JAY JORDAN ANALYSIS: Speculative Preview for Texas Tech

Oct 21, 2017; Lubbock, TX, USA; Iowa State Cyclones running back David Montgomery (32) fights for yardage against the Texas Tech Red Raiders in the first half at Jones AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The Texas Tech game represents the “must win” of all “must win” games. Five of the previous seven games represent contests against an in-state rival and the recent powers in the conference. If Iowa State is 2-5 then any chance to salvage the season starts with Texas Tech. If Iowa State is 4-3 or better, then a loss to Texas Tech would be a significant setback.

Game 8 – Texas Tech

In the last two games against Texas Tech, Iowa State has held the Red Raiders to 23 total points.

Let that sink in. Beleaguered Iowa State has only allowed 23 points in 8 quarters of football against Texas Tech while scoring nearly 100 points in the same time frame.

Something has to give, right? Not necessarily. Iowa State may be Kingsbury Kryptonite, but they have had the right formula against them and I expect that to continue in 2018.

The Opponent:

Three notes are important for assessing Texas Tech in 2018:

  1. The offensive line is good and returns intact for 2018;
  2. The defense is experienced and everyone is back with the exception of an outstanding run defender on the defensive line.
  3. McClane Carter, Jett Duffey, Alan Bowman. Potential QB’s. Who is it and are they on par with Mahomes or Shimonek?

Good offensive line and an experienced defense. It may be that Tech will pivot this year and become a ball control run and D team…or not. I don’t think that is on the agenda, but the presence of a solid offensive line and an associated running game threat is a significant aid to an inexperienced passing battery.

If Texas Tech steps up its run game and protects the quarterback, then the new quarterback will have an easier time transitioning into the expected production from the position. The offensive line gives them a chance to do that and it is not unreasonable to expect a similar level of offensive production and danger from the Red Raiders.

The defense improved significantly in 2017 with a young crew. That is to say, they were only bad, not awful. Another step forward to average is expected and would bode well for the 2018 season. The run defense was stout and should remain solid. The pass defense was better and it should not regress.

Tech’s primary problem defensively is a lack of discipline in alignment and fundamental gap and zone coverage. Iowa State has taken advantage of that in each of the past two seasons. If they can make improvements in those areas, which experience generally aids, then I expect to see a fairly solid defensive team in 2018.

Quarterback is the big wild card. All three candidates have some ability and all three are inexperienced.  But, it is Tech and they seamlessly move through quarterbacks and put up big numbers.

The key is how do these elements and questions gel? Will the staff be able or willing to play to their strengths and are those strengths enough to break through for seven wins and retain the coach’s job? While Tech will be dangerous in every game, they have a lot to overcome even with some nice pieces in place.

The Match-Up:

Iowa State has matched up well with Tech. They have limited Tech’s ability to run the ball and pressured the quarterback directly or via max coverage which has resulted in impotent offensive efforts over the last two seasons.

There is no reason to believe that they will not be able to whip up a recipe for doing the same at home in 2018.

In 2016, Iowa State utilized their power running game to beat Tech into oblivion. In 2017, it was a blend of power run and creative formations (primarily the doubles stack) to create space in the passing game. This season, the multiple attacks will be needed to penetrate the Tech defense.

Iowa State’s defensive line will be tested here and will have to stand strong against the solid Tech offensive line. Getting pressure from the front four will be a difference maker, and ISU is capable of doing so. In addition, penetration against the run game will be critical.

Tech’s receivers will be what they always are – fast and capable. Assuming Tech struggles in the run game, Iowa State’s pass defense should be able to limit damage if they can keep the lid on and shut down the big play.

All signs point to the match-up favoring Iowa State here. If they are forced to grind, they can with size and talent at the skill positions. The front seven should be a match for Tech’s offensive line and the secondary can limit the damage. However, Tech gains an advantage if they can run the ball with efficiency and force Iowa State into third and long situations by stopping first down runs.

Preferred Plan of Attack:

I prefer a “pass to set up the run” approach in this game. While Texas Tech limits the big play, there is a vulnerability in the mid-range passing attack. Iowa State has a nice combination of size and speed on the edges and it can be utilized to loosen up the run defense.

Once ISU gains some rhythm in the passing game, then David Montgomery can go to work. If Montgomery gets rolling, then Tech will be in a position to guess pass/run and will be in a position to give up big plays.

This approach may result in a grinding performance, but that works well against Tech who prefers a track meet. Picking up first downs and controlling field position is a solid formula against the Tech style of play and Iowa State has the talent to do exactly that.

On defense, the Cyclones have attacked weaknesses in the quarterback’s play each of the last two years. Mahomes had a tendency to throw off his back foot into 50/50 situations when pressured. So, Iowa State pressured and got the exact reaction they were looking for. Shimonek was less effective when facing max coverage, so, Iowa State threw max coverage at him and he ended up throwing a game-sealing pick-six.

The plan here is based on who plays quarterback and what they expose during the previous seven games. The good news is that Iowa State can bring either package to bear. But, it all hinges on Iowa State’s ability to control the run. If the front seven can control the run game, then the quarterback will be forced to play to his weakness. The game hinges on this chess match.

The “X” Files:

The “X” factor for the Texas Tech offense is the offensive line. If the Tech line can open gaps for an effective run game, then Iowa State will be at a disadvantage. If not, then Iowa State may have its way against them again. This game will be focused in the trenches.

The “X” factor for the Texas Tech defense is the play of their defensive tackles. Tech’s tackles will be targeted in the Iowa State inside zone run scheme. If they hold up, then Iowa State will have a hard time getting comfortable and moving the chains. If they are suspect or fail to be disruptive, then Iowa State can put them on roller skates and grind the ball down the field for scores.

The “X” factor for the Iowa State offense is Hakeem Butler. It is hard to put him in as an X-factor because he is expected to be a key contributor each week. But, in this game, Iowa State must attack the mid-range in the seams and in the middle of the field. Butler’s size, catch radius, and speed is critical in threatening these zones from the outside in. Big plays by Butler in this area will ease the defense off of its run focus and is the key to getting the offense moving.

The “X” factor for the Iowa State defense is, once again, JaQuan Bailey. If Bailey can provide pressure from his end position, then Iowa State can keep the linebackers in underneath coverage instead of succumbing to the temptation to bring an extra man for pressure. If he provides some push, then the pressure package has a better chance to succeed when used. What I am looking for here is enough of a threat to force a back or H to chip him. If the protection has to slide or an extra man is utilized, Iowa State gains a huge advantage.

Expected Headlines:

I expect to be writing on Sunday about Tech’s inability to solve the Iowa State puzzle.

This is a must-win game for Iowa State and anything less will be a disappointment. With so many tough, underdog games in the previous weeks, Iowa State has to have this win for bowl eligibility and to continue their ascendance under Coach Campbell.

The talent is available for Iowa State to continue to do what they have done the previous two seasons, which is to frustrate Texas Tech’s preferred style of play. A win here sets up a potential run to the end of the season and is necessary to light that fuse.