s Leddie Brown to 2.9 and 3.1 yard-per-carry, respectively. Another linebacker to keep your eye on is #0 – Demarvion Overshown. The junior is third on the team in stops, and has an impressive six pass-breakups.
Speaking of the secondary, they started off the year on the struggle bus, getting beat deep, and forced into way too many pass interference penalties. An aggressive unit, they are led by senior and three-year starter Chris Brown, who is rated as a top-3 safety in all of College Football by PFF. The Longhorns have righted the ship as of late, and improved tremendously since giving up 56 points to Texas Tech in week two.
They are still second-to-last in the Big 12 in passing defense (283 yards per game), yet 5th in pass defense efficiency. What that means is they bend, but don’t break. Texas allows an impressive 6.7 yards per pass attempt, and have not been beat over the top in their last few games.
They carry a three-man rotation at cornerback, and are probably the weakest at this position. The other safety next to Brown is an impactful playmaker in Caden Sterns. The junior earned Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the year honors in 2018, and plays centerfield with a ball-hawk mentality.
The Verdict – EVEN
This matchup is one of the biggest battles of the day, as Iowa State’s offensive line needs to contain the pressure, and create holes for Hall. Brock can ill afford to make mistakes, as Texas has forced 12 turnovers this year. I am mainly focused on Xavier Hutchinson’s ability to get open, and a second receiver to please step up.
Iowa State Defense
A tough matchup for Jon Heacock and this Cyclone defense. They have had the luxury playing against inexperienced quarterbacks in 2020, but this matchup is anything but. Four-year starter Sam Ehlinger is tough to bring down, and will be a forced to reckon with in the running game.
Second Key to Victory – Slow Down Ehlinger in the Run Game
I have been impressed by the Cyclone rush defense, as they are ranked 15th in the country, and it all starts with gap-control up front. Look for Enyi Uwazurike and Jaquan Bailey to play more of a “contain” role, jamming up the line of scrimmage, and eating up blockers for the linebackers to roam. That is also important on third downs, as Ehlinger can escape at a moment’s notice.
I expect Will McDonald to see the field more, as he adds another dimension with his speed on the outside, and can keep up with Texas playmakers in space. Look for O’Rien Vance to play SPY, all day, every day, as he will be the man for the job against Ehlinger.
I’m not sure how the scheme will start with the safeties up in the box, or if Heacock will blitz. My guess is, with the potent offensive line that Texas carries (and a 4-yr starting quarterback), that the mad scientist will play a lot of his blanket 3-man safety look, making Ehlinger dink and dunk for yards.
Greg Eisworth has been healthy in 2020, and he is the engine that makes this train roll. He and Isheem Young will have their hands full in the secondary, and will need to play mistake-free in run support.
Third Key to Victory – Force Turnovers
I expect a lower scoring affair, so turnovers are worth double in this one. Iowa State was fortunate to be in the right places last week with three take-aways, and if they want to win on Friday – they HAVE to win in the Turnover column.
It’s been a bit of a rocky road for Sam Ehlinger and the Texas offense this year. They started the year slinging it all over the field, as #11 threw for TEN touchdowns in the first two weeks. Since then, it has been a different story, as accuracy has dropped off, receivers have not stepped up, and Ehlinger is not playing at 100%.
I give credit to Herman and his staff for recognizing the need to slow the tempo and run the ball. It has worked wonders, not only for the offense, but also the defense. Keontay Ingram started the year at running back, but has been sidelined the last three weeks with an ankle issue. He is doubtful, but in his place is a special talent in true freshman Bijan Robinson. The #1 ranked all-purpose back coming out of high school, Robinson had his coming-out party against West Virginia, carrying the ball 12 times for 113 yards. He will most likely split carries with Roschon Johnson, who believe it or not was recruited to play quarterback. Both have solid frames, with good downhill speed and enough wiggle to break it.
Ehlinger has all the career statistics you could ask for (90 career pass TDs and 32 rush TDs), but the fact he is digressing in his senior year is a big question mark. Look for the Longhorns to run their patented lead-run draw for Ehlinger in the red zone, as he has scored more times than Ron Jeremy on that play. With 20 days off between games, he will be that much closer to healthy, and hopefully will have some receivers back to help his 55% completion rate in the last 3 games.
His top option is deep-threat Joshua Moore, who leads the team in catches, yards and 7 touchdowns. He averages 15.6 yards-per-reception, and a touchdown for every 3.4 catches. The Longhorns are really lacking a go-to option, but seven different players have caught at least one ball in 5 of 7 games. Slot-man Jake Smith is Mr. Reliable, and Brennan Eagles is another weapon downfield, but look for Jordan Whittington to make his first appearance since the OU game, where he caught 10 balls.
Adding to the injury report, both the tight ends are coming off ailments, but look for Jared Wiley to suit up. Typical starter Cade Brewer has 19 starts to his name, but has been bothered by a chest contusion.
The offensive line returns three starters, and are led by Pre-Season All-American and consensus All-Big 12 left tackle Samuel Cosmi. Two other starters are seniors, and another has 19 starts to his name. All in all, a very balanced attack, but it all comes down to the efficiency and running legs of Ehlinger.
The Verdict – EVEN
If this game were in Ames or on a neutral site, I give the edge to the Clones, but being it is in Texas, it makes it that much more challenging. They key is bottling up Ehlinger in the run game, as we all have nightmares watching slippery quarterbacks sneak their way downfield for third-down scrambles.
Texas already has a blocked punt returned for six, and another long kickoff-return brought all the way back to the house. They are dangerous, as they only trail Iowa State returning kicks in the Big 12.
And what say you about Texas’s kickoff defense? They have none, as weapon Cameron Dicker has only allowed 76 return yards all year. Look for a lot of touchbacks in this one.
Adding to Dicker “the Kicker” lore, he will be adding punts to his repertoire. The outstanding junior has already made many clutch kicks in his career, and is 8 of 10 on field goals in 2020. With the Longhorns usual punter out due to injury, Dicker will make his first punt ever in college football on Friday.
This game might come down to another Connor Assalley field goal, and I’m confident in our senior to come through yet again.
Verdict – Texas
Yeah, let’s just keep that pooch kick going.
Winning Scale from 1 to 10
Oh boy. This one is for a berth in the Big 12 Championship game, as Iowa State has yet to break through as a Nationally recognized program, and has an ample opportunity to show the world that they are either Contenders or Pretenders.
Campbell has preached “killer mentality,” and instilled a tremendous amount of mental toughness in this experienced roster. On the other sideline, Tom Herman has been doubted by fans more than a college freshman trying to pick up chicks at the bar. I give Campbell and the continuity of his staff the slight edge in this department, as any advantage is well-deserved in this extremely tight matchup.
For this week, on a scale from 1 to 10, I’m going to the City that Never Sleeps – Vegas, (well maybe not now, but once COVID is over. haha). They say you have to win more than 55% of your bets to beat the house, and to be honest gambling on college football has its ups and downs.
I’m pitting Iowa State up against the Sharps, and with most sharps winning their majority of bets, I think Iowa State has less than a 50/50 shot at winning this one.
Throw the stats out the window. Get rid of all the headlines, and talent on both rosters. This game will come down to one or two plays, and is as close as they come.
I think we will see it all out there on the field, as Iowa State will play their brand of football, make pivotal stops on defense, and Breece Hall and company will move the ball down the field.
But, while my heart lies with the Cyclones, my head realizes that Texas is just a little too much to grab this program-defining victory.
Iowa State 24
Letter from the Editor
It hardly feels real that Iowa State is legitimately in a win-and-in scenario this week against Texas. A real shot at a conference champhionship. Not like 2005 and 2006 when they had a chance to win the North and head to Dallas to get slaughtered by Texas or Oklahoma. A real shot at winning the damn thing.
That’s what makes this the most important game in school history. Never before has there been a better opportunity to legitimize Iowa State football on the national stage and set a new high water mark for future seasons to strive to meet and exceed.
But how appropriate is it that Texas is the opponent in the way of realizing that dream? The fallen conference power that bullied Iowa State for decades now stands as the final remaining roadblock before a trip to Arlington to claim the crown. Matt Campbell has beaten every single Big 12 team already in his young career, so it’s not foreign territory, but Texas has had Campbell’s number partly due to the fact that they teams are so similar.
Iowa State is built to stop offenses like Oklahoma, but, strangely enough, doesn’t actually match up all that well against itself. Which is essentially the challenge the Longhorns present.
2018 was ugly, and 2019 was a tight affair, but something major changed along the way.
Iowa State’s offensive line.
The big uglies up front have unexpectedly been one of the better units on the entire team this season, paving the way for Breece’s breakout season. And those behemoths could make all the difference this time around. If Iowa State can continue to control the line of scrimmage as they have for many of their games so far this season It’ll be in position to leave Austin with a win.
Brock Purdy will need to be Good Brock for that to happen, but if the confident, composed, and accurate quarterback we saw last Saturday shows up again this week, Cyclone fans should have a good weekend.
Iowa State - 31
Texas - 24