Today is the day. The first of the two bowl games of our big state colleges for Division I football. Tonight is the night that Iowa State will take on Washington State at one of the most prestigious bowl games there is right now in the Alamo Bowl.
The Alamo Bowl has seen some classic contests along with a couple of Iowa teams through the years having some success. The Hawkeyes sports a 2-2 record at the Alamo Bowl, even appearing in the first one in a blow out loss to California in 1993. The Hawks beat Texas Tech in 1996 and 2001, and lost their last appearance in 2006 against Texas.
However, since the bowl has become a Big 12 against PAC-12, happening in 2010, the Big 12 has won six of those eight bowl games. Tonight Iowa State will hope to make it seven out of the last nine against the Cougars.
This is Washington State’s second time at the Alamo Bowl. Their first was way back when in 1994 against Baylor, the Cougars taking a 10-3 win before the days of the “Air Raid” offense.
The Cougars roll into this game with a 10-2 record this season and were considered the PAC-12’s biggest hope to reach the college football playoff, but those dreams were dashed with a 13-point loss to in-state rival Washington in their regular season finale to miss out on a possible playoff bid and the PAC-12 title contest.
Washington State’s best win was probably the 34-20 win against Oregon or a 41-38 win at Stanford. The Cougars dropped a hard one in their fourth game against USC which was easily the worst of their two losses. They beat four bowl bound teams this year, and their lone FCS win was against Eastern Washington, who will be playing North Dakota State on January 5 for the FCS Championship.
The Cougars have been held under 20 points just once this year, a 19-13 win over California. WSU needed a touchdown with 32 seconds left to avoid the upset against Cal. The pass happy offense still rolled up 337 yards in that game.
They sport the 21st best offense in college football, rolling up 462 yards per game. Their passing offense, the forte of head coach Mike Leach, ranks first in the the nation with 380 yards. Their run game is less than complementary, averaging just 81.8 yards a game.
What might surprise people is that the Cougar defense is 28th in the country, giving up 345 yards a game. Their pass defense sits at 208.8 per game and the run defense gives up 136.6 yards.
The quarterback is the most important skill piece on offense for a Leach coached team and this year is no exception for WSU. Graduate transfer Gardner Minshew seized the job before the season began and has had quite the year. He’s thrown for nearly 4500 yards and 36 touchdowns. He’s avoided mistakes with nine interceptions in 613 attempts.
The offensive line for WSU has kept him upright with just 11 sacks this season. Minshew has a host of receivers and running backs to throw to. Nine players have 25 catches or more, led by running back James Williams’ 76 catches for 560 yards. Dezmon Patton leads them in yards, 740 on 55 grabs. Davontaven Martin and Easop Winston both have eight touchdown grabs.
Williams also leads the run game with 552 yards and 12 touchdowns on 119 carries. The Cougars only manage to get 3.7 yards per carry as a team and have less than a 1000 yards overall.
The defense has 35 sacks this season and has held opposing quarterbacks to an average of 58.5 percent completing their passes. They have given up four yards a carry against opposing teams running the ball.
Linebacker Peyton Pelluer leads the team with 86 tackles and had 3.5 sacks. Linebacker Dominick Silvels has a team high 4.5 sacks this year. Safe Skyler Thomas and cornerback Marcus Strong have two interceptions apiece, and cornerback Darrien Molton has eight passes defended.
Iowa State rolls into this contest with an 8-4 record and won six Big 12 games for the first time ever. The Cyclones started slow at 1-3 but rolled the rest of the way with a 7-1 record. Only one of those losses was by 14 points, all four losses were to bowl bound teams in Iowa, Oklahoma, TCU and Texas.
The Cyclones’ season turned around when they inserted true freshman quarterback Brock Purdy in against Oklahoma State as the team began to take off following that win. The most impressive Iowa State win this season came against then undefeated West Virginia, then touted as a potential playoff team, beating them 30-14. Their worst loss was the three point defeat against TCU.
Kyle Kempt started the year for Iowa State under center but was hurt against the Hawkeyes. In stepped Zeb Noland who had a stellar game against Oklahoma in a loss, but struggled until he gave way to Purdy against OK State.
Purdy threw for nearly 2000 yards, completed 66 percent of his passes and had 16 touchdowns to six interceptions. He also added a run dimension at quarterback, going for 292 yards on the ground and three scores.
The run game was led by David Montgomery again this year, the junior racking up 1092 yards and 12 scores this season. He was the first back to back 1000 yard runner since Ennis Haywood back in the early 2000s for the Cyclones.
The receiving core was paced by Hakeem Butler who was a big play threat this season. his 1126 yards came on just 51 catches, that’s a 22.1 average (nation leading) and nine touchdowns.
Iowa State’s pass rush came to life this season as they had 31 sacks, paced by defensive end Jaquan Bailey’s seven sacks. Defensive back Greg Eisworth had the team high in tackles with 84.
Iowa State’s offense ranked 105th this season with an average of 359 yards per game. However, their defense was 34th this year, giving up 351 yards a game.
The keys to this game are simple. It comes down to the passing game. Iowa State’s run defense should do alright against the few times the Cougars will run it. Iowa State’s offense comes through in key situations when they have to get something.
If Iowa State’s drop eight back shell defense does what it has all year against Big 12 teams, they should have a good chance. They were able to slow down West Virginia with this style of play and they passed the ball a fair amount this season. If Iowa State can replicate that game plan against Washington State, they have a good shot at winning this game.
Despite Iowa State’s good for them year, Washington State comes into this one with a chip on their shoulder over not getting in a New Year’s game. As much as it pains me to say it, Washington State takes this one, 38-28.