Here is everything you need to know about the Big 12 opener between Iowa State (1-2, 0-1 in Big 12) and TCU (2-2, 0-1).
6 p.m. Central Time, Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018, Amon G. Carter Stadium, Fort Worth, Texas
TV: ESPNU (Roy Philpott, Tom Ramsey)
Radio: Iowa State: Cyclone Radio Network/Learfield; TCU: WBAP 820 AM, KTCU 88.7 FM; Satellite Radio: Sirius 105, XM 199
QB Zeb Noland. The replacement for the injured Kyle Kempt has played well in two starts this season and is coming off a 233-yard performance against Akron. He’s completed passes at a high rate since taking over for Kempt, connecting on 68.8 percent of his passes, which right now ranks No. 20 nationally. It sounds like Kempt is making progress, but won’t be back this week from his MCL injury. Expect Noland to start and move the offense at least as well as he’s moved it the past two weeks.
WR Hakeem Butler. He’s become Iowa State’s biggest passing threat and one of the best downfield threats in the Big 12. He’s averaging 23.8 yards per catch and has three touchdown receptions this season. Of particular note to TCU is the fact that two of those touchdown catches have been for 50 yards or more and deep scoring plays are a penchant of Butler’s career at ISU. And, sometimes, that involves cartwheels.
— Cyclone Football (@CycloneFB) September 22, 2018
CB Brian Peavy. One of the talented holdovers from last year’s defense, Peavy now has a distinction as the college game’s top pass defenders by pass breakups with 39. No player in FBS has more. He’s given opposing receivers fits all season and should draw plenty of TCU wide receivers Jalen Reagor or KaVontae Turpin on Saturday.
PK Connor Assalley. Sometimes you have to give the kicker a little love, especially when he’s been a potent weapon for your team. Assalley is perfect on field goals so far this season (7-of-7), one of four kickers in FBS without a missed field goal and has helped pick up the slack for a sputtering red zone offense.
QB Shawn Robinson. The feel-good vibes are gone and now the Horned Frogs need him to protect the football better. After throwing for three touchdown passes in the opener against Southern, Robinson has accounted for three passing touchdowns in the last three games. In addition, he’s thrown two interceptions in each of his last two games. He’s talented and dynamic, but his play in the second half has put the Horned Frogs in the difficult position of losing second-half leads and losing two games in a row. His second-half play must improve.
RB Sewo Olonilua. Perhaps it’s time to give this massive back more work. Unlike Darius Anderson, who has been up and down so far, Olonilua has been fairly consistent, but not terribly productive. But in four games he’s rushed for no fewer than 39 yards and no more than 59 yards, with at the most 14 carries. At 6-foot-3, 231 pounds, he’s a load and nearly impossible to bring down on the first try. Perhaps the Horned Frogs should give him 20 carries and see what he can do?
DE Ben Banogu. There were times last Saturday against Texas where Banogu was swarming around Texas QB Sam Ehlinger like a pack of bees. With 2.5 sacks and a team-leading six quarterback hurries, Iowa State will have its hands full with the Horned Frogs’ best edge rusher.
S Innis Gaines. The junior is making a serious name for himself in TCU’s secondary in 2018. With a team-leading six pass-breakups, he also has an interception and 5.5 tackles for loss, second-best on the team. That means Gaines is as potent in pass coverage as he is in run support, and that’s good news for TCU.
TCU is 43-7 in night home games under head coach Gary Patterson and 5-2 against Iowa State under Patterson. TCU has also lost three games in a row just once in Patterson’s tenure. But, last year the Cyclones held the Horned Frogs without an offensive touchdown in Ames, Iowa, and upset the Horned Frogs.
The Kyle Kempt injury storyline is worth tracking. And it’s not just because it’s unclear when he’ll be back (head coach Matt Campbell says it could be 2-3 weeks). But is Noland playing well enough to keep Kempt on the bench when he’s ready to return? Iowa State’s defense continues to improve under Campbell. Their current averages of 21.0 points per game and 344.7 yards per game through three games are some of the best averages in the program’s last nine seasons. RB David Montgomery has 233 yards rushing in three games, but the Cyclones could use one of the Big 12’s best backs more. Safety Greg Eisworth is worth keeping an eye on Saturday as he leads ISU in tackles with nearly 10 per game.
The Horned Frogs haven’t lost two games in a row since the end of the 2016 season. That year TCU finished 6-7 and were coming off the Trevone Boykin era. Kenny Hill was the starter at QB. With back-to-back losses to Ohio State and to Texas, the Horned Frogs are certainly less potent offensively than they were a year ago. In addition to that, their margin for error in the Big 12 when it comes to the title game is greatly reduced. Another loss might just kill those thoughts. The Horned Frog offense has to avoid the turnovers — they’re a minus-7 in their last two games. But the TCU defense, which has played well this season, has to start creating turnovers, too. The Horned Frogs haven’t forced a turnover on those two losses, either. Expect a bit of a reset on both sides of the ball this weekend.
Prediction: TCU 28, Iowa State 24. I have a hard time seeing the Horned Frogs lose three in a row with this defense. But the TCU offense has to start protecting the football better. Iowa State has the athletes to exploit the TCU defense downfield, and ISU’s Hakeem Butler will be a problem all night. TCU knows how to frustrate young quarterbacks and Noland is making just his fourth career start. That could make the difference.
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