The target couldn’t get much bigger for Kansas State right now.
With every win the Wildcats climb a little higher in the national polls and quarterback Collin Klein’s name shines a little brighter for Heisman Trophy consideration.
Iowa State would want nothing more than to derail all of that on Saturday when the Cyclones welcome the Wildcats to Ames for the first time since the 2007 season.
The Cyclones are coming off their second win over a top 15 program in two seasons last Saturday when they upset No. 13 TCU on the road. A year ago, if you remember, Iowa State shocked No. 2 Oklahoma State in Week 11 at home.
“Beating Oklahoma State — every year they’re going to knock off one of the Big 12’s big guys,” K-State tight end Travis Tannahill said Tuesday.
The sixth-ranked Wildcats (5-0, 2-0 Big 12) hope TCU was as big as it gets for Iowa State — at least this week — as K-State barrels toward that marquee matchup at No. 5 West Virginia on Oct. 20.
But winning the big game is what Iowa State expects to do now under fourth-year coach Paul Rhoads, who has the Cyclones coming off back-to-back bowl appearances.
“I think the expectation level has been raised internally, which is what matters most,” Rhoads said this week about the 37-23 victory at TCU. “We had great preparation and we know that if we took that preparation down there and executed that we could win that football game. That’s exactly what we did, so there was no surprise in the result of the game.”
What makes Saturday’s game — an 11 a.m. kickoff on FX — intriguing is that both K-State and Iowa State seem to have similarities in their style of play. Both are sound on defense and both run a multiple offense. Look no further than the last three meetings between the two schools — albeit three wins for K-State. The Wildcats edged the Cyclones 30-23 a year ago, 27-20 in 2010 and 24-23 in 2009.
“A lot of college football is about matchups and they match up really well with us,” Tannahill said. “We’re kind of the same team — playing with toughness and discipline. Whenever a team does that, they have a chance to win, so we have to go up there and play our best to win.”
At 4-1 overall and 1-1 in the Big 12, much of the Cyclones’ early success this season falls on the shoulders of their defense that is ranked fourth in the league, giving up just 338 yards and 15.8 points a game so far.
Leading the way for Iowa State on the defensive side of the ball is the linebacker duo of A.J. Klein and Jake Knott. Klein was last year’s Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, while Knott was named first-team All-Big 12. The two are No. 1 and No. 2 in tackles for the Cyclones, combining for 83 stops and five tackles for loss this season.
“I have said that they are tremendously talented young guys, and I think that is promoted by the fact that they have a tremendous focus and intensity about the game,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said about Klein and Knott. “Obviously, the experience is a tremendous factor for them.
“They play extremely hard, and they are intelligent young guys. They fit the system so well, and they can play at maximum speed. They probably don’t have any better 40 times than a lot of guys, but they play extremely fast. They play like 4.5 guys, and they are pretty good.”
Offensively, the Cyclones are in a slightly different position after making a change at quarterback last week against TCU. Getting his first start of the season, Jared Barnett was 12-of-21 passing for 183 yards and three touchdowns with one interception. The 6-foot-1 sophomore started against K-State last season in Manhattan, competing 15-of-27 passes for 153 yards with one TD and one interception.
“They started Barnett against TCU and won the ballgame, and TCU is a good football team,” Snyder said. “There’s no doubt in my mind, and certainly the anticipation is that he will be back. He started and played the ballgame against us last year and did a nice job, scrambled a couple times and brought the ball down and really hurt us with that.
“He understands the game well and has a good mentality for it. He’s the dual-threat type guy and they run that offense now that allows him the opportunity to run with the football.”
Iowa State enters the game among the worst in the Big 12 in turnover margin. A big reason for that are the seven interceptions thrown by now-backup quarterback Steele Jantz, who struggled to lead the Cyclones’ offense that ranks last in the Big 12 in yards per game and ninth in points per game.
“Of those turnovers, nine of them were interceptions and they’ve replaced their quarterback, so that takes (seven) of them off the board. They’ve made a decision that kind of changes those numbers dramatically…”
Snyder doesn’t anticipate much of a schematic change in the Iowa State offense, however, perhaps just better execution.
“I don’t see a great deal of change in what they do,” he said. “That doesn’t mean that it’s not on the horizon, but they are both young guys who have the ability to run and throw. Their offense is schemed that way. Based on what I saw against TCU, (Barnett’s) leadership is there…”
In describing his new starter, Rhoads was simple and to the point.
“He’s no Collin Klein, but he has some of the same characteristics — he finds ways to move the chains.”