The last two weeks probably couldn’t have been worse for the Kansas Jayhawks (3-7, 1-6 Big 12), who went from a high-flying offensive machine playing exciting games (for two weeks, anyway) to the much more familiar cellar dweller than can’t hang with conference foes. There won’t be any relief for the struggling Jayhawks this Saturday when they visit the Iowa State Cyclones (6-4, 4-3 Big 12).
This is not an easy team to get your offense back on track again, given the deep and talented defensive roster that the Cyclones boast. That’s before getting to an offense that, while inconsistent, has looked excellent at some points this season. Kansas is a 24.5-point underdog this weekend and, given all these factors, it’s completely understandable why.
The Jayhawks are in the worst shape they’ve been in all season. Offensively, they haven’t been able to move the ball on the ground or through the air with any consistency recently, and that’s essentially made them uncompetitive for two straight games. Sophomore running back Pooka Williams and the running game hasn’t done anything extraordinarily productive and now there’s even quarterback drama, something KU has avoided for most of the season. Last week coach Les Miles pulled starting senior quarterback Carter Stanley for senior Manny Miles, justifying it as a move to try sparking the offense. It didn’t work. On the bright side, the Jayhawks have shown at times this year that they can make big plays and put up points; just look to the back-to-back games against Texas and Texas Tech.
Defensively, this whole season has been a struggle for Kansas. Over the past two games, losses to Kansas State and Oklahoma State, KU is giving up 459 yards from scrimmage and 34.5 points per game. Defending the run has been a weak spot in particular, with the defense allowing 551 total rushing yards in those aforementioned two games. While both performances came against excellent running teams, Iowa State can move the ball well on the ground in its own right.
It’s been hard to get a gauge on just what this Iowa State team is all season. The Cyclones are fourth in the Big 12, but it feels like given their preseason hype and some particularly bright spots this season they could understandably be better than 4-3 in league games. A loss to Baylor that should have been a win (or at least not ended the way it did) and a home loss to Oklahoma State were tough to swallow, but Iowa State also put up a valiant effort in a one-point loss to Oklahoma two games ago (and ISU deserves credit for playing aggressively late in that one). Otherwise, it’s handled its business, including a good win over Texas last Saturday.
Sophomore quarterback Brock Purdy has posted good numbers this year (3,203 yards, 22 touchdowns, eight interceptions) and had a big game in last weekend’s win, going 30-of-48 for 354 yards with a pair of touchdowns and a pick. He’s still able to use his legs well, too, and even has a 100-yard game on the ground this season (versus TCU). His top offensive playmaker is freshman running back Breece Hall, who’s leading the Cyclones in rushing yards (686) and yards from scrimmage (841). That’s not to mention the Cyclones’ defense, which is one of the best in the Big 12. That unit is allowing just 26 points per game in Big 12 games this season, which is third in the conference.
Big 12 Football Power Rankings – Week 12
Who is actually calling the plays? Miles has done a great deal of good already for the KU program, and despite an unremarkable record it feels like the the Jayhawks are ascending, if ever so slightly. He has struggled with offensive play calling though, something that seemed remedied when offensive coordinator Brent Dearmon was promoted and took over that role. The offensive took off immediately with two stat-stuffing games to close October. Ever since then, though, it looks like the Jayhawks are back to the toss sweep-heavy, far less creative Miles scheme. The play calling will never fully belong to Dearmon, but you can tell how much control Miles has any given week. He needs to be able to let his offensive coordinator do what worked so well late last month. Otherwise, Kansas is likely in for another rough offensive showing.
Can the defense stop the big pass play? Deep balls have been the moneymaker for Kansas this year and need to be again for the Jayhawks to have a shot on Saturday. Arguably the biggest weakness for Iowa State’s defense is its opponent passer efficiency, one of the few metrics for which it ranks in the bottom half of the Big 12. The Cyclones don’t give up a ton of yards in general, but their efficiency allowed of 144.3 is actually higher than the one amassed by Jayhawks quarterbacks (137.4). As long as Iowa State can prevent constant chunk plays through the air it will be able to slow down the KU offense dramatically.
Williams. The standout tailback has been rendered almost useless in the last two games, with just 87 yards on 26 carries combined against K-State and Oklahoma State. Really, you can go back for three games and say Williams has performed below expectations, even though the Jayhawks won against the Texas Tech Red Raiders four weeks ago. It’s not just on him to make plays, but also on the play calling and the offensive line to both step up. That said, Kansas isn’t going to look good on offensive if it can’t run the ball, that’s Dearmon’s M.O. Williams needs to touch the ball early and often, and mixing up the ways he gets the ball (outside runs, inside runs, screen passes, etc.) will be huge.
Hall. The Wichita native has been a revelation for the Cyclones, filling their desperate need for an offensive playmaker outside of Purdy. As a freshman he’s already earned a spot alongside some of the most electric running backs in the Big 12, and he’s a positive asset both on the ground and through the air. The Jayhawks do not defend the run well, which means Hall could be in for a huge day. If he can get going and take the pressure off of Purdy, Iowa State will be able to control the game all day.
We’re now matching KU’s overall record on the season with our picks, which isn’t exactly great. Four scores is a lot for an Iowa State team that has had high peaks and low valleys all year. At the same time, the Jayhawks have been dreadful lately on offense. This spread will likely depend just on how many points the Cyclones can score since the Jayhawks likely won’t be on the board much.