Levi Stevenson from Wide Right & Natty Lite joins us this week to talk shop about this season’s edition of The Riot Bowl.
Matt: It's obviously been a fun as hell season for Iowa State so far, so I'll ask the question on everyone's mind: what has Matt Campbell done to get this team where it is?
Levi: That's a complex answer with a lot of different variables, but the most important thing Campbell has done is create a culture of player leadership and accountability. When you're dealing with 18-22 year olds, immaturity can be a huge problem. Before Campbell, the players didn't always take initiative in being a role model on and off the field, forcing the coaching staff to deal with issues as trivial as making sure people are getting in the weight room, getting to class on time, watching film, etc. Now, the entire football program has a new culture built around player-driven leadership and accountability. Juniors and seniors are now taking accountability not just for their own actions and preparation, but also helping the underclassmen develop the habits needed to fill out their potential and build a winning program. Guys like David Montgomery, Allen Lazard, Brian Peavy, and Joel Lanning (among many others) have gone above and beyond in being the veteran leaders and role models needed to develop the preparation habits required to be successful. Player-driven leadership and accountability allows the coaching staff to focus on gamplan and development (what they're supposed to be doing), rather than having to take time to teach a bunch of 18 year olds why watching film, getting good grades, and eating healthy are important.
Matt: Outside of the big names like Lazard and Montgomery, who are some people to watch out for when ISU has the ball?
Levi: 6'-6" (or 6'-7", depending on who you talk to) receiver Hakeem Butler is the team's second leading receiver, and is an absolute nightmare to cover. Big 12 cornerbacks tend to be a bit undersized, with speed to keep up with all the talented receivers in the conference. That type of player is generally fairly unequipped to handle a guy as tall as Butler. Last Saturday, OC Tom Manning began targeting TCU CB Ranthony Texada, one of the undersized, speedy Big 12 corners I mentioned before, by throwing directly at him, forcing Texada to compete with 6'-5" Lazard, 6-'6" Butler, 6'-4" Matt Eaton, and 6'-1" Marchie Murdock in one-on-one jump ball situations. This gameplan was extremely successful, consistently gaining sizable chunks of yards and drawing multiple pass interference penalties. Absolutely nobody would argue that Iowa State has superior athletes to TCU, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, or West Virginia, but the offense does a great job of utilizing the advantage it always has. Ridiculous length. For that reason, Butler, along with Matt Eaton, will garner plenty of attention from the Mountaineer defense.
Matt: Will Grier and West Virginia loves trying to hit the deep ball off of play action, how have the 'Clones looked deep in the secondary this year?
Levi: Ever since the switch to the 3-2-6/3-3-5 defense before the Texas game, this secondary has been absolutely spectacular at shutting down the deep ball. Iowa State nearly always plays with a 3 man front and 3 deep safeties. This forces quarterback sit, be patient, and deliver accurate passes into tight windows. This scheme has forced Nic Shimonek, Kenny Hill, and, to an extent, Baker Mayfield to be extremely patient and complete short passes to underneath routes. In the past 4 games, the Cyclone defense has allowed a grand total of 7 completions of more than 20 yards, with 3 coming in the first half of the Oklahoma game. If West Virginia wants to try to beat the Cyclone defense through the air, it will be in the form of 6 yard underneath routes and runs after the catch, not the deep ball.
Matt: What's your biggest worry about playing West Virginia?
Levi: Certainly it's offense and their big play ability. Will Grier is an extremely talented quarterback, and David Sills has been a touchdown machine this year. They're probably the scariest QB/WR duo in the Big 12.
Matt: How does the Riot Bowl shake out? Will West Virginia #DefendTheCan or will Iowa State #BringTheCanHome?
Levi: I actually love the matchup between the Mountaineer offense and the Cyclone defense. A true unstoppable force/immovable object matchup. However, I expect Iowa State DC John Heacock (probably the MVP of this season so far) to employ the strategy for this game as he did for Texas Tech and TCU. Keep everything in front of you, and force the quarterback to be patient. As demonstrated by his 4 INT game last week against Oklahoma State, Will Grier, as talented as he is, has a tendency to get impatient and force passes at times. TCU's Kenny Hill follows the same tendency, and he struggled mightily.
On the other side of the ball, the Cyclone offense isn't going to blow your doors off and put 56 on the board, but they don't make mistakes. They're perfectly content with nickel-and-diming their way down the field, chewing a ton of clock and keeping the 'Neers explosive offense off the field.This game could largely hinge on the Mountaineer defense's ability to bow up on defense and stop the run, something they've struggled with all year.
Give me the Cyclones to #BringTheCanHome. 28-17.
Matt: BONUS QUESTION - What's the best thing on TV right now and why is it the DuckTales reboot?
Levi: I'm going to be straight with you. I've never seen an episode of DuckTales in my life. That said, the best overall show right now is the second season of Stranger Things. For non-Netflix shows, I'm gonna go with a bit of a dark horse. One of my favorite shows of all-time is Supernatural, and it's in the early stages of season 13. After a lull in some of the middle seasons, Supernatural is back to being one of the best TV shows nobody talks about.