Sports writers Randy Peterson and Tommy Birch break down Iowa State’s game against Akron.
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AMES, Ia. — David Montgomery isn’t injured. Iowa State’s centerpiece running back is in the best shape of his life. He’s primed to have another great season, but for as good as he is and as many tackles as he shed in 2017 — he can’t go it alone.
Sorry to disappoint, but the guy who Pro Football Focus figured broke more tackles than anyone in college football last season sometimes needs a block or two.
So, during Saturday’s 11 a.m. game against Akron at Jack Trice Stadium, look for the Cyclones — sporting a 53-yard rushing average, which is dead last in major college football — to focus early and often on their star.
Without him getting back into his 100-yard rushing groove this weekend, the three games that follow could be trouble.
After Saturday, it’s at 17th-ranked TCU. Then it’s at 15th-ranked Oklahoma State. Then it’s back home against No. 13 West Virginia.
Three ranked teams. Three opponents each with a shot at facing someone such as Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship game. So if ever there was a time to establish a run game featuring the team’s best player, it’s now.
“That’s one of our primary goals — to get the run game going, and we’re hoping we can do that this week,” said quarterbacks coach Joel Gordon, one of a trio of coaches primarily handling the Cyclones’ offensive strategy. “He’s right there.”
Montgomery’s 82-yard day in last Saturday’s 10-point loss against fifth-ranked Oklahoma included three 16-yard runs. His next-longest run was eight yards. A week earlier against Iowa, the junior’s 44 yards against a very good defense included just one rush of 10 or more yards.
His 63.0-yard average is an average of 25 yards fewer than when he gained 1,146 yards last season — and it’s not his fault.
It’s a product of an offensive line that must improve quickly, of facing good defenses that often concentrate on stopping Montgomery, and of having to focus on passing during the second halves of Iowa State’s two games.
“We have some guys playing together for the first time — like a center and a quarterback with two game experiences between them,” Gordon said. “I thought they did a nice job (against Oklahoma).
“There were three or four runs that were an arm tackle away — seven yards that could go 30. Everything’s a work in progress right now.”
That includes the rushing game that features Montgomery. It includes Zeb Noland’s passing game that stars Hakeem Butler. Look for the Cyclones’ big-play performers to get a majority of the touches for what could be a momentum-building game on Saturday.
“I think we can be one of the top offenses in the country,” Montgomery said after the Oklahoma game, “if we play our game and really pay attention to the details.”
That must start before facing three games against three ranked opponents on three Saturdays in a row.
IOWA STATE VS. AKRON
The Big Breakdown
IOWA STATE PASSING
Two career Zeb Noland starts. Victory on the road against Baylor in 2017, and 360 passing yards at home against Oklahoma last Saturday. It’s nice when you’ve got a guy like 6-foot-6 Hakeem Butler as your security-blanket receiver, but the deal here is that Iowa State has a plethora of talented receivers to defend. Multiple-defend Butler, and Matt Eaton goes crazy. Gamble with man-on-man? Touchdown Cyclones, and maybe even a long one. ADVANTAGE: Iowa State.
IOWA STATE RUSHING
The plan Saturday will be a focus on establishing a running game that hasn’t yet been suitable. Against Oklahoma, the Cyclones showed signs of promise, but then were forced to pass while trying to play fourth-quarter catchup. Montgomery averages 19 rushes a game — precisely his average while rushing for 1,146 yards last season. His game average is 25 yards fewer than 2017. Akron’s defense limited Northwestern to 86 rushing yards during last Saturday’s win in Evanston — a game in which the Zips rallied from an 18-point halftime deficit with three second-half defensive touchdowns — two pick-6’s and a fumble recovery in the end zone. ADVANTAGE: Iowa State.
Veteran quarterback Kato Nelson has some big-play potential, and there just might be some big plays, considering the Cyclones’ slopping tackling against Oklahoma. Iowa State’s secondary has been mostly good, especially transfer safety Greg Eisworth. Zips opponents have just one sack — and Iowa State doesn’t always pressure quarterbacks relentlessly when using its three-man defensive front. ADVANTAGE: Iowa State.
This should be no contest. The Zips’ rushing average of 145 yards a game is OK, but 200 yards of it came during a 41-7 victory against Morgan State. Akron had 90 rushing yards against Northwestern. ADVANTAGE: Iowa State.
Iowa State 37, Akron 23
Peterson’s Bold Big 12 Picks
Kansas (2-1, 0-0, 2-1) at Baylor (2-1, 0-0)
Time, TV: 2:30 p.m., FS1
Vegas line: Baylor by 7 ½
Prediction: This isn’t like Kansas overwhelming Central Michigan and Rutgers by a combined 86-21 the past two weeks. This will be a shootout, and Kansas doesn’t boast many offensive bullets. The Jayhawks have won with a defense that has 13 takeaways this season, including a dozen in the past two games. Last season’s total was nine.
Score: Baylor 41, Kansas 34
Kansas State (2-1, 0-0) at No. 13 West Virginia (2-0, 0-0)
Time, TV: 2:30 p.m., ESPN
Vegas line: West Virginia by 16
Prediction: This will be closer than the spread indicates, but it won’t be so close that theMountaineers resort to panic mode. Will Grier isn’t likely to see his Heisman Trophy campaign go to waste against a Kansas State team whose defense is solid, yet not great. And, the game’s in West Virginia.
Score: West Virginia 34, Kansas State 21
No. 17 TCU (2-1, 0-0) at Texas (2-1, 0-0)
Time, TV: 3:30 p.m., FOX
Vegas line: TCU by 3
Prediction: This is all about the quarterback — TCU passer Shawn Robinson. He completed 24 of 40 passes for 308 yards in a 12-point loss against Ohio State last Saturday. He’s completed 62 percent of his passes for 644 yards in three games. He’ll be passing against a defense that has allowed 750 air yards and … well, enough said.
Score: TCU 38, Texas 31
Texas Tech (2-1, 0-0) at No. 15 Oklahoma State (3-0, 0-0)
Time, TV: 6 p.m. FS1
Vegas line: Oklahoma State by 13
Prediction: This will be a shootout, now that Texas Tech has a passing game again. Red Raiders quarterback Alan Bowman socked Houston for 605 passing yards and five touchdowns last Saturday, so there’s offensive hope for coach Kliff Kingsbury’s team. Defensively? Not so much, and that’s why Oklahoma State prevails at home.
Score: Oklahoma State 48, Texas Tech 35
Army (2-1) at No. 5 Oklahoma (3-0)
Time, TV: 6 p.m. FOX
Vegas line: Oklahoma by 31 ½
Prediction: Army will run the ball, and it’ll run it well. The problem is that Oklahoma will pass, and do it better. Kyler Murray is the Real Deal, not so much because he played very well against what is usually a solid Iowa State defense, but because he does everything so well. He’s on some weekly mock Heisman Trophy weekly ballots, and rightly so. Army won’t stop him. Army won’t even slow him.
Score: Oklahoma 42, Army 17
Iowa State columnist Randy Peterson has been with the Register for parts of five decades. Randy writes opinion and analysis of Iowa State football and basketball. You can reach Randy at email@example.com or on Twitter at @RandyPete.
Source: Des Moines Register