Week nine presents a road challenge for the well-rested Iowa State Cyclones (4-3, 3-1 Big 12) as they set their eyes on the Baylor Bears (3-4, 2-2 Big 12) this Saturday at 2:30 p.m. After winning three of their last four games, Matt Campbell and many fans are eager to see if this team can stay in rhythm coming off of their bye week.
“Our thought process was we didn’t want to miss the rhythm of the season,” Campbell said during Tuesday’s press conference. “I think 70% of power five football teams lose coming out of the bye, so I think this is such a huge challenge for our team.”
So far this season, Big 12 teams are split when coming out of a bye week. Five home teams have won their first game back and five have lost. Even the sixth-ranked Oklahoma Sooners are not immune to a sluggish welcome back. Last week, the UCF Knights nearly shocked the world but failed to upset the Sooners on the road losing 31-29.
Sitting in second place in the Big 12, Iowa State has been one of the most improved teams. Since the brutal road loss to the Ohio Bobcats, first-year offensive coordinator Nate Scheelhaase has found the recipe for success with this young team. A Cyclone team that struggled to put up just one touchdown against the Bobcats in week three, has now averaged over 27 points and 370 total yards of offense during their winning stretch. Rocco Becht continues to be the backbone of the offense and puts himself in contention to become the Big 12 freshman of the year with his 12 touchdowns and over 200 yards passing per game.
“Early on, you are looking for guys to step up,” Scheelhaase said about Becht becoming a vocal leader of the offense. “Nobody was going to say (Becht) did not have the right to say something or he has not put in everything that he could to go be the best player he could be so we could be the best team we could be. That is the type of guy he is.”
This game features two of the top secondaries in the Big 12 with Iowa State leading the conference allowing just 198.1 passing yards per game and the Bears ranking third with 199.3 yards allowed. Where the Cyclones separate themselves is causing turnovers as they are tied with Oklahoma at the top of the conference with 12 interceptions. The Iowa State backfield is coming off of their most dominating performance of the season holding Cincinnati to 99 yards passing, two interceptions, and forced the Bearcats to convert only 3 of their 13 third down attempts.
Iowa State will look to keep Baylor’s standout junior quarterback Blake Shapen in check. With over 1,200 yards passing, 5 touchdowns, and no interceptions. Shapen’s arm strength is cause for concern on top of his ability to improvise on the ground.
“(Shapen) has really played great football if you look especially at their last six quarters he has been exceptional,” Campbell said. “He has great escapability and he has made big play after big play.”
Campbell went on to compare Baylor to Iowa State saying they were “a mirror image of themselves.” It is hard not to see the comparisons. The Bears lost a lot of talent on the offensive end and have started to find their stride after falling to 1-3 through their first four weeks. Baylor comes into Saturday winning two of their last three, but despite winning, they have been outscored 103-82 during that stretch.
Traveling to Waco is never easy. The Cyclones have not beat Baylor on the road since 2017, but I believe Iowa State gets it done this weekend in a close one. 27-20, the Cyclones defeat the Bears and improve to 4-1 in the conference.