In the first five games of the season, Iowa State will face a salty FCS team, the defending champions from the MAC East, their in-state rival and the two championship game participants from the Big 12 (both of whom ISU beat in 2017).
There will be no rest for the weary in week five as Iowa State takes its first trip outside of the State of Iowa. Fort Worth is the destination and a very good TCU team will be awaiting them. A TCU team that has won at least 11 games in three of the last four years. In 2018, it will likely become the fourth out of five.
Game 5 – TCU
TCU has only one significant issue in fielding a team as strong, or stronger, than the 2017 unit. That issue is the consistency and development of the quarterback. However, didn’t they have that same question last year?
TCU was a top five team when it arrived in Ames against a Cyclone team that believed they were a match. TCU’s Pattened (get it…Gary Patterson…I slay me) defense was up to the task and only yielded 14 points to the Cyclones.
The difference was an Iowa State defense that made plays on two turnovers gifted to them in the redzone to hang on to a lead and pull the upset. Who made the two crucial mistakes? The TCU quarterback.
In 2018, TCU will boast outstanding receivers led by Jalen Reagor. Darius Anderson will lead a potent running attack. The defense graduated three studs, but about a dozen others remain or will step in. The offensive line lost three members, but will be anchored by two outstanding returning players and the other spots will be filled by three year players with outstanding potential (and former ISU target Anthony McKinney from the JUCO ranks).
The only thing not to like about the Horned Frogs is the youth and inexperience at the quarterback position. They have three options at the position. Shawn Robinson, a four-star sophomore, grad transfer Michael Collins, and super frosh Justin Rogers. Robinson holds the lead in the competition out of spring practice and only early struggles will hold him back from being the starter in game five against Iowa State.
With a young quarterback, you expect some struggles in reading defenses, an uptick in turnovers, and a heavy reliance on athleticism and physical ability. Sounds like Kenny Hill to me, absent the inexperience. While TCU could experience some bobbles due to inconsistent play at QB, I do not believe they are any worse off than they were last year.
The TCU defense will be what it always is…fast, dynamic, pressure packed, and good. They may be better than they were last year. That means a top of the league defense with one of the best defensive minds in football at the helm. There is not a lot of analysis needed to bolster anyone’s perspective of what TCU brings to the table.
With Robinson at quarterback, it is important to speculate regarding the scheme that will likely be deployed. We had one extended look at Robinson from his start against Texas Tech as a true freshman. Robinson only completed six passes on a windy day, but ran for 84 yards in leading TCU to a 27-3 victory. TCU leaned heavily on the run in the game, a trend that is likely to continue in 2018.
TCU used straight speed option, read option, and their typical cadre of zone runs in the game. The insertion of the option run game with a runner as big and dynamic as Robinson is going to be a daunting task for opposing defenses.
The passing game is likely to be focused on short rhythm throws and down field shots with the speed on the outside. TCU will be at its best if it is able to establish an efficient running attack to draw the defense in and create space for an unpolished thrower.
This year’s version of TCU, like most years, will be built on running and defense. They will be very good at both. However, their development will be tested early with a three game slate of Ohio State, at Texas, and your friendly neighborhood Cyclones. It is likely, just like with Iowa State, that the first five games set the tone for the entire season for TCU.
Ohio State, Texas, and Iowa State represent the three best defenses (based on pure speculation and immediate past performance) that TCU will face all year. I expect Texas to regress a bit defensively, but Todd Orlando’s track record affords them the high summer expectations. Just like Iowa State, TCU’s offense will have to gel early in order to score enough to win these early games. If TCU is 2-1 or 3-0 in these games, then you will be watching a playoff contender in the fifth week of the season.
TCU is a run-fast, smash mouth team. The defense is slightly built, but fast and aggressive. They play their version of the 4-2-5 with creative blitzes and press coverage on at least one side of the field on almost every play. The offense will spread to run and their offensive line is generally adept at using angles to create holes at alignment-created weak points in the opposing defense.
Iowa State is growing in to a spread -you-out, smash mouth team. Iowa State attempts to create numbers advantages and match-up issues with motion and formation. Speculatively, the staff seeks a more physical unit than it has had in the last two years, but they may have the right mix to upgrade physicality in 2018. The defense spreads its pieces across the field and collapses and expands physically to control the options an offense has to exploit noted weaknesses.
I say all of that for the simple assertion that both teams match-up well against each other. ISU can neutralize TCU’s speed advantage with physical play in the front seven on defense. ISU can gash and exploit TCU’s defensive aggression with a physical attack and size advantages in coverage.
TCU ran the ball well enough in the 2017 game to never have to pass. In fact, that was their mistake. They stubbornly continued to attempt pass plays when they were virtually unstoppable in their attack on the ISU three-man front. I expect an adjustment by Jon Heacock that will challenge TCU to beat them with the quarterbacks arm. How successful that adjustment is and TCU’s reaction to it will be a determining factor in the game.
Iowa State could not run the ball at all and instead relied on the size of its receiving corp to move the ball in chunk plays. ISU retains a size advantage in the passing game, but will have to find a way to make room for Montgomery and crew in the run game in order to be successful on the road.
The wrinkle in this game favors Iowa State. Namely, how does ISU deploy its speed in the backfield. Kene Nwangwu and Re-al Mitchell bring legitimate speed to the backfield. Not that David Montgomery isn’t fast, these guys are just faster. The ability to gain the edge or deploy an option concept of its own with these players is a dynamic that can jump start the ground attack for ISU.
Overall, TCU is the more talented roster, but Iowa State’s scheme and make-up is a difficult test for them. The size and multiple nature of Iowa State’s schemes are ideal in a match-up where the other teams primary advantage is speed. Iowa State was a speed bump for TCU in 2017, and it is not a foregone conclusion that they won’t be the same in 2018.
Preffered Plan of Attack:
The Iowa State offense will need to add some wrinkles for the TCU game. The TCU offense runs more “trick” plays and high risk misdirection plays than any other offense in the Big 12. I would attack TCU with some similar concepts.
At the base level, the tight end must be involved, if not the focal point of the offense against TCU. Chase Allen and Dylan Soehner seem poised to break out and be a factor in the passing game. They will be key in picking up TCU’s speed pursuit in the run game, but they must be deployed as delay and seam targets in the passing game as well.
The tight end has an advantage both in size and skill against the linebackers and safeties who will be tasked with covering them. TCU will blitz its safeties and linebackers liberally, especially if they get gashed in the run game a few times. The tight end as the “hot” receiver in a vacated zone is a viable attack that ISU can execute with a will to do so.
Defensively, I prefer a four-man front and an eight-man box. This look will provide an extra hand against the option and a running threat at quarterback. However, it will stress the corners and deep safety against TCU’s speedy receivers. Maybe I trust Payne and Peavy too much, but if there is a time to do so it is in their senior campaign.
From the four-man front, I would again alternate personnel and disguise the look dropping in to max coverage regularly. My focus is to provide plays throughout the game where the young quarterback is challenged in making the correct reads and hope to take advantage of a mistake for a key turnover.
This defensive attack will have the highest likelihood of slowing down the TCU run game and forcing a mistake in the passing game that can turn the tide.
The “X” Files:
The “X” factor for the TCU offense is Keonte Turpin. The diminutive speedster can change a game on one play. His special teams acumen remains a key element of the TCU attack and he stung Iowa State last year. With much of the defensive focus being on Robinson, Anderson, and Reagor, it is possible to go to sleep on Turpin, which is a bad idea.
The “X” factor for the TCU defense is Ben Banogu. The extremely talented defensive end has the ability to pressure the ISU quarterback without the use of a blitz. If he is able to dominate the ISU right tackle, then it will be very difficult to move the ball. Conversely, Banogu will occasionally fly up the field on a speed rush without accounting for a run play to his inside shoulder. If he is caught in that tendency then Montgomery can make impact plays in the run game.
The “X” factor for the Iowa State offense is Chase Allen. It is time for ISU to utilize the tight end in the passing game. Allen has a match-up advantage in this game and should be targeted. If Allen is able to “sneak” out on delayed misdirection routes and up the seam, then TCU will have to adjust and other play makers will be in advantageous positions. Get Allen going in the passing game and ISU will have a chance to really click offensively.
The “X” factor for the Iowa State defense is the outside linebacker position, Marcel Spears and Willie Harvey. The option attack of TCU and short passing game will stress the outside linebackers. These two players have to play disciplined and make their reads consistently in order for the entire defense to operate efficiently. They will be tasked with controlling and containing the quarterback and working to the pitch man depending on the force assignments in the formation. A stout effort from these two experienced players is critical for ISU.
On Sunday, I expect to be writing the following:
1 – TCU is poised for title run after workmanlike effort against the Cyclones; or
2 – Iowa State establishes itself behind another herculean effort by David Montgomery.
While a reasonable speculator would put this game in the loss column and slant their analysis in that direction, I am not reasonable today. Iowa State has enough talent across the skill positions to create a crack in the TCU defense. The question will be whether they have the will to extend beyond their comfort zone to exploit the advantages they have.
The TCU offense will be solid, but I do not expect it to be spectacular. Robinson’s running ability will be a challenge, but, if Iowa State is not preparing for a season of facing mobile quarterbacks then the staff will have misread the schedule. Oklahoma, TCU, Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Akron, and South Dakota State will all field quarterbacks with significant or effective mobility. I expect Iowa State to be prepared for and have a plan to stifle this key part of the offensive attack for these teams.
If Iowa State is not prepared for, or cannot contain, the mobile quarterbacks it will face, then this will be a long season. I am not expecting a long season.
The TCU game in the fifth week of the season, in my speculative view, is THE key game for both teams. Both teams have challenging early slates. I hold Oklahoma in significantly higher regard than I do Texas, so I lean towards Iowa State’s being a bit tougher, however, both teams have no room to ease in to their season identity. They both have to be playing at a high level from the start of fall camp if they want to reach their internal expectations for the year.
I expect both teams to surprise in the early going, but neither to be unblemished at kickoff. Therefore, to set up the balance of the schedule with the rest of the Big 12, each represents the gateway to success. The winner will be set for a strong push to the end of the year. The loser will have to retrench.
Get ready for an exhilarating first five weeks of the season.