When Kansas has the ball
Kansas rush offense vs. Iowa State rush defense
Despite featuring the Big 12’s leading tackler (linebacker Jeremiah George, 112), the Cyclones rank last in three defensive categories, including scoring defense (39 points per game), total defense (471 yards per game) and rushing defense (229 ypg). That may be expected based on Iowa State’s 1-9 record, but it certainly is a rarity for a Paul Rhoads-coached squad. During the past few seasons, the Cyclones have made life tough on KU running back James Sims, who enters this weekend on the heels of a career-high 211 yards during the Jayhawks’ 31-19 victory over West Virginia. In that game, Sims averaged 9.6 yards per carry and took advantage of a physical offensive line that had its best day of the season. With the line coming into its own and Sims charging toward the finish line of an excellent college career, the Jayhawks appear to have rediscovered their power running identity.
Kansas pass offense vs. Iowa State pass defense
Kansas freshman Montell Cozart attempted just 12 passes during last week’s victory but still played a huge part in the Jayhawks’ upset of West Virginia. KU coach Charlie Weis said this week that he would like to do more with Cozart in the passing game before the season’s over but added that, if opposing teams are not stopping the run, there’s no need to throw it. Given that the Cyclones rank eighth in pass defense and give up more than 240 yards per game through the air, it seems logical Kansas would look to throw more against ISU. But with the running game going and the conditions expected to be cold and windy, Weis may again limit Cozart’s pass attempts. The Jayhawks likely will be without leading receiver Tony Pierson the rest of the way, so there’s room for a go-to wideout to emerge.
When Iowa State has the ball
Iowa State rush offense vs. Kansas rush defense
The Cyclones feature five running backs with experience and talent but seem to favor senior Shontrelle Johnson, who’s listed atop the ISU depth chart at tailback. Johnson has 202 yards and a touchdown on the season, and the Cyclones’ rushing attack is led by athlete Aaron Wimberly (466 yards, 2 TDs) and quarterback Sam B. Richardson (358, 2). Senior Jeff Woody, who has had past success against the Jayhawks, leads ISU with five rushing touchdowns, and the Cyclones’ ability to turn to any number of backs may keep the Jayhawks from settling into a rhythm defensively. Still, ISU ranks just eighth in the Big 12 in rushing offense (128 ypg), and the Jayhawks rank ninth in the league in rush defense (188 ypg).
Iowa State pass offense vs. Kansas pass defense
Like seemingly every other coach in the Big 12, Rhoads has been forced to play musical quarterbacks this season, with Sam B. Richardson (the breakout hero of last year’s ISU victory in Lawrence) and red-shirt freshman Grant Rohach splitting snaps during recent weeks. Each QBs’ completion percentage hovers around 55 percent, and Richardson has thrown for 1,397 yards and 11 TDs (with 7 interceptions) compared to just 577 yards and 2 touchdowns (with 5 interceptions) in about half the time for Rohach. ISU features four receivers with 18 receptions or more and is led by wideout Quenton Bundrage’s 520 yards and six touchdowns on 38 receptions, all team bests. KU cornerbacks Dexter McDonald and JaCorey Shepherd have been steady throughout the season, and quarterbacks have struggled to beat either guy deep this season. What’s more, KU’s pass rush has shown up big-time for the Jayhawks during most weeks.
Iowa State punter Kirby Van Der Kamp has long been one of the top punters in the Big 12, but this year he ranks just seventh in the Big 12 in punting average (42.1 yards per punt) and has company at the top of the punting ranks in Kansas junior Trevor Pardula, who ranks third (44.2). In the six major kicking and return categories, the Cyclones rank in the bottom half in five of them, while the Jayhawks rank in the top half in three. Kansas kickoff returner JaCorey Shepherd continues to shine in his new role, with a 26.3-yards-per-return average (third in the Big 12), and Connor Embree remains one of the top punt returners in the conference, ranking third with an average of 12.1 yards per punt return.