KNOW THE FOE: Key players to watch for Oklahoma State against Iowa State

Sep 16, 2023; Stillwater, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma State Cowboys quarterback Alan Bowman (7), quarterback Gunnar Gundy (12) and quarterback Garret Rangel (13) warm up before an NCAA football game between Oklahoma State and South Alabama at Boone Pickens Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bryan Terry-USA TODAY Sports

 AMES — No running room. Little push. Poor production. All of that aptly describes the state of Iowa State’s ground game right now in the wake of a dispiriting 10-7 loss to Ohio.

 And there’s no faint silver lining lurking in the distance. just dark storm clouds all around — for now, at least.

“To win football games, I don’t care who it is, I don’t care where it is, especially on the road, the physicality’s got to show up,” Cyclone head coach Matt Campbell told reporters after his team’s second straight one-score defeat. “The run defense has got to show up. The lack of consistency, the lack of urgency, especially in some areas, continued to show up.”

 Fortunately or unfortunately for ISU (1-2), the Oklahoma State Cowboys (2-1) come to Jack Trice Stadium for Saturday’s 3 p.m. Big 12 season-opener. They were throttled, 33-7, at home last week by South Alabama and seem to be facing even more wide-ranging problems than the Cyclones right now. That said, here are “five” Oklahoma State players to watch in Saturday’s matchup.

Quarterbacks Alan Bowman, Gunnar Gundy and Garret Rangel

 Why the 3-for-1 gambit here? Because that’s how Cowboys head coach Mike Gundy has treated his quarterback position through three games this season and the unsettled situation there appears likely to extend into Saturday’s game against the Cyclones. Bowman, a former Texas Tech transfer, was roundly booed during Saturday’s loss and Gundy replaced him to a chorus of cheers. He couldn’t move the ball either, though, and that’s a problem Oklahoma State shares with ISU this season. Rangel boasts the most touchdown passes of the group (two), but has played the fewest series. Bowman has yet to throw a touchdown pass and Gundy has just one — though he’s the only among the trio without an interception. Rangel’s the most capable runner of the three and that’s a quality the Cowboys will likely need from their quarterback(s) against a disruptive and stingy Cyclone defense. 

Linebacker Nickolas Martin

 The 6-0, 215-pound sophomore served as a special teams star last season and now is thriving as a first-time starter. Martin leads the Cowboys in tackles (21), tackles for loss (3.5) and quarterback sacks (3.5). He notched 10 tackles in Oklahoma State’s 27-15 win two weeks ago at Arizona State and totaled right in last week’s blowout loss to the Jaguars. Martin has yet to force a turnover this season — something his team will need to do to beat ISU for the fifth time in the past six meetings.

Wide receiver Brennan Presley

 Presley’s been a solid contributor for three-plus seasons and set a single-season career high in receiving yards with 813 in 2022. Partly because of the Cowboys’ quarterback situation, he’s off to a slower start this season but has still caught two of the three touchdown passes Rangel and Gundy have combined to throw. The 5-8, 175-pound senior from Tulsa has caught just six passes for 32 yards in the past two games, but again, that’s a byproduct of uneven quarterback play and and pass protection. Presley’s also a threat in the running game. He’s scored a rushing touchdown in each of the past three seasons.

Linebacker Collin Oliver

 The 2021 Big 12 freshman defensive player of the year totaled 16.5 sacks in his first two seasons as an undersized, but highly productive defensive end. Coaches shifted Oliver to linebacker this spring and he’s continued to make plays despite notching just one sack in the first three games. Oliver’s forced two fumbles, which is tied for the most among Big 12 defenders.

Running back Ollie Gordon

 The Cowboys have been splitting the bulk of their carries three ways and Gordon’s been the most productive of the bunch. The 6-1, 211-pound sophomore averages 5.7 yards per carry (19 rushes, 109 yards) and is tied for the team lead in touchdowns with two. Gordon had scored a touchdown in three consecutive games dating back to last season before being held to 12 yards on three carries while failing to reach the end zone in last week’s loss.