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Baylor vs. Iowa State Preview / Prediction Thread

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Ames is only a day away, and it's time to put pen to paper about how it's going to go down.

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Matthew Holst
vs.
7/6 BAYLOR (3-0) at NR/NR IOWA STATE (1-2)
Sept. 27, 2014 | 7:20 p.m. CT
Ames, Iowa | Jack Trice Stadium (55,000)

TV: FOX
Listen | Gametracker | Notes | Tickets Gameday Central

ODB GAME HUB: Baylor Bears vs. Iowa State Cyclones 2014
SB NATION BLOG: Wide Right & Natty Lite
FIRST LOOK: Baylor vs. ISU
ADVANCED STATS PREVIEW: Baylor vs. ISU
OURDAILYPODCAST: Previewing ISU
ROLL CALL | TV, Radio, Watch Parties: Baylor vs. ISU
INJURY REPORT: Goodley, Coleman, Chafin return
SPREAD: Baylor -21.5 (Open: Baylor -23.5)
TV COVERAGE: FOX
WEATHER FORECAST: High Saturday of 81F, low Saturday night of 58F. Clear skies throughout. Winds 5-10 MPH in the evening.
BAYLOR UNIFORMS: White-White-Green

SBNation Iowa State Preview
BaylorBears.com Preview
Bears vs Cyclones coverage

Injury News:

Baylor: WR Antwan Goodley (WILL PLAY), WR Corey Coleman (WILL PLAY), RB Devin Chafin (WILL PLAY), WR Clay Fuller (OUT), WR Levi Norwood (OUT), OL LaQuan McGowan (GAME TIME DECISION)

Iowa State: via Sports-Reference (if incorrect, please let me know)

Player Status Injury Comment
Jacob Dunning Out Achilles will miss the remainder of the season
Levi Peters Out leg will miss the remainder of the season
Quenton Bundrage Out knee will miss the remainder of the season
Terry Ayeni Out knee will miss the entire season
P.J. Harris Out ankle will miss the remainder of the season
Ben Loth Out knee will miss the entire season
Daniel Burton Questionable undisclosed is questionable for Saturday's game against Baylor
Jarvis West Questionable head is questionable for Saturday's game against Baylor
Jacob Gannon Probable personal is probable for Saturday's game against Baylor

Gannon's return gives ISU their #2 RT back and allows them to move Wendell Taiese to LT behind junior Brock Dagel.  It's probably a depth thing more than anything else, but it could be significant.

Also, really sounds like Jarvis West will play this weekend.  He's their electric weapon in punt returns and someone for which Baylor has to account.  Against Kansas State, he pulled the trifecta in the first half of a punt return TD, a receiving TD, and a passing TD to Allen Lazard.  The last play was particularly electrifying for ISU in their attempt to upset the Wildcats at home. We should minimize his impact by just never punting.

Advanced Stats:

Category

Baylor (3-0)

ISU (1-2)

EDGE

Overall F/+ Rk 2 (24.2%)
66 (-1.4%)
BAYLOR
Overall FEI Rk 17 (.193)
42 (.098)
Baylor
Overall S&P+ Rk 2 (259.5)
104 (182.3)
BAYLOR
Field Position Advantage 6 (.607) 36 (.537) Baylor

I've ported this over from the Advanced Stats Preview from earlier in the week, which I still recommend you read if you get a chance.  What you should see, if I've done things correctly, is a Baylor team that owns the far better offense and defense, statistically, and is rightly favored heavily (though not as heavily as it once was).  We have the advantage in almost every facet of the game statistically except Methodical Drives when ISU has the ball.  That is largely because ISU has attempted to be very balanced running and passing the ball despite the fact that they're really, really bad at the former, ranked 113th in S&P+ in the running game and averaging just 96.3 yards per game on the ground, also 113th.

Thoughts on the Game:

I'm completely exhausted and sitting in a Starbucks in Terrell, Texas, so I'm going to keep this section relatively short.  If you want a more in-depth preview of the game from the ISU side, take a look at WRNL's great preview that I ported into our game hub.  They seem to agree with the game plan I proposed for ISU the other day emphasizing a KSU-like ball denial approach designed to keep our offense off the field and the game close for as long as possible.  That's in contrast to what I heard a few minutes ago on this week's Solid Verbal podcast, where Ty and Dan suggested that ISU try to engage us in a shootout.  With respect to their knowledge, I don't see that strategy working out well at all.  If you try to get into a shootout with a team fielding Bryce Petty, K.D. Cannon and Jay Lee, and that is bringing back Antwan Goodley (a preseason All-American by several publications) and Corey Coleman, you're going to have a bad time.

I see a lot of people on social media and a few other sites questioning how Baylor's record on grass might play into this game.  My answer: not at all.  It doesn't matter to me or the team, and shouldn't matter to anyone else, how the team played in Ames in 2012, the Cotton Bowl (which is grass) in 2010, or in the Fiesta Bowl in January (also on grass).  Losing is a result, not a cause, and unless you can make an argument to me that we are somehow less suited for playing on grass, I'm not buying that a sample size of 14 games (Baylor is 3-11 on natural grass under Art Briles) really shows anything.  Much more likely, it is a result of the fact that we play on turf at home, where we are clearly better, and on grass when we play away, where we are much more likely to lose.  Playing away is much more scary to me than playing on grass, especially since both teams play on the same field.  If we're faster than ISU on turf, we'll be faster on grass.

That said, there is a second part to that question that I touched on briefly.  This game will be Baylor's first real road test of the season, Buffalo notwithstanding.  Behind the obvious titans OU and UT, ISU has what is right around the third-largest stadium in the conference (depending on which source you use, it might as low as fifth).  On Saturday night, there will be about 60,000 screaming Cyclone fans ready for a primetime matchup with a Top 10 team.  We can't discount the effect that kind of atmosphere might have, especially having seen what happened last year in Stillwater.  If Baylor isn't focused and ready to play at the beginning, or we start slow for some other reason, ISU gains a little hope.  The longer we stay that way, the more hopeful they get.  That's why I strongly believe that our #1 key to this game has to be to start quickly.  If that means eschewing the running game and bombing over the top, do it.  It's anecdotal as much as anything, but it seems to me that Briles and Montgomery stress running the ball early on the road.  That's all well and good -- and against ISU's 113th-ranked rush defense by S&P+, it might be the best  strategy-- but we have to be prepared to go away from it if need be.  That leads me to the things I'm going to watch:

  1. Starting Fast -- It is imperative in road games to get the offense going quickly and take the opposing fans out of the game.  If we can do that, this game could be over relatively quickly.  If not, things get interesting.
  2. Rushing Offense -- I already mentioned ISU's rush defense, which isn't great.  If we can't run on them, we've got problems. 
  3. Defending Richardson -- The ISU game preview mentioned, and I agree with, the need for ISU to get Richardson involved in the running game.  That could be good prep for opponents down the road, namely OU's Trevor Knight.  We have to keep contain and defend the boundaries against Richardson and Aaron Wimberly.
  4. Rush Defense --  Baylor almost always wins when we make our opponents one-dimensional.  The starting four of Jamal Palmer, Andrew Billings, Beau Blackshear, and Shawn Oakman have to be able to stop the run without additional help.  Do that and you force ISU to throw, speeding up the game and perhaps leading to a turnover or two.

Really, when I look at this game in terms of how Baylor might lose, I frame it in the context of How Upset Happen.  Upsets happen when one team doesn't take another seriously early, the underdog gets a few big plays (perhaps on special teams) and fortuitous turnovers, and the game starts to get a lot longer than the favorite probably planned.  As I said above, when the underdog starts believing it can win, and the favorite that it can lose, the game changes.  ISU has no pressure on it tomorrow night to do anything.  Very few people expect them to win or come close.  That's a dangerous opponent for a road favorite to have in conference play, holding all the pressure of blowing the other team out or disappointing and possibly losing everything.

My Prediction:

Thankfully, I don't think that's going to happen, nor will a 2013-esque 71-7 Baylor blowout.  Still, Baylor is the better team on both sides of the ball and should win all the matchups necessary, particularly with our O against their D, to win this game comfortably.  At some point ISU will have to pass the ball, so we'll be tested in the secondary by West and Lazard.  Against a pair of inexperienced corners, that could mean a few big plays.  The key on defense will be to turn the ball over quickly and take ISU out of the game plan that lets them simply play keepaway as long as possible.  I predict that we'll stack the box and dare Sam Richardson to beat us over the top, something it's not clear that he can do.

I'm so tired at this point that I'm basically just rambling on, typing anything that comes into my head, so I'll end here.  The spread on this game right now is 21.5 points, the O/U, 71.5.  The smart play appears to be Baylor to cover the spread while taking the under.  I'm thinking we score somewhere in the 40s, ISU somewhere in the teens or low 20s.

Final Score: Baylor 45, Iowa State 20

Give me your predictions in the comments and vote in the poll!