With basketball and the Mark Mangino Soap Opera for Dudes, it's been easy to become distracted from the fact that Mizzou has another home football game to play! I'm figuring Mizzou hasn't forgotten...at least I hope they haven't, as ISU's good enough to pop you in the chin if you let your guard down. Just ask Nebraska.
With his postgame celebration after Iowa State's win over Nebraska, I think it's safe to say that Paul Rhoads became most Big 12 North fans' second-favorite coach (or in the case of Colorado fans, maybe even their favorite). He is a passionate guy who, as we talked about this summer, seems to consider Iowa State a destination job, and in Year One of the Rhoads tenure, Iowa State is 6-5 and staring a bowl bid in the face. While their rankings below (and the fact that they've only beaten one team with a winning record, and it took eight turnovers to do so) suggest a relatively easy win for Missouri, it is certainly worth noting that they beat both Baylor and Nebraska this year, something Mizzou was unable to do. If Missouri plays well, as well as they did against Kansas State last week, they will win this game. But if they don't, Iowa State has proven quite capable of taking advantage of the opportunities given them and sneaking out with a seventh win.
If fans have seen any one game Iowa State has played this year, it was probably the Nebraska game, which would give you the impression of a team light on offense but heavy on defensive playmakers. For the season, that really has not been the case. Statistically, they are much more successful on offense than defense; the key for the Cyclones, in both wins and losses, has been turnovers.
Iowa State's 6 wins: 22 takeaways (3.7 per game), 9 turnovers (1.5 per game), +13 turnover margin
Iowa State's 5 losses: 7 takeaways (1.4 per game), 13 turnovers (2.6 per game), -6 turnover margin
If stripping the ball is a skill, Paul Rhoads has taught it well. ISU has forced 29 fumbles this year (2.6 per game), almost three per game, and it has served them well against careless teams. Missouri has done well in only fumbling 14 times on the season (1.4 per game), but caution will be infinitely better than stretching for the extra yard on Saturday. Even taking the Nebraska game (and its +8 margin) out of the equation, ISU has still been good at taking the ball away, and it has still mattered a ridiculous amount toward whether they win or lose.
Anyway, to the offense. The numbers are, for the most part, pretty decent, though the after-the-jump conference figures tell you an interesting story.
|Iowa State Offense vs Missouri Defense|
|Category||ISU Offense||MU Defense|
|Close S&P+ (Rk)||107.3 (51)||105.1 (47)|
|Close Success Rate+ (Rk)||109.6 (31)||100.5 (60)|
|Close PPP+ (Rk)||105.9 (64)||111.8 (43)|
|Rushing S&P+||106.5 (52)||113.5 (38)|
||109.4 (49)||97.2 (63)|
|Standard Downs S&P+||106.5 (51)||115.4 (24)|
|Passing Downs S&P+
||103.9 (59)||96.7 (69)|
|Red Zone S&P+||115.8 (39)||117.4 (31)|
|Q1 S&P+||96.3 (84)||92.2 (80)|
|Q2 S&P+||101.1 (65)||132.1 (13)|
|Q3 S&P+||130.2 (16)||105.5 (51)|
|Q4 S&P+||104.7 (63)||114.3 (33)|
|1st Down S&P+||110.8 (39)||109.6 (44)|
|2nd Down S&P+||100.7 (72)||105.4 (52)|
|3rd Down S&P+||103.2 (70)||110.2 (43)|
|Line Yards+||113.9 (23)||102.3 (52)|
|Close Sack Rate+
||232.2 (6)||82.1 (88)|
|Standard Downs /
Passing Downs Sack Rate+
|125.8 (44) /
|114.8 (44) /
I listed 19 categories above, and in half of them, ISU ranks between 30th and 60th. That's pretty much the definition of "decent." They are outstanding on the offensive line -- by far the strongest in the North division according to these statistics -- but their skill position players are, well, somewhat lacking in skill. They are, however, extremely efficient, which is a nice quality to have against a Missouri defense that sacrifices efficiency for limited big plays. I will be interested to see how much Missouri adjusts its defensive gameplan to account for short passes, though I personally doubt they will tinker much. I'm pretty sure they will be perfectly content with doing what they did against K-State: allowing all the yardage they want between the 30s, then cracking down in the red zone.
These numbers, however, do not tell the entire story. For that, we need to go to their "Non-Conference vs Conference Play" numbers after the jump.
ISU Offense "+" Game Scores: Non-Con vs Conference Play
|Standard Downs S&P+||112.2||84.9|
|Passing Downs S&P+||95.5||97.2|
|Red Zone S&P+||105.4||95.0|
Note: you'll see that some of the conference/non-conference averages do not really match up with the season averages above. This is because I was looking at per-game data for the conference breakout, and one really good or really bad game can skew those numbers pretty considerably. For the full-season data, I look at every play (a sample size of, well a lot of plays) instead of "+" scores from a sample size of ten games. If this disclaimer didn't make any sense, don't worry about it. It's not that important, and I'm not really feeling like an A+ wordsmith at the moment.
Here is a game-by-game look at Iowa State's scoring progression this year: 34, 3, 34, 31, 23, 36, 24, 9, 10, 8, 17. After averaging 26.4 points over their first six games, the Cyclones have managed just 11.0 points in their last four. Thanks in part to turnovers and improving defense, they have gone 2-2 in that span, but this does start to take the look of a "Score 24 points and you'll probably win" game. We know that Baylor wasn't exactly lighting the world on fire before they came to Faurot Field two weeks ago, but the matchups in this game are not the same. Baylor doesn't have a lot of skill at wide receiver, but they have pure speed, and they burned Missouri with it. Iowa State quite frankly just doesn't have that speed. Their offense resembles K-State's without Brandon Banks--solid, strong running back, good tight end play (not that KSU showed any of that against Mizzou), and a big bunch of possession receivers.
The passing game has remained rather consistent throughout the season, but consistency isn't a great trait when you're just consistently being slightly below average. The running game, meanwhile, has regressed considerably, from rock solid in September to distinctly average in October and November. Consequently, they have remained about the same on passing downs, but they have fallen off on standard downs, which has resulted in a lot more passing downs.
|When ISU Has the Ball...
|ISU Rushing||Advantage: Mizzou|
|ISU Passing||Advantage: Push
|Best Time for ISU:||Q3|
|Best Time for Missouri:||later in halves|
Points Per Play+ (explosiveness)
Red Zone (slightly)
2nd, 3rd Down
And for ISU...
Success Rate+ (efficiency)
Line Yards, Sack Rates
It doesn't speak kindly of Alexander Robinson that Iowa State's run blocking numbers are so good, yet their actual rushing numbers are so average. In all, you can kind of see where both teams might succeed. Iowa State will succeed by playing well in the trenches and pulling off as many short, quick passes as they can manage. Missouri will succeed by using their superior linebackers to limit the running game, by tackling well, and by making stops on standard downs to force passing downs.
In glimpses, Austen Arnaud has size, a strong arm, and at least decent running ability. He completed 61.6% of his passes in 2008 for a solid 2,792 yards, 15 TDs and 10 INTs. He also mixed in 401 rushing yards and 5 TDs. In normal times, those would be considered numbers worthy of all-conference consideration. But in the Big 12, these aren't normal times. Arnaud's numbers put him at just 9th in the conference yardage, 11th in passer efficiency. And once again, when you factor in what was expected given the defenses Arnaud was facing, a decent quarterback probably would have produced more.
Austen Arnaud: 131-for-237 passing, 1,550 yards, 12 TDs, 9 INT (119.3 efficiency); 479 rushing yards, 7 TD
Jerome Tiller: 41-for-73 passing, 376 yards, 1 TD, 4 INT (93.0 efficiency); 216 rushing yards, 2 TD
For the second straight season, Austen Arnaud has put together numbers that are ... perfectly average. ISU has been decent in the passing game (with little help from the receiving corps), and Arnaud has become more of a threat with his legs this year, and he is by all means a solid quarterback. He will never threaten for all-conference honors, and honestly he seems like he should be scarier than he is -- strong arm, good legs, etc. --but he is competent. I mean this entire paragraph as neither a bad thing nor a particularly bad thing.
Though the unit ranked just 90th in the country last year, I'm thinking the running backs have the biggest ceiling of any offensive unit Iowa State has. In his first year as a primary ball-carrier, Alexander Robinson fared...alright. His 703 yards, 6 TDs and 4.6 yards per carry were certainly respectable, and Missouri fans know he's capable of pretty solid play after his 2007 performance against them, but again...in a conference full of explosive weapons, Robinson gets lost in the shuffle. Using the POE measure discussed here, Robinson ranked 187th in the country (of about 270 eligible) with a POE of -4.4. Taking into account his relatively weak offensive line, he moved to 126th in Adjusted POE with a -0.4, meaning when blocking was taken into account, he was almost a precisely average running back last year. Average running backs are capable of a big game or two each year, but that's about it.
Alexander Robinson: 196 carries, 1,002 yards (5.1 per carry), 6 TD; 10 receptions, 200 yards (20.0 per catch), 3 TD
Jeremiah Schwartz: 71 carries, 264 yards (3.7 per carry)
Again, Robinson's numbers look strong, and he was huge against Missouri at Faurot Field two years ago, but once you factor line play into the equation, he starts to look very average, very quickly. He is a workhorse, however, and there is value in that. In the last five games that he has played (he missed the Nebraska game with a groin injury), he has averaged 22.4 carries per game, and like KSU's Daniel Thomas, ISU will absolutely lean on him as much as they can. It's just that, in those five games, he's only averaged over 5.0 yards per carry once. The injury has clearly affected his explosiveness.
In the nine games he's played (he only got 4 carries against KSU, so we're not counting that one here), here are his yards per carry:
5.2, 5.3, 6.2, 5.9, 5.6, 4.4, 3.8, 3.2, 4.6
Even last week against Colorado, when he went for 138 yards (plus 20 yards receiving), he still averaged less than five yards. The trick with Robinson is, the longer ISU stays in the game, the more they can pound away at you with him. But if you get a lead, then they don't know where to go with the ball. He still averaged 18 carries a game in blowout losses against OSU and ATM, but it didn't help much, as ISU scored only 18 points combined.
Wide Receivers / Tight Ends
As nice as it might be having a couple of good running backs, Iowa State desperately needs some rejuvenation in the receiving corps. No returning wide receiver averaged more than 12 yards per catch, though there's at least some hope in the fact that two of ISU's leaders last year were true freshmen, former 4-star recruit Sedrick Johnson and 3-star Darius Darks. Neither did a whole lot--Johnson caught just 18 passes for 188 yards (albeit with three TDs) and Darks caught a ton of passes (49) for not a ton of yards (9.7 per catch, very Thomson Omboga-esque)--but they were young and there's obviously plenty of playing time available in Ames. If they can continue to develop, this unit could be pretty decent, especially if another newcomer or two turns out well.
WR Marquis Hamilton (Sr.): 41 receptions, 542 yards (13.2 per catch), 4 TD
WR Jake Williams (Jr.): 26 receptions, 297 yards (11.4 per catch), 3 TD
WR Josh Lenz (Fr.): 20 receptions, 186 yards (9.3 per catch)
WR Darius Darks (So.): 17 receptions, 158 yards (9.3 per catch), 1 TD
WR Darius Reynolds (Jr.): 13 receptions, 72 yards (5.5 per catch!)
TE Derrick Catlett (Sr.): 25 receptions, 277 yards (11.1 per catch), 2 TD
TE Collin Franklin (Jr.): 14 receptions, 149 yards (10.6 per catch)
If a wide receiver is making a big play, it is almost certainly coming from Marquis Hamilton, who seems to be in his 19th year in Ames. Otherwise, this is as nondescript a WR corps as you will find. The good news for ISU is, they have a pair of rock solid tight ends, and they will use them a lot if given the opportunity. Of ISU's 12 complete passes last week, five went to the tight ends. Derrick Catlett very much impressed me in last year's Mizzou-ISU game, and Mizzou very much needs to account for him. Still, though, having good tight ends only helps with efficiency, not so much explosiveness. If Mizzou tackles well and plays smart, this unit simply will not have much of a day.
Their 61 returning career starts is fourth-most in conference. Another thing they have going for them: size. The average weight of their projected starters: 329 pounds. These guys have a lot of nice, corn-fed Iowa names like Lamaak, Klerekoper, Baysinger, Tuftee, and...uhh, Osmele. They should be able to do at least reasonably well against lighter defensive lines.
Really, their size is a potential wildcard. If 220-pound Bo Williams turns out to be a solid running back, they could have a nice, big rushing attack to wear defenses out a little bit.
Consider this the best test of the month for Mizzou's improving, and almost awesome, defensive line. As mentioned in the above excerpt, this is a big, strong offensive line, and they have the potential to wear you down if you are allowing too many first downs. They are good in pass protection, but their strength is in the running game. With an elite back, the run blocking really could have made the difference between six wins and a North title. This is Iowa State's single strongest unit.
|ISU Defense vs Missouri Offense|
|Category||ISU Defense||MU Offense|
|Close S&P+ (Rk)||86.5 (100)||116.2 (28)|
|Close Success Rate+||83.1 (117)||106.7 (41)|
|Close PPP+||91.9 (73)||133.1 (22)|
|Rushing S&P+||97.5 (74)||102.5 (67)|
||78.2 (111)||126.7 (17)|
|Standard Downs S&P+||90.7 (95)||113.3 (37)|
|Passing Downs S&P+
||91.5 (87)||115.4 (43)|
|Red Zone S&P+||98.9 (69)||79.3 (108)|
|Q1 S&P+||79.2 (106)||120.9 (38)|
|Q2 S&P+||94.8 (75)||114.9 (43)|
|Q3 S&P+||90.6 (84)||118.1 (32)|
|Q4 S&P+||92.9 (79)||107.0 (56)|
|1st Down S&P+||97.2 (70)||114.1 (34)|
|2nd Down S&P+||82.3 (107)||112.0 (48)|
|3rd Down S&P+||87.4 (95)||118.5 (35)|
|Line Yards+||89.6 (100)||99.1 (71)|
|Close Sack Rate+
||44.9 (119)||140.4 (29)|
|Standard Downs /
Passing Downs Sack Rate+
|51.7 (114) /
|228.7 (11) /
When they are not forcing turnovers, they are not getting the job done.
|ISU Defense "+" Game Scores: Non-Con vs Conference Play|
|Standard Downs S&P+||96.7||98.6|
|Passing Downs S&P+||107.1||119.1|
|Red Zone S&P+||115.1||129.5|
So as the season has progressed, Iowa State has gotten better defending the pass and worse defending the rush. Against Missouri, that might not necessarily be a bad thing for them. You have to account for Mizzou's pass before you worry about the run.
|When Missouri Has the Ball...
|Missouri Rushing||Advantage: Push|
|Missouri Passing||Big Advantage: Mizzou|
|Best Time for ISU:||Q3|
|Best Time for Missouri:||The rest of the game
Close S&P+, Success Rate+, Points Per Play+
Standard Downs, Passing Downs
Sack Rates (HUGE)
Two quick notes:
- ANY sack Mizzou gives up is a huge failure. ISU has generated one of the worst pass rushes in the country.
- Each of the last two games, a key factor has been Touchdowns vs Field Goals. ISU's only significant advantage is in the Red Zone, but if they can hold Mizzou to three points instead of seven, they will stay in the game for longer and longer. And as mentioned above, the longer they stay in this game, the longer they can pound away at Mizzou with their big linemen in run blocking.
As mentioned above, I consider the line a relative strength of the defense even though only two starters return. There's good experience at tackle, with 9th-year senior Nate Frere (9.5 sacks/TFL) leading the way and upperclassmen Austin Alburtis and Bailey Johnson filling in. I like Stephen Ruempolhamer quite a bit, though that's either because a) his name is awesome, or b) he somehow managed two fumble recoveries and eight tackles. Needless to say, a 1-to-4 FR-to-tackle ratio is...rare. For Sean Weatherspoon to have pulled that off last year, he'd have recovered about 40 fumbles. Which would have been awesome.
I called this unit a relative strength in the offseason, but it has been absolutely brutal this year. Chris Lyle has put together some nice numbers, but the rest of the line has been, to put it kindly, iffy. Mizzou's decent-not-great offensive line should be able to impose its will on this unit, which ranks 100th or worse in both line yards and sack rates.
Another unit that wasn't done any favors by the BTBS numbers, ISU's LBs have K-State's problem--lots of experience, little known talent. They have their prototypical 'tackling machine' in Jesse Smith and another decent playmaker in Fred Garrin--the two combined for 12 sacks/TFL, 4 forced fumbles, 3 recoveries, and a handful of other disruptive stats--but they were eclipsed in total tackles by safety James Smith, which is almost never a good thing. Other guys like Josh Raven and Derec Schmidgall have seemingly been around forever, with little to show for it.
On the other hand, ISU's linebackers been more disruptive than expected, at least in terms of getting a hand in on turnovers. Josh Raven has been the only behind-the-line-of-scrimmage threat, and this isn't a wonderful unit by any means, but the five players above have forced six fumbles, recovered two, and picked off four passes. If Blaine Gabbert gets a little too greedy and locks in on a receiver, the back seven of ISU's defense might make him pay.
First things first: for a redshirt freshman, Leonard Johnson was quite good in 2008. He had a hand in a ton of big plays--he intercepted two passes (he had a third against Missouri, but it was called back due to a penalty far removed from Johnson), forced two fumbles, recovered three fumbles, and broke up four passes. Not bad consiering how poor the supporting cast around him was. As mentioned before, James Smith was a tiny tackling machine, posting 85 tackles and almost no "disruptive" stats (sacks/TFL, FF, FR, INT, QBH, PBR, etc.) whatsoever. And beyond that...well, let's just say this: with the "+" stats, Big 12 defenses were cut major slack because of the strength of the offenses they were facing. For instance, Missouri ranked in the top 30 in pass defense despite their high yardage totals. If you were a Big 12 defense, you were guaranteed to give up a ton of yards. And yet Iowa State's pass defense still managed to get themselves ranked 109th in the country last year. Ouch. All the slack in the world, and they only ranked above 11 other teams.
S James Smith: 61.0 tackles, 0.5 TFL/sacks, 1 INT, 1 FF, 3 FR, 5 PBU
S David Sims: 54.5 tackles, 3.5 TFL/sacks, 4 INT, 3 FF, 1 FR
CB Leonard Johnson: 46.0 tackles, 2.5 TFL/sacks, 2 INT, 2 FF, 1 FR, 4 PBU
CB Kennard Banks: 42.0 tackles, 1.0 TFL/sacks, 1 INT, 1 FF, 1 FR, 5 PBU
S Michael O'Connell: 27.0 tackles, 1.0 TFL/sacks, 1 INT, 1 FR, 1 PBU
CB Ter'ran Benton: 26.0 tackles, 2.5 TFL/sacks, 2 QBH
CB Jeremy Reeves: 10.0 tackles
It's interesting: the Iowa State secondary has been about as disruptive a secondary as you could ask for. Eleven tackles for loss, nine interceptions, seven forced fumbles, seven recovered fumbles, a ton of broken-up passes ... and yet, when they are not making huge plays, they're leaking yardage like our old dishwasher leaked water. This is about as all-or-nothing a unit as you're going to find, and it is a must that Mizzou play smart in their passing game. If Gabbert makes the smart throw, and the receivers hold onto the ball (Jerrell Jackson, I'm looking in your general direction), then they should have no trouble moving the ball downfield. But ISU is good at turning little mistakes into large mistakes. Speaking of mistakes...
Injured Blaine Gabbert: 42-for-95 passing (44.2%), 512 yards (5.4 per pass), 1 TD (1.1% of passes), 5 INT (5.3%)
Healthy Blaine Gabbert: 159-for-246 (64.6%), 2,150 yards (8.7 per pass), 19 TD (7.7%), 2 INT (0.8%)
WOW. I realize that his injury coincided perfectly with the best threesome of pass defenses that Missouri faced this year, and I realize he wouldn't have produced his season averages in 11 quarters against Nebraska, OSU, and Texas, but ... still ... wow. Healthy Gabbert is completing 20% more of his passes than Injured Gabbert, for 3.3 more yards per pass, throwing TDs at a 7x higher rate, while throwing INTs at almost a 7x lower rate. It's an amazing question to wonder what Gabbert's already strong numbers would have looked like had Ndamukong Suh not rolled him up.
In the end, Healthy Gabbert is taking on a secondary that, while more disruptive, is really no better than Kansas State's ... and with help from Danario Alexander, he carved K-State up quite nicely. I'm curious how Mizzou will handle the loss of Jared Perry, particularly who becomes the fourth major target, assuming Jerrell Jackson is now #2 and Wes Kemp #3 (or vice versa). Does long-lost Andrew Jones join the fray again? Does somebody like Brandon Gerau, Rolandis Woodland, or T.J. Moe suddenly see a couple passes? Danario Alexander already catches a higher percentage of his team's passes than any other major receiver, so we can't really lean on him more than we already do.
If the offense and defense can keep Iowa State in the game, the special teams unit is just good enough to make the difference. Grant Mahoney was quite good for a freshman, and Mike Brandtner isn't a liability at punter. Leonard Johnson is a potentially explosive kick returner, and Michael O'Connell is...well, he's a punt returner. We'll see what he's capable of.
Punt Returns Rank: 104th (Josh Lenz: 19 returns, 4.7 avg)
Net Punting Rank: 24th (Mike Brandtner: 56 punts, 40.5 avg)
Kickoff Returns Rank: 56th (Leonard Johnson: 17 returns, 20.4 avg; David Sims: 15 returns, 22.9 avg)
Opponents' Kickoff Returns Rank: 7th (Grant Mahoney: 2 touchbacks in 48 kickoffs)
Field Goals: 98th (Grant Mahoney: 12-for-19, Long: 52)
PATs: 118th (Grant Mahoney: 21-for-25)
Another all-or-nothing unit, ISU's coverage teams are rock solid. They're 24th in Net Punting and 7th in Net Kickoffs, but they pretty much stink on ice at everything else. They're bad at returning punts, they're bad at place-kicking, and they're only okay at kickoff returns. (Of course, "okay at kickoff returns" could actually mean "good at kickoff returns" against Missouri. We'll see.) Mizzou has a solid advantage here if Jake Harry is getting good bounces and there are no complete debacles at kickoff return.
Three Keys to the Game
Turnovers. More than any other game, turnovers.
It's pretty obvious that Iowa State is well above average in terms of forcing fumbles and intercepting passes. If it is a technique that can be learned, they've learned it. Meanwhile, Missouri is actually somewhat due a turnover -- their last one was in the third quarter against Colorado, meaning they've gone nine quarters without a lost turnover. Even the best teams in the world throw a pick or bobble a ball every now and then, so expect 1-2 from Mizzou tomorrow. But if they stop it at 1-2, while maybe forcing 1-2 themselves, then ISU's odds of winning go down exponentially. Turnovers are always important, but ISU lives and dies off of them.
Touchdowns instead of field goals.
Mizzou had to settle for three field goals against Baylor, and even though The Amazing Grant Ressel made them all, settling for them in the first place cost them quite a bit in an eight-point win. Meanwhile, Missouri held K-State to four field goals last Saturday, and while their final winning margin suggests it probably wouldn't have made a difference, it did.
Defenses are slowly starting to catch up to offenses again, especially in the red zone, and it seems touchdowns have been much harder to come by for a lot of teams this year. If Mizzou is able to punch the ball into the endzone instead of settling for three points, an Iowa State offense that has been far from en fuego recently will find it quite difficult to score enough points to keep up. But if Mizzou gets, say, three scoring opportunities in the first half and only comes away with 9 points instead of 17 or 21, look out. Meanwhile, if they're holding ISU to field goals, ISU has no chance. Red zone execution is ISU's only major defensive advantage, and it could be a big one.
Expect ISU to run plenty of short, quick passes, and expect them to work at least a bit considering Mizzou's typically soft coverage cushions. It's annoying, but we saw last week why they do it. If they tackle well and force an only-decent offense like Iowa State's to drive the length of the field consistently, the Cyclones will falter more often than not. But if they do ISU some favors, and the Cyclones are able to generate some bigger plays, then ... well, we saw what happens in that scenario two weeks ago against Baylor. Play disciplined on defense, do your job, and Iowa State will need another +8 turnover margin to win the game.
Not surprisingly, the numbers like Mizzou quite a bit in this one. I don't believe too heavily in things like Senior Day emotion playing a big role or anything -- to me, it could almost be a detriment as much as an asset -- but in the end, emotion should even out, and Mizzou should move to 7-4. I cannot commend enough the job that Paul Rhoads has done this season, taking a group that had no idea how to win, and teaching them how to seize every opportunity and win some ball games. Still, though, if Missouri doesn't turn the ball over and give ISU extra opportunities, they should be able to handle Iowa State relatively easily. Make mistakes, however, and you will pay. The numbers say Mizzou by 18, so we'll go with Mizzou 31, Iowa State 13.