Oklahoma State football looks to take ahold of the Big 12 title race and a playoff berth with a huge Week 8 matchup against Iowa State.
Two of the favorites heading into the season were expected to be schools wearing orange and red. However, seven weeks into the season, it’s not Oklahoma nor is it Texas. The two highest-ranked teams in the Big 12 are Oklahoma State and Iowa State.
For Oklahoma State, they have had a really easy slate with its lone scare being in the opener against Tulsa. With Spencer Sanders going down early against Tulsa, it has been Shane Illingworth, that has played ever since.
Illingworth has been solid, passing for 478 yards and three touchdowns in his previous 2.5 games. However, the defenses that Illingworth has played apart from West Virginia, has been questionable. When he is throwing the ball, his main connection has been Tylan Wallace.
Coming into the season, an optimistic reason for the Cowboys to win the Big 12, was the returning production on the defensive side of the ball. Through three games, Oklahoma State has done exactly that, giving up just nine points per game (No. 3 in the NCAA).
Malcolm Rodriguez has the staggering stat of not only second on the team in tackles, but forcing five turnovers in just three games.
The linebacking corps is the strongest unit; alongside Rodriguez is Calvin Bundage who leads the team in tackles for loss and sacks with 4.5 and 3.5, respectively.
The Cyclones, however, have had some much more competent competition to play so far throughout the season. One of the biggest dynamic elements to Iowa State’s offense is the height with their pass-catchers. How the Cyclones dominate on offense is by having much bigger threats against faster and smaller corners.
The combo of tight ends Charlie Kolar and Chase Allen to go along with receiver Xaiver Hutchinson are all players above 6-foot-3. Iowa State wins with height on offense and a dominant running back in Breece Hall. He leads the conference with eight touchdowns and has rushed for 531 yards this season.
Defensively, Iowa State is a very physical team, lead by an experienced linebacker captain and two dominant defensive linemen. Linebacker Mike Rose leads the team in tackles and the duo of Jaquan Bailey and Will McDonald has combined for 10 tackles for loss and eight sacks.
Here’s how to watch the game between the Cowboys and Cyclones:
Date: Saturday, Oct. 2
Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
Location: Stillwater, Okla.
Venue: Boone Pickens Stadium
Live Stream: FOX Sports Go
Keys to Victory
This is going to be a game of growth for Illingworth. Oklahoma State got a favorable schedule, but this is by far the best defense he has played. No other Oklahoma State has more than a hundred yards on the season, showing the worth of Wallace.
Although Wallace will get his, Illingworth has to find a different target to throw to at time. After a promising sophomore year, Braydon Johnson has been quiet this year (seven catches, eight yards and a touchdown) and experienced veteran Dillon Stoner has just eight catches.
Illingworth has to be comfortable throwing the ball to different targets. If not, Iowa State will double cover Wallace and stack the box for Chuba Hubbard.
For Iowa State, this needs to be opportunity to steal possessions. The biggest weakness for the Cyclones has been forcing turnovers. Iowa State has forced just three turnovers on the season. After looking bad through the first three weeks, they played much better in Lubbock, giving up just 15 points.
An inexperienced quarterback who relies on one option out wide, could be exactly what the Cyclones needed. Although giving up 31 to Louisiana and 34 to a decent TCU offense isn’t attractive, Iowa State defenses in most seasons are tough to score on.
A key for Iowa State is to pressure Illingworth constantly and force him to make mistakes. Iowa State’s defensive line, alongside Rose, has proven to get to quarterbacks consistently.
Both teams have a weakness in different areas that could make this game go one way or the other. Both teams have elite running backs, that they can rely on when the passing game struggles. However, Brock Purdy has proven to make big plays and be clutch when he is needed.
The biggest mismatch will be Iowa State’s height at wide receiver. It’s unique and will make things difficult for Mike Gundy.
Iowa State takes control of the Big 12 for the first time since its inception with maybe its biggest win, in terms of standings since they’ve joined the conference. Illingworth throws an interception late and Iowa State steals a huge road win.
Final Score: Iowa State 30, Oklahoma State 24