It has not been a warm welcoming into the Big 12 Conference for the Cincinnati Bearcats who joined along with BYU and UCF at the beginning of July. The Bearcats sit at 2-3 with wins over Eastern Kentucky and Pittsburgh but are still searching for their first Big 12 victory. Matt Campbell and the Iowa State Cyclones get their first look at the new conference arrival this Saturday at 11 a.m.
After beating TCU 27-14 at home last week, the Cyclones improved to 3-3 overall and 2-1 in conference play. While traveling to Cincinnati is new for Iowa State, the position they sit within the conference is not. Four out of the eight years under Campbell's direction, Iowa State has started 3-1 in the Big 12. Not to forget they are also 5-2 when heading into a bye week.
In unfamiliar territory is the Cyclone defense. Despite snatching four interceptions against the Horned Frogs, the tackling and the rushing yards that were gained by the opposing offense is very concerning.
“We left a lot to be desired,” defensive coordinator Jon Heacock said during Tuesday’s press conference.
Three weeks ago, the Cyclones had their nation-leading streak of holding opponents to fewer than 400 yards of total offense broken. They were two yards shy of allowing a third-straight offense to eclipse that 400 or more mark with TCU totaling 398 yards. In the past three games, opposing offenses are averaging 443.3 yards per game.
Now, the Iowa State defense is still one of the top defenses in the Big 12. Ranking fourth in total defense averaging 348.5 yards a game and has forced 10 interceptions which ranks second. Where they struggle is the ground game. TCU gained over 180 yards on the ground last week and that has been the story of the defense so far this season. Cyclones rank seventh in rushing yards allowed per game with 134. What has been the bright spot is the defense's ability to adjust from the first half to the second half.
“It is stuff we are continuing to work at. I am really excited about the intent of our guys. Our guys want to get better, want to improve, and want to be great,” Heacock said.
Saturday’s result will come down to whether Iowa State can stop the run or not. Cincinnati sits third in the conference averaging over 220 rushing yards a game. The Bearcat offense runs, literally, through the duo of junior running back Corey Kiner and redshirt senior quarterback Emory Jones. Jones has rushed for a team-high three touchdowns and over 335 yards. While Kiner leads the team with over 415 yards on the ground and two scores.
“Number one: they know what their answers are in the running game, they know how to adjust within the game and are very consistent with what they want to do,” Campbell said. “Scott (Satterfield) does an incredible job of putting his players in a great position to be successful. It will be a great challenge defensively…they will challenge you on every play.”
The defense has struggled in the past few weeks, but the growth and adjustment from week three to now in the offense is nothing short of impressive. First-year offensive coordinator, Nate Scheelhaase has the team moving downfield in the past three weeks. Since the Oklahoma State victory, the Cyclones are averaging 325.7 yards a game.
MY PREDICTION: The offense is improving each week and the defense has shown signs of greatness, but for the Cyclones to win their first road game they must play a complete game. I believe Iowa State cleans up some of the miscues on defense and takes down the newcomers. Securing momentum heading into their bye.