AMES — In the wake of ISU’s 52-16 drubbing at Oklahoma last weekend, an obvious question sprang to mind.
Actually, several questions, but this emerged as a critical one: Are the Sooners truly that good or did the Cyclones severely regress a week after trouncing Texas? Fans’ answers will obviously vary — in content and in tone, but ISU coach Paul Rhoads made his view abundantly clear during Monday’s weekly news conference.
“I don’t think it’s fair to say, necessarily, that we’ve bounced back and forth and we were inconsistent,” said Rhoads, whose Cyclones (3-6, 2-4) face No. 5 Oklahoma State (9-0, 6-0) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Jack Trice Stadium. “I think we played a really, really good football team and I think there’s some things we did well in that game and there’s some things (in which) we got outplayed. Now we look forward to going back and continuing to improve here in the 10th game.”
In other words: Oklahoma is that good. What worked against mediocre Texas in a 24-0 blowout win the previous week fell flat against the surging Sooners, who have outscored opponents 232-50 since an utterly inexplicable setback to the Longhorns.
ISU’s ground game numbers plunged from 238 yards against Texas to 114 versus OU. Quarterback Joel Lanning misfired on several passes while under pressure and receivers dropped several passes, as well.
“I think it really exposed all of our flaws and where we need to really improve at inside and on the perimeter as well,” said top receiver Allen Lazard, who notched his first career 100-yard game in the loss. “It just shows you that when you play a team like that you can’t have many mistakes if you try to hang with them and you’ve got to capitalize on all the chances that you can get.”
No doubt. A perfect game was required and few teams of any caliber can brew up 60-minute batches of that rare spirit. But the same secret recipe’s required for this week’s foe. The Cowboys literally are perfect (in terms of record, at least) and stand tall among three ISU opponents who have yet to lose this season.
“We’ve played nine games and Oklahoma’s the best team that we’ve played,” Rhoads said. “We’ll see if I have that opinion after playing this great team from Oklahoma State this weekend.”
The Cowboys rank second only to OU in scoring defense, limiting foes to 23.8 points per game.
They’re also highly opportunistic, boasting a mind-boggling plus-12 turnover margin. To put that in perspective, the Cyclones are a combined minus-seven during the last three seasons. Oklahoma State’s intercepted 14 passes in nine games. ISU’s picked off a total of 14 since the end of the 2013 campaign.
“It’ss another opportunity for us in a season that’s been full of top 10 and top 20 ranked football teams and we’re anxious for the challenge,” Rhoads said.
Anxious is a wise word choice.
This isn’t like 2011, when a bowl-worthy Cyclones team crushed the Cowboys’ national title hopes by conjuring Jack Trice Stadium magic in a 37-31 double overtime thriller that ended with Jeff Woody’s punishing touchdown run.
ISU must win out to ensure bowl eligibility for the first time since 2012 — and doing so would be a bigger upset than that single monumental win four years ago on a crisp November night.
The Cyclones don’t view it as an impossible dream, though, and that’s the thing: What can and can’t be done depends on whom you ask.
“Four years ago, I just remember watching from the sideline, (saying), ‘This is amazing, I wish I was out here,’” recalled redshirt senior center Jamison Lalk, who will play his last game at Jack Trice on Saturday. “Now I have a chance.”
Same goes for fellow senior Dale Pierson, who needs just one sack to tie ISU’s single season record of 8.5.
“We just have to work hard,” Pierson said. “We (seniors) all know that this is it for us. This is our last home game, so definitely go out and play with everything that we’ve got.”
Rhoads said banged up offensive guard Daniel Burton (foot) would meet with a doctor at 5 p.m. Monday to help determine if he’ll be able to play this week. He sat out the Oklahoma game after being hurt in the Texas win.
“Hopefully we’ll get good news out of that,” Rhoads said. “He’s still in a boot as of right now, so they have not really started any kind of aggressive rehab — it’s the way the docs wanted it. But five days out, we’re hopeful that they get him out of that and get him moving and he’ll be available to us.”
Rhoads said Lanning didn’t grade out nearly as well in the loss to Oklahoma as he did while leading the Cyclones to the shutout of Texas.
Lanning struggled at times in his second career start. The sophomore from Ankeny went 9 of 23 in the first half but finished 26 of 51 for 260 yards, a touchdown and an interception (his first of the season).
“He saw the best defense that we played this season with a lot of bodies flying and a lot of bodies in the area that he needed to make decisions as far as run and pass goes,” Rhoads said. “He already stepped ahead and learned things (during) the game. Now he’ll learn more (from) post-game film and put himself in a better position against Okie State.”