For the first time this season, the Iowa State Cyclones (5-4, 4-2 Big 12) and their fans will feel the effects of conference realignment. This Saturday at 9:15 p.m. (CT) Iowa State will kick off against Big 12 newcomer the BYU Cougars (5-4, 2-4 Big 12). After an emotional loss to the Kansas Jayhawks 28-21 last weekend, the Cyclones drop to a five-way tie for second in the conference and still find themselves one win away from becoming bowl-eligible.
With only three weeks left the opportunities are running out for Iowa State to become postseason-bound. This is a must-win game for the Cyclones as this will likely be the final time, they are favored heading into a game. No team has it tougher in the final two weeks than Iowa State. If they drop one against the Cougars, they are forced into a corner with their backs against the wall. The home stretch for the Cyclones sets up like this, at home against No. 7 Texas Longhorns (8-1, 5-1 in Big 12) then they conclude their year at No. 25 Kansas State (7-3, 4-2). This is a must-win game for Iowa State.
“Obviously, starting faster than what we did this past Saturday is going to be critical to having success especially when you go on the road,” offensive coordinator Nate Scheelhaase said. “Being in the environment that we are going to be in, you can’t even expect to have to the start that we had and be able to come back the way we did.”
Nothing is more important than getting off to a fast start for this young Cyclones team. Kansas jumped out to a 14-3 lead at the half and Iowa State’s offense only had 89 passing yards. During their three-game winning streak, the offense’s identity was throwing on first down and relying on the arm of Rocco Becht. What Iowa State turned away from, against the Jayhawks, was utilizing the pass to open up the run game. At times the run game seemed forced. When Iowa State finally made the necessary changes in the second half, they went back to passing on first downs and found quick success. The Cyclones scored on three of the four drives and averaged just over 61 yards.
To become bowl eligible the Cyclones must do something no team has done since October of 2022, and that is beating BYU in Provo, UT. The Cougars currently face a 1-3 record in their last four games but have been unstoppable at home winning all four games. BYU is outscoring opponents on their home turf 117-57.
“You know how special this place is to play and what they have made it over the history of the last 30-40 years,” head coach Matt Campbell said. “ I have a lot of respect for what this program is about, and we know we will get their best shot in how they play the game and it is going to be a great opportunity but a great challenge for this team.”
Once again, the Cyclone defense will be forced to prepare for two equally talented and athletic quarterbacks. Senior Kedon Slovis has been the main starter throughout the season throwing for over 1,700 yards with 12 touchdowns and 6 interceptions, but after not playing against West Virginia last weekend with an injury, eyes have turned towards the backup. Junior Jake Retzlaff came into the starter role against the Mountaineers with great poise. In his first start, Retzlaff threw for 210 yards and completed 24 of his 42 attempts.
“Both of them have the ability to get the ball to their playmakers. Across the board they got great team speed on the outside at their skill positions,” Campbell said.
These two teams offensively match up about as close as you can get. Iowa State ranks 12th in yards per game with 219.7 and BYU is right behind them with 218.3. Now, where the Cyclones have an edge is, that they are more efficient with the ball in their hands (7th in offense efficiency) than the Cougars (13th in offensive efficiency), and of course, the defense of the Cyclones is still elite.
Campbell mentioned the status of Jeremiah Cooper, who has been dealing with a lower leg injury and sounded hopeful that he will play Saturday. I think with so much being on the line for the Cyclones the defense will not allow the home run type plays we saw against Kansas and the offensive play calling will be more aggressive. This will lead Iowa State to a 24-14 victory.