Huge thanks to Kevin Fitzpatrick for answering my questions this week. I was, however, disappointed to hear that he is a St. Louis Cardinals fan.
1. Joel Lanning has started every game at quarterback for the cyclones, but Jacob Park has seen significant playing time – most notably in the second half of the Kansas State game last weekend. What does each quarterback bring to the table?
Lanning's a better runner than Park, but Park is better at passing the ball than Lanning. That's not to say Lanning can't throw or Park can't run, but they possess different skill sets for sure. In the last game against K-State, instead of going with a strict 2-drive rotation like we'd seen them do earlier in the year, they trotted Park out for longer drives and brought Lanning in for the "Belldozer" type package that Sooner fans should be familiar with. It worked pretty well and I'd be surprised if that's not what Matt Campbell and staff use against Oklahoma on Thursday night.
We've seen Lanning make some gorgeous throws over the top of the defense in the past, but Park is more consistent on the short and intermediate throws. Park has a nice arm himself and is definitely capable of dropping the long ball in though. However, both quarterbacks have made poor throws in crucial points in games this season. That's part of why ISU is 1-7 this year with four losses of 7 points or less.
2. Mike Warren, a Lawton, Okla., native, ran for over 1,339 yards with a 5.9 yards-per-carry average last season, but his production has dipped in 2016. What accounts for his drop in productivity?
The main reason is a worse offensive line. Jake Campos has been out all year with an injury and he was supposed to be our starting left tackle. There's also been other minor injuries and suspensions that have contributed to a line that has been inconsistent all year.
Another factor is true freshman David Montgomery has simply been better in practice, according to reports, So he's been getting more playing time lately and out-snapped Warren against KSU. No matter who's lining up in the backfield, they're only going to be as good as the O-line will let them. Warren is still a good back... But he's in a tougher situation this season.
3. Allen Lazard is one of the most physically gifted wide receivers in the country, but who else in the receiving corps should Sooner fans keep an eye on?
The other main threats are Trever Ryen and Deshaunte Jones. They both fit the short, speedy type of WR profile. Ryen is a former track star that can burn you pretty quickly. Jones is a true freshman that played quarterback in high school who is a do-everything type guy. If Jones stays in Ames for four years, he could end up being at the top of a lot of wide receiver records for our program.
4. On the defensive side of the ball, Iowa State has struggled this season, sitting at No. 100 nationally in total defense. What are the weaknesses in this unit?
The linebacker position is easily the weakest part of Iowa State's defense, with the second-worst (but not near as bad) position group being the D-line. That's why ISU has given up so many yards on the ground to opposing teams. Our linebackers are undersized, not the most talented, and don't have great technique. That's not a recipe for success.
Meanwhile, our defensive line has been average. The coaching staff moved big Jhaustin Thomas inside a few games back and it has helped beef up our run defense a bit after struggling in the beginning of the conference slate. The main problem there is there isn't a whole lot of depth, so if those guys are on the field a lot during a game, they start to wear down.
5. On a positive note, which defensive players have stood out and stepped up this season?
The secondary is the strength of the Cyclone defense and we have a few guys who are playing well. Safety Kamari Cotton-Moya is great in run support and is improving in coverage. Brian Peavy does a nice job at corner. And D'Andre Payne has been a nice addition at the "star" position (LB/DB hybrid). There's not a ton of star power in the defense like there was back in the days of A.J. Klein and Jake Knott, but those kind of players are few and far between historically for ISU. Hopefully that'll change in the Matt Campbell era.
6. What should Sooner fans traveling to the game check out while in Ames this week? Do you have any bar or restaurant recommendations? What are the best tailgating spots?
If you have time, checking out campus is definitely worth it. It's a spread-out campus with lots of foliage this time of year, and temps are set to be in the 60s for most of the week, so it's great for a nice walk.
As for bars, the college bars are mostly located on Welch Avenue. Es Tas is always a good option in that regard. KnowDan on our site also suggests checking out Dublin Bay, which is on the southeast side of town and is easily accessible if any Sooner fans plan on parking in the old K-Mart parking lot.
Hickory Park is a restaurant that you should try at least once if you make the trip to Ames. It's a barbecue place, but don't go in there expecting competition-level meat and sauce. What makes Hickory Park special is you get a ton of food on every plate for a very affordable price, so it's especially enticing for families and big groups. The ice cream/dessert menu is extensive as well, so save room for that. I always order the turkey sandwich with fries. (Sounds boring, I know, but don't knock it 'til you try it. Be sure to dip the sandwich in the "hot" sauce.)
Finally... Tailgating. Just wander around the parking lots adjacent to the stadium. A Thursday night game might not afford you the full ISU tailgating experience, but Ames is known for its great tailgate scene. We Cyclone fans are a friendly bunch. Don't be afraid to mingle.
7. Iowa State has hosted Thursday night games on multiple occasions. How does the environment for a Thursday night game differ from a weekend game and, if so, how?
There will probably be less people in attendance due to it being a work/school night, which is too bad, but we've had great success with night games on ESPN against highly-ranked opponents in the past. I'm not saying I expect the same thing to happen this year, but never count out the Cyclones in a game like this... Even with the historically lopsided record between OU and ISU.
8. What does Iowa State have to do on Thursday to pull off the upset, and what is your final score prediction?
First, they have to slow down Oklahoma's rushing attack. Force them to throw the ball against our defense's strength. Second, they have to force some turnovers. And if they do those first two things, the offense has to be efficient.
It's a tall task, but the Cyclones have shown flashes this season. They need to put together a full game if there's to be any hope of coming away with a win.
I'll go 45-20, Oklahoma.
Bonus Question: Can the Cubs do the improbable and pull off the comeback in the World Series?
I'm a Cardinals fan, but yes, the Cubs absolutely can. Their offense can explode, they're starting two of the best pitchers in baseball in game 6 and 7 in Arrieta and Hendricks, and their bullpen is also top-of-the-line. If they can pull off game 6, I give them a huge edge in game 7. As a fan of a team that has also gone through years of misery (Iowa State football, duh), I'm rooting for them to end their 108 year drought.