Homecoming Battle Critical for both Cats, Cyclones

Welcome home, Alumni!

Today’s Big 12 North Division battle between Kansas State and Iowa State at Bill Snyder Family Stadium will cap an exciting week of activities on the K-State campus as Wildcats from around the globe return to the Little Apple to celebrate their purple pride.

Kickoff is set for 2:35 p.m. and for the fifth straight week the Wildcats will not be available as part of the Big 12’s weekly over-the-air or network cable television package. The game will air on the radio across the 31-station K-State Sports network, including KMAN (1350 AM) and KMKF (101.5 FM) here in Manhattan, with Wyatt Thompson (play-by-play) and Stan Weber (color) calling all the action.

Today’s matchup will be critical for the postseason aspirations of both teams as each program looks to get back on the winning track with the 2006 season heading into the home stretch.

Kansas State is coming off back-to-back losses to ranked opponents that have dropped the Wildcats’ record to 4-4 overall and 1-3 in the Big 12. It is the second two-game skid of the season for K-State, which rebounded nicely with a win over Oklahoma State when faced with similar circumstances three weeks ago.

And the Wildcats would like to do it again today against Iowa State. With four games left in the season, including three versus teams that currently sport losing records, each game takes on added importance for the Wildcats, who remain well in the hunt to claim one of the conference’s bowl berths.

But in order to do that, Kansas State will need to produce at least two wins in its final four games. After today, the Wildcats will play just once more at home this season on Nov. 11 against No. 5 Texas. The remaining schedule has K-State on the road at Colorado on Nov. 4 before the Wildcats close out the regular season in Lawrence at in-state rival Kansas on Nov. 18.

Iowa State finds itself in even more desperate straights. The Cyclones are 3-5 on the year, 0-4 in Big 12 play, and can ill afford another loss without putting their 2006 bowl hopes in serious jeopardy.

Iowa State jumped out to a 2-0 start, but has fallen on hard times of late. The Cyclones’ lone victory in the last six games was a come-from-behind win over I-AA Northern Iowa on Sept. 30. And a loss today would force ISU to win out in its final three games in order to reach the magic six-victory mark.

The recent struggles of the teams and the critical nature of today’s game not with standing, this afternoon’s match-up is also an intriguing one from a statistical standpoints.

Points may be at a premium today as both teams have struggled to score with consistency. In addition, each offense finds itself in the lower third of this week’s NCAA offensive rankings in virtually every statistical category.

But where K-State’s defense has played with plenty of moxie this season, holding 7-of-8 opponents well below their average scoring totals, the Cyclones have yet to display the type of form that made them one of the Big 12’s stingiest units last     season. Iowa State is yielding 31.0 points per game and has surrendered over 35 points three times this year.

Big plays may also be available on special teams. Kansas State enters today’s game ranked third in the country in kickoff returns, while Iowa State owns the nation’s sixth-best punt return unit.

Kansas State opens the final third of the 2006 season this week looking to regain its momentum and make a big push to the finish after consecutive losses to ranked opponents.

On offense, the Wildcats enter the week averaging 19.5 points on 309.0 yards of total offense per game, but continue to search for an identity. A week after torching the Nebraska secondary for 272 yards through the air and struggling on the ground, K-State was the polar opposite against Missouri. Behind 100-yard rushing efforts by running backs Leon Patton and James Johnson, the Wildcats rushed for a season-high 262 yards against the Tigers, but connected on just 5-of-20 passes for a season-low 63 yards in the driving rain at Faurot Field.

The difficult part has been putting it all together in the same game. Kansas State did that in its victory over Oklahoma State, as the Wildcats posted their most balanced effort of the season with 180 rushing yards and 177 passing yards.

And there is plenty of evidence to suggest that Kansas State could break out in either offensive facet at any moment. With freshman quarterback Josh Freeman now at the helm of the Wildcats’ offense, K-State has crossed the 270-yard mark through the air in two of four games and has averaged 202.0 yards per outing over the last four. By comparison, K-State averaged just 170.8 yards per game in its first four games of the season, including a high of 256 vs. Marshall.

The insertion of fellow freshman Leon Patton at running back has also played big dividends for the Cats in conference play. Patton has already produced two 100-yard rushing efforts in his first three starts and ranks third in the Big 12 in rushing during league games.

Patton has also proved to be a dangerous weapon in both the passing and return games and has averaged just under 153 yards per game since the start of conference play to rank second in the league in all-purpose yardage.
Defensively, Kansas State continues to be as improved a unit as any in the Big 12 this season. The Wildcats are yielding 20.0 points per game. K-State also ranks in the top 20 nationally in tackles for losses (20th) and sacks (9th), while forcing 16 turnovers.

Defensive end Ian Campbell, the Big 12’s leader in both sacks (8.5), tackles for losses (13.5) and total tackles among defensive linemen (47), continues to make plenty of big plays while pushing for all-league recognition.

The Wildcats have also received plenty of production from Butkus Award candidate Brandon Archer (63 tackles) and fellow linebacker Zach Diles (56 tackles).

Iowa State enters today’s game in the midst of a three-game losing streak and continues to search for its first league win of the season. The Cyclones, who many pegged as a preseason favorite to contend for the Big 12’s North Division title, have dropped five of their last six contests, including a 42-26 loss to Texas Tech last Saturday in Ames.

Familiar names continue to dot the Iowa State offensive attack, including preseason first team All-Big 12 picks Bret Meyer at quarterback and Todd Blythe at wide receiver as well as running back Stevie Hicks, who has rushed for over 100 yards in each of his last two outings against K-State.

Meyer has accounted for over two-thirds of Iowa State’s offensive production and ranks 23rd nationally in total offense and fifth in the Big 12 in passing. The junior has completed 140-of-247 passes for 1,743 yards and 10 touchdowns, while tossing nine interceptions.

Blythe, 10th in the Big 12 in receiving yards per game, has already hauled in seven TDs and continues to be Meyer’s favorite target.

On the ground, Hicks is the Cyclones’ primary weapon. He averages 65.4 yards per game, which ranks seventh in the Big 12, and has scored two touchdowns.

Linebackers Alvin Bowen, the national leader in total tackles with 107, and Tyrone McKenzie, No. 2 in the Big 12 in stops with 91, have led the ISU defensive chargers. Bowen, who averages 13.4 tackles per game, also has an interception and a fumble recovery this season.

The Cyclones also boast the Big 12’s No. 5 tackler in safety Jon Banks, who has totaled 71 stops on the year.

Up front, senior Brent Curvey leads Iowa State with 10.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, including 5.5 sacks. 

On special teams, keep an eye on return specialist Ryan Baum. He averages 17.3 yards per punt return, which leads the Big 12 and ranks sixth nationally.