Valero Alamo Bowl – #24 Iowa State Cyclones v #13 Washington State Cougars

Valero Alamo Bowl

This coverage of the Alamo Bowl is a continuation of our College Football Playoff coverage!

 Iowa State

Offense

Passing: Most of the differences between the home and away version of Iowa State are due to the difference in games played (7 home, 5 away). They have slightly fewer interceptions per game on the road in basically the same number of passing attempts (1 attempt difference between home and away). Their QB rating drops a little over 20 points away from home and the yards per attempt goes down just under 2 yards on the road. All of these cumulatively end up in a 60 yards per game passing differential. When unaccompanied by scores though, this is something you can live with.

Rushing: Iowa State has their real difference in the rushing game, where they’ve averaged almost 4 yards per attempt at home. When they go on the road, they drop to just under 3 yards per attempt. However even aside from that, the real difference is in touchdowns. They average 1.87 rushing touchdowns per game at home — and 0.8 rushing touchdowns on the road. They also average almost seven attempts less on the road than at home.

Defense

Passing: The Iowa State defense takes a step forward away from home against the pass. At home they allow on average 2 touchdowns per game, while on the road they average 1.4 per game. However, the interception numbers are markedly higher at home. Defensively, they tend to face 2 less passing attempts per game on the road, and it ultimately accounts for a net of -35 yards compared to at home. In addition, passer rating drops about 10% while the yards per attempt drop 0.5 yards. The completion percentage is nearly identical between home and away games.

Rushing: Iowa State is actually better with their rushing defense on the road than at home. Despite facing almost 10 more rushing attempts per game, they allow 0.3 yard less per attempt. Ultimately they end up allowing a little more yardage (~20 more yards) but the exact same number of touchdowns (4). While they allow less rushing touchdowns per game at home, they still allow less than one touchdown per game either way.

Washington State:

Offense

Passing: I know it’s shocking, but the Cougars offense throws the football almost twice as much as they run. They are averaging about 52 attempts regardless of place. Almost all of the statistics are very similar across the rest of the spectrum. The only exclusion to this is passing touchdowns and interceptions, where are much better away from home. At home they have a 21:9 touchdown to interception ratio across 7 home games. Strangely, they have a 16:1 ratio away from home and in only 5 away games. I expect them to lean heavily on the pass (as they always do) and with numbers like this, I expect them to put up a lot of points.

Rushing: Washington State has not been a huge rushing team since Mike Leach came in. That said, they are slightly more active in the rushing game on the road as they run 3 more times per game. They average 2 touchdowns per game on the road compared to 1.5 at home. Their rushing statistics otherwise are very similar between the various splits. Mike Leach’s use of the rushing game has solely been to offset the pass-first offense, the “air raid” offense.

Defense

Passing: The Cougars are very similar against the pass, they allow a similar number of touchdowns both home and away. The only real area of difference is that 80% of their (defensive) interceptions have come at home. They’ve also allowed about a 10% increase in completion rate at home. None of these things really add up to a whole lot in the grand scheme of things. I’m sure they’d love to get a few more interceptions on the road, but their seasonal averages are still very good numbers.

Rushing: Defensively the Cougars are a little less effective on the road. They allow more than 2 touchdowns per game on the road, while allowing only 1 at home. They face less attempts on the road but allow one yard more per attempt. The other numbers are very similar and easily explained by the difference in games played at home (7) versus away (5).

The Game

The game is played at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas with kickoff at 6:00 PM PST/ 9:00 PM EST. The neutrals are expecting about 60 points to be scored, and Washington State to be slight favorites.

Keys to a win for each side

Iowa State: 

  • Make a Stand. I think much of this game from the Cyclones standpoint is going to be won or lost on defense. Washington State is going to score, but they will have to make some big stops and ideally force some poor decisions which lead to interceptions. I think this game will be far from the Cheez-It Bowl level of craziness with interceptions, but one or two will go a long way in this game.
  • Road Warriors. The Cyclones are going to have change the way their rushing game has been on the road. I think that this Washington State team is a great opportunity for them to gain some serious yardage on the ground. The Cougars are allowing a full touchdown more per game on the road, and I don’t think that’s likely to change today.
  • Stay Balanced. While the Cougars are not great defensively against either the rushing or passing attack, I think that one of the biggest keys for the Cyclones is keeping them guessing. Taking away the element of surprise by focusing to heavy on either element is a recipe for some serious pressure and probably a lack of effectiveness going forward.

Washington State:

  • Air Raid. This has been Mike Leach’s philosophy for some time now, and I see no reason to veer away. The Cyclones have been quite a bit better against the rush and have had trouble finding interception opportunities away from home. Combine this with the fact that the Cougars allowed only a single interception away from home and this seems like it’s going to be a facet of the game they ride hard.
  • Convert, Convert, Convert. I don’t see this having the makings of anything close to a defensive showcase. It should be a race to the 30s or 40s, both teams score and I expect them to continue to do so, somewhat freely, tonight. This is unlikely to be about defensive execution but much more so about offensive execution and keeping mistakes to a minimum.
  • Sprinkle in the run. While it’s an Iowa State key to stay balanced, the Cougars are going to throw the ball and everyone knows it. What’s impressive is that they are still effective at it. I anticipate the Cyclones playing a lot of heavy coverage zone looks and trying to keep everything in front of them. This is a great set up for just a “sprinkle” of the run and should allow for some fairly substantial gains and keep the Cyclones from settling in too much.

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