TCU will take on the quest of winning on the road for the first time this season against one of the two teams that doesn't have a win in Big 12 play yet, the Iowa State Cyclones. Still, there's no reason to get overconfident about this one, as TCU's only conference win came against the other of the winless pair. Paul Rhoads doesn't seem like the kind of coach to let his team lose focus just because they've been eliminated from bowl eligibility, so we should expect Iowa State's best shot on offense and defense both. I've had a bit of a respiratory infection at the moment, so this week's preview will be a bit shorter than usual. Let's see how they've done their damage so far this year.
Series at a glance
First game 1995
Last game in Ames: TCU 31, ISU 21 in 1998
TCU leads the series 3-1
TCU is 1-0 in Ames, 1-1 in Fort Worth, 1-0 at neutral sites (Houston Bowl)
Last year's season of confusion was TCU's first ever loss against the Cyclones, made all the more frustrating coming in the first game without Casey Pachall. This year the Cyclones will get the full Casey Pachall experience... and not much else, as TCU's top two running backs are likely to play even less in this game than they do in a regular game this season with Waymon James facing a possible suspension and B.J. Catalon injured.
Iowa State on Offense
The Cyclones, like most all the Big 12, run a spread variant where the quarterback takes the vast majority of snaps out of the shotgun or pistol. Unlike most Big 12 teams Iowa State's spread is run based, and though in some games they they do balance out to a 50/50 ratio and even pass a bit more it's more of a symptom of games getting away from them than of any particular desire to throw (or indeed proficiency in throwing). In games where Iowa State didn't have to attempt to rally from a large late deficit, the Cyclones ran the ball early, often and well, going for 50 carries in their "loss" to Texas. Though the Cyclones love to run the ball a lot, they don't do it particularly well, failing to break the 4.0 ypc barrier in Big 12 play with the primary culprit being a lack of big plays on the ground- ISU has had one run of over 25 yards on the ground, and it came from quarterback Sam Richardson. Richardson was the (exceedingly late) victor of last year's Iowa State quarterback controversy, but has struggled with consistency and injuries this year as he's missed significant time in each of the Cyclones last three games. Richardson's best feature is likely his escapability, as the Cyclones o-line is nothing to write home about, but still Richardson manages to struggle forward for positive yardage each and every game- TCU's coverage will be enough to likely give Richardson headaches, but it will be important for linebackers and ends to keep contain so that he can't squirm out for easy first downs. Backing up Richardson in his injury absences is sophomore Grant Rohach who has done an acceptable but not great job filling in, completing about half his passes and throwing three picks in the three games he's played. Both of ISU's quarterbacks will be run a lot through the regular run of the Cyclone offense, but getting players in their face and forcing them to make poor decisions will be the key to the defense's success thins week- you can't expect any secondary, even TCU's, to play coverage forever. If TCU can stop the Cyclones on the ground early and take a lead, Iowa State will try to pass to keep up and the more things have swung toward the pass for the Cyclones the worse the eventual outcomes have been- take that for what you will.
Iowa State on Defense
Iowa State has run varied alignments this year, favoring a familiar 4-2-5 look against Texas before switching into more three man fronts against pass happy Texas Tech. Last year Iowa State ran a lot of 4-2-5 against the Frogs, but given the predilections of the coaching staff this year I'd be surprised if the Cyclones didn't go to the 3-4, play coverage and just let their big and talented d-line cause trouble against the extremely permeable TCU offensive line. The Cyclones are led up front by DT David Irving, a massive 6'7" DT who uses his height well with a very effective swim move that I'm sure Casey P is already having nightmares about, but the Cyclones don't really have much in the way of TCU's other kryptonite- a turnover producing secondary. So far this season Iowa State cornerbacks have collected just three interceptions, which combined with Casey's steady improvement should mean that there will be fewer chances for the momentum to swing drastically against the Frogs.
At this point in the season there's essentially no point in looking at how Iowa State does at defending the run, because even if they were dead last in the nation with a top ranked secondary TCU would still throw the ball 40 freaking times, so we'll leave it at this: I expect TCU to throw the ball a lot with varied success, though we probably won't throw more than one interception. I expect Iowa State to run the ball a lot with varied success and convert some frustrating third downs that make our defense have to stay on the field and flip field position. Finally, I expect Iowa State to win, because Anderson and Burns hate America.