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Baylor vs. Iowa State Preview Part II: Stoppable Force vs. the Immobile Object

The second installment of this week's preview looks at the Iowa State offense against the Baylor gorgidiflop. I'm still not calling it a defense.

So ... you're really going to blame it on the LHN, huh?
So ... you're really going to blame it on the LHN, huh?
Brendan Maloney-US PRESSWIRE

In case you missed last night's beginning to the previews this week, I took a look at 9 players you need to know from Iowa State on both offense and defense, mostly offense. Today we're going to start with our weaker matchup, which is and potentially always will be with Art Briles at the helm the one involving the Unit Formerly Known As the Baylor Defense. The numbers here ... they're just awful.

Unlike last week, when Baylor played an offense in the Texas Longhorns that was actually much more efficient than most gave them credit for being-- efficiency that showed when they scored 56 points against us-- Baylor takes on a team this week that is much stronger on the other side of the ball and weaker on offense. FEI ranks Iowa State 56th on offense and S&P+ 78th. We'll talk more about both of those in a little bit.

Also unlike last week, Iowa State has not provided an easily pasted version of their updated depth chart, so you'll have to go off the same PDF version I linked last night. We'll start there. Here's the absolute numbers for ISU's offense this season before we get to the players.

Passing Rushing Total Offense First Downs Penalties Turnovers
Split G Cmp Att Pct Yds TD Att Yds Avg TD Plays Yds Avg Pass Rush Pen Tot No. Yds Fum Int Tot
Offense 7 20.1 34.6 58.3 205.6 2.0 35.1 137.0 3.9 0.9 69.7 342.6 4.9 8.9 8.3 1.4 18.6 5.1 43.6 0.7 1.6 2.3
Defense 7 22.1 38.3 57.8 244.7 1.0 38.1 138.0 3.6 1.1 76.4 382.7 5.0 10.3 7.7 1.4 19.4 6.4 56.7 0.9 1.3 2.1
Difference -2.0 -3.7 +0.5 -39.1 +1.0 -3.0 -1.0 +0.3 -0.2 -6.7 -40.1 -0.1 -1.4 +0.6 0.0 -0.8 -1.3 -13.1 -0.2 +0.3 +0.2

35.1 rushing attempts vs. 34.6 passing attempts per game. That's balance. 342.6 yards per game total is 101st in the country, and Iowa State is ranked 86th in rushing offense and 87th in passing offense on the season. They are 96th in passing efficiency as a team.

The Players

As Baylor fans well know, everything starts with the quarterback position. At this point, we've yet to find out exactly who will be manning that position for the Cyclones just over 51 hours from now. When I talked to WRNL on Twitter, his guess was that it will be Steele Jantz, a big-armed pocket passer. His feeling was that Jared Barnett has been given too little rope for what he's accomplished and that the coaching staff doesn't trust him. I'd trust WRNL to know what he's talking about, so let's say it's Jantz for now. The third option is redshirt freshman Sam Richardson. I talked about all three QBs last night.

The offensive line for the Cyclones returned three starters from last season at left guard, center, and right tackle in Ethan Tuftee (JR, 6-4, 310), Tom Farniok (SO, 6-4, 290), and Brayden Burris (SR, 6-6, 298), respectively. That's the bad news. The good news is that both of the starters they lost now play in the NFL and were the best of the five last season. Their replacements are LT Carter Bykowski (SR, 6-8, 304) and RG Kyle Lichtenberg (JR, 6-6, 301). The entire line is extremely tall, averaging almost exactly 6-5 as a unit, and every player has started every game so far this season. Continuity is extremely important on the offensive line, and the Cyclones have it. They have allowed 10 sacks so far this season in 7 games. As a unit they are decent, not great. We won't kill them up front, but they also shouldn't grind our DL into the dust. "Shouldn't" being the key word.

I'll skip over most of the skill position players since I introduced you to them last night. Baylor needs to watch out for Josh Lenz, Aaron Horne, and Chris Young at receiver, and either Shontrelle Johnson or James White at RB. White is questionable for the game with an injury that has kept him out the last two weeks.

Tight ends are more important in the Iowa State offense than most of the teams we play, and they've got three that see reasonable amounts of action. The starter is Ernst Brun (JR, 6-3, 240), the fourth-leading receiver on the Cyclones team with 12 receptions for 124 yards. That 124 yards is the fourth-most on their team should tell you something about their offensive priorities. 4 of Brun's receptions have gone for touchdowns this season, which tells me that they like to use him inside the redzone. That's something for our linebackers to watch for when they get close. Ricky Howard (SR, 6-4, 263) and Kurt Hammerschmidt (SR, 6-6, 272) are mostly blocking tight ends though they will catch a pass or two if need be. Iowa State's offense puts a tight end on the field on almost every down, sometimes two.

Schematically, Iowa State tries to be a balanced offense but lacks the passing game to succeed in that pursuit. They had the same problem in 2011, as Bill C noted in his season preview for the Cyclones:

In 2011, Iowa State attempted offensive balance despite a complete and total lack of a passing game. The Cyclones ran 59 percent of the time on standard downs (national average: 60 percent) and 34 percent on passing downs (national average: 33 percent). Despite a general level of ineffectiveness, the Cyclones also played at a rather fast pace, though some of that could have just been other Big 12 offenses rubbing off on them. Regardless, the Cyclones in no way, shape or form maximized their strengths, which in 2011 were efficient running and solid line play.

When their offensive coordinator left to join Urban Meyer's staff in Columbus, Iowa State promoted their receivers coach from within and hired former Washington State OC Todd Sturdy to replace him in attempts to jump-start their woeful passing game. So far those attempts have not worked. When they do pass, it's primarily on short to intermediate routes. Since Lenz was out after the TCU game, they've really missed the downfield aspect he brings. Barnett's noodle arm doesn't help, either. Let's take a closer look at how they've done.

The Results

Just like last week, here are the S&P+ and FEI rankings for the relevant units: Iowa State's offense and Baylor's defense. All ranks are national out of 124 FBS teams. I've also added third down conversion percentage just for the heck of it.

S&P+ -- Iowa State Off vs. Baylor Def

Iowa State Off Baylor Def
Rank 78
Rush S&P+ 75
Pass S&P+ 68 88
Std. Downs 74 87
Pass Downs 67 108
Success Rate
111 117
PPP 94 115
102 118
3rd Down 36.54% 63.46
  • First thing's first, in one of those weird adjustment situations, Baylor's defensive rankings improved in the first five categories listed above after last week's game against Texas, probably as a result of the offenses we've faced so far having improved, as well (except for WVU, obviously). Our absolute values (the last three) all somehow got worse. Our third down conversion ratio stayed about the same: awful. The worst in the country by far. We're still 108th on passing downs.
  • Iowa State's passing offense is better by S&P+ than their rushing offense, something I didn't expect to see. That's not consistent with last year's data, meaning they've probably improved somewhat in the passing game and regressed in the running game.
  • ISU's unadjusted offensive stats are almost as bad as our unadjusted defensive stats. They're getting a lot of credit for having played KSU and TCU so far in the adjustments.
  • ISU is almost as bad at converting third downs as we are at stopping third down conversions. Something has to give!!

FEI- Iowa State Off vs. Baylor Def

Iowa State Off Baylor Def
Rank 56 124
OFEI/DFEI .023 .959
OE/DE 99 124
FD 118 120
AY 110 123
Ex 112 123
Me 113 106
Va 111 114
OSOS pvs 9 75
OSOS fut 64 5
  • Yes, Baylor fans, our defense is that bad. At everything. I have a strong suspicion that the only reason we give up relatively fewer methodical drives is that we're so bad at giving up explosive drives. If our own offense could play our defense in an actual game, it would be a matchup of by far the best offense against by far the worst defense. We would never, ever stop ourselves.
  • The good news is that Iowa State's offense is almost as bad as our defense (but not quite!). They have trouble getting first downs, probably because of difficulty in completing passes, and therefore can't sustain drives. They also don't run the ball particularly well, leading to a low amount of methodical drive success as well as explosive drives. The bottom line is that if our defense is going to have a good game this season, it damn well better be either this week or next, or it's not happening.
  • I'm serious, defense. Get your **** together!

Baylor's Defensive Game Plan:

Last week I made a big deal out of the fact that we had to stop the run if we wanted any chance of beating the Texas Longhorns. Because of our amazing offense, we had the chance we needed and couldn't get it done. Because we couldn't stop the run. This week, albeit against a lesser offensive foe, our goal remains unchanged. Regardless of the opposing quarterback, Iowa State is going to try to run the ball. Paul Rhoads preaches balance on offense and will try to achieve it even if it doesn't really make sense. We should also expect, however, that the return of Josh Lenz gives ISU a downfield game it hasn't had the last two times out. If Jantz starts, look for him to try to take advantage of our porous secondary deep as a way to generate offense quickly.

The changes Baylor has made this week on the depth chart are obviously designed to shake things up a bit and get the defense moving in the right direction. Most of those changes, however, are at linebacker and in the secondary, not on the defensive line. That means they probably won't help us achieve goal #1, stopping the run. We need a better game from our defensive line, primarily, as well as better tackling across the board. Far too many times we've seen players in the position to make a play only to miss the tackle completely and give up a big gain. Any pass rush we can generate (and it seemed like we were better at this against Texas if only slightly and without the results to prove it) will certainly help. Neither Jantz nor Barnett is as good a QB as David Ash, but we do have a tendency to make opposing QBs look all-world. Let's hope that doesn't continue.

Baylor absolutely must win on Saturday if we want any chance of making a bowl game for the third consecutive year. For that to happen, our defense must step up and give our offense the chance to outscore the Cyclones. The game is in Ames, so that's an added challenge, but it still has to happen. Iowa State's offense is below-average at best, so they should be able to have a better performance on Saturday than they have the past few weeks. Again, the key word was "should." I have little faith in that side of the ball at this point.