- One specific way ISU stays in this game and/or pulls it out: turnovers. Missouri has been more careless with the ball than usual over the last two games, and Gene Chizik's defense has actually been pretty strong at forcing turnovers. ISU has an all-or-nothing defense--they either make a big play or give up a big play (more of the latter than the former)--but that can still make your life uneasy in bad weather. In 2006, Missouri was a few plays away from breaking the game wide open in the first quarter until Tony Temple fumbled. That gave ISU's offense a breather until they could get that damn fullback Ryan Kock rolling, and we know what happened after that. Turnovers = the only way ISU can win this game.
- Austen Arnaud actually does a pretty decent job of both getting rid of the ball quickly (low sack rate, even on Passing Downs) and not panicking and throwing bad INTs (only 6 picks in 302 passes). They trust him in this regard, as they actually throw quite a bit in Passing Down situations--they don't take the easy way out (a la Colorado) and run 40% of the time in Passing Downs. He's a mature presence in the pocket...he's just not all that good a presence in the pocket. He's not all that accurate, and his receivers aren't big-play threats (plus, even though he's decent in Passing Downs, the ISU offense still faces far too many Passing Downs), but ISU's offense won't beat itself. It's capable of dinking and dunking all the way down the field if you don't make a play.
- Alexander Robinson has played well as of late, and considering how well he played last time he faced Mizzou, I'd actually expect a decent day out of him. He's much quicker than 19th-year senior Jason Scales, and he's ISU's biggest big-play threat.
- In the turnover figures and the decent Passing Downs success rate, you can see hints of the aggressive defense Gene Chizik wants to play. But the personnel is simply not there. Junior Jesse Smith is a solid MLB (the least important position on the field for facing Missouri), DEs Christopher Lyle and Kurtis Taylor are solid pass rushers (they've combined for a respectable 9 sacks), WLB Fred Garrin is a nice playmaker (5 TFL, 2 INT, 2 FF, 1 FR, 2 pass breakups), and Leonard Johnson (2 INT, 2 FF, 2 FR, 1 TFL, 3 pass breakups, 40 tackles) is a potentially great freshman CB. But none of these guys are rock-solid on every play--just occasionally--and that still leaves six positions on defense that aren't all that hot.
- On Non-Passing Downs, basically every team Iowa State plays turns into the Missouri offense. A 53% success rate and 0.986 S&P are simply waaaaay too high. If he gets the carries (and if the weather's bad, he might), Derrick Washington could have a huge day.
- Did I mention how huge turnovers are? Just checking.
On to the situational stats...
- Iowa State's defense is extra horrible in Q2 and Q4. That suggests that the game-planning and adjustments are there...but the talent and speed are not. Opponents are able to wear ISU down and make plays eventually.
- ISU's offensive success rates are best on first down. If Mizzou allows Alexander Robinson to get some yards on first down, ISU could milk the clock and actually turn into a reasonably efficient offense. They still don't have any big playmakers, but Baylor was able to move the ball without too many big plays. The difference, of course, is that Mizzou was playing an umbrella defense to contain Hot Tub Griffin III. They'll likely be much more aggressive with a less mobile Arnaud in the backfield.
- I reference this every week, I think, but the quarter-to-quarter and down-to-down consistency of the Missouri offense is impressive.
- ISU probably won't move the ball in Q2. It's their worst offensive quarter, and it's the Mizzou defense's best quarter.
Key Players: Iowa State
RB Alexander Robinson
Two years ago, with a wind chill of 31 degrees, Iowa State played keep-away and punished Mizzou with a steady diet of the beefy Ryan Kock (32 carries, 179 yards). That, combined with the fact that about 18 Mizzou WRs/TEs got hurt that day and Chase Daniel was trying to lead a comeback throwing only to a sophomore Tommy Saunders and freshmen Danario Alexander and Jared Perry, all but sealed Missouri's fate*. At 5'10, 182 pounds, Robinson is quite clearly not built like Kock, but he had a great game against Missouri last year (21 carries, 149 yards--his success kept the game close and kept Pig Brown on the field late in Q4...when he injured his Achilles), and he's all-in-all a pretty solid sophomore running back. His 0.708 S&P isn't amazing, but a) it's improved in recent games, and b) it's infinitely better than Jason Scales' 0.654 or JJ Bass' 0.556. Scales is a more efficient back (40% success rate to Robinson's 38%), but barely. If ISU is going to successfully play keep-away again, it's on Robinson's shoulders.
* I will not mention the phantom hold. I will not mention the phantom hold. I will not mention the phantom hold.
WR RJ Sumrall
If Robinson isn't ISU's best chance at a big play, it's Sumrall, who like Scales, seems to have been at Iowa State for decades. His 0.912 PPP is by far the most explosive on the team (Sedrick Johnson's 0.763 is the only other one over 0.7...which is pretty bad). He's certainly experienced, and it's Senior Day, so it's quite possible Sumrall makes a big play or two in the passing game. If he doesn't, I can't see who will. Then again, he'll likely be getting the Carl Gettis Treatment, so maybe I should go with Johnson instead?
LB Fred Garrin
He and Leonard Johnson are as close to being a turnover machine as Gene Chizik has. If Mizzou has a costly turnover, chances are one of these two guys will be involved in it.
P Mike Brandtner
In a cold weather game, ISU has one other pathway to success: success in the field position battle. With wind a factor, he could (assuming he punts a lot--and he better) potentially pin Mizzou pretty deep in 2 of 4 quarters. What that will mean, among other things, is more opportunities for ISU's defense to hit Mizzou's skill position players and wear them out. You won't want to hit the ground too hard on Saturday--it's cold and hard--and if Mizzou starts their drives with long fields, they might score, but they might not have their legs about them as much later in the game.
Key Players: Missouri
QB Chase Daniel
It's easy, really. Chase rediscovers his mojo, Mizzou wins going away. He makes another few stupid throws, and ISU can make him pay, just like Baylor and Oklahoma State did (and just like KSU could have, had they had any sort of offensive success).
RB Derrick Washington
November's when Tony Temple started to turn it on during his career--a frigid, windy Jack Trice Stadium just screams "20-25 carries for Washington". If he goes "20 carries for 126 yards and 2-3 TDs," Mizzou wins easy. If it's more like "15 carries, 58 yards," then Chase will have to make a lot more windy throws.
FS William Moore
He's shown flashes of "Willy Mo '07" here and there, but the dude has cost himself some money with his play this year. He's only been solid, not amazing. But he's got 3-4 more games to remind Mizzou fans of what they thought they had in him for '08. He's still one of my favorite Mizzou players ever, but he's certainly had a disappointing season.
P Jake Harry
As always...the less we see of him, the bigger the winning margin. Love ya, Jake, but here's to hoping for another "1 punt, 41 yards" line from you.
Summary and Prediction
Monday's BTBS projections said Mizzou would take this one 39-23. Last week I combined the BTBS projections with the turnover averages and nailed the margin of victory...right up until Ron Prince pulled a Ron Prince and KSU got two junk TDs in the last two minutes. So we'll go with that. Taking what looks like about a 1-2 point ISU turnover advantage into account, we'll make that a nice and tidy 38-24 Mizzou win. With the wind and general misery of a Jack Trice Stadium encounter, this game could be closer than we'd like to think. I expect a closer game than a lot people, but I refuse to believe that Chase Daniel won't find a way to win this game, and probably comfortably. Mizzou clinches the North on Saturday.