Continuing our weekly series checking in with the beat writer who covers Oklahoma State’s upcoming opponent.
Bobby LaGesse covers Iowa State for the Ames Tribune. You can read his work here or follow him on Twitter at @BobbyLaGesse.
1. The Cyclones became the latest team to get pounded by Baylor with last week’s 71-7 loss. How do you anticipate the players and coaching staff will respond to that? Which stings more — that type of loss, or the one against Texas that was so controversial?
The Cyclones showed their first step will be to stay the course with what they’ve been trying to do by keeping Sam Richardson at quarterback over redshirt freshman Grant Rohach. That means running the ball and trying to get opponents in third-and-long. There is plenty ISU needs to clean up. The offense has gained 485 total yards the last two games and the defense is last in the Big 12 in points allowed (36.7) and passing yards allowed (293.2). Based on the reaction of players and coaches, the loss to Texas stung a little more because they thought a win was taken from them. The Baylor game hurt the pride more than anything else. The Internet didn’t blow up over the postgame comments coach Paul Rhoads made after Baylor, but did after the Texas game. I think that’s a good indication of which one was a tougher loss.
2. Rhoads announced Tuesday that Richardson will start against the Cowboys. How long do you expect his leash to be? Could both he and Rohach play? What does each bring to the table? Richardson hadn’t yet taken the starting job the last time these two teams met.
Richardson, a sophomore, started the season as ISU’s quarterback of the future. A series of injuries, primarily a sprained ankle, have limited his development during the season. Richardson, when healthy, has shown to be the most accurate quarterback with the strongest arm in the Rhoads era. He is also a dangerous threat in the running game, be it on option plays or when passing plays break down. Rohach is a younger version of Richardson with a strong arm, but has yet to show the running ability of Richardson. He is a redshirt freshman and his knowledge of the offense is well behind Richardson’s. The coaches didn’t feel Rohach was ready to see the field until about two weeks ago. The Cyclones want Richardson to take the job and run with it, not just against Oklahoma State, but for the rest of the season. The offense plays better when Richardson can run and he has shown an ability to move the offense. ISU did score at least 30 points during a three game stretch earlier this season. The leash will be short for Richardson, especially if he struggles like he did against Baylor.
3. How much does this defense miss Jake Knott and A.J. Klein? Where has the leadership on that side of the ball come from this year?
A mathematician with a doctorate from MIT couldn’t calculate how much the Cyclones miss Knott and Klein. They knew the defense better than nearly any player defensive coordinator Wally Burnham ever coached. It was like having two additional coaches on the field. Plus, they both had a knack for making big plays in big spots. Most big ISU wins in the last three years were accompanied by a big game from at least one of them. ISU’s leadership now comes from linebacker Jeremiah George. He was the third amigo last season at linebacker. He’s now the centerpiece of the defense. He is a playmaker who will likely be around the ball a lot on Saturday. He just doesn’t have the same kind of pieces around him that Knott and Klein had last year.
4. Is there an area where you see ISU having an advantage over OSU? Where do you expect the Cyclones to try to attack the Cowboys?
Does punting count? ISU punter Kirby Van Der Kamp is one of the best in the nation and an expert at pinning teams deep in their own territory. Don’t be surprised if he forces Oklahoma State to go 80-plus yards for touchdowns. Offensively, ISU wants to run the football. I don’t know how well the Cyclones will do it against the stout Oklahoma State run defense. The ISU offense is at its best when running back Aaron Wimberly and Richardson move the chains on the ground. Don’t sleep on the passing game. ISU can connect on the deep pass with wide receiver Quenton Bundrage. He scored a 97-yard touchdown against Texas. Defensively, ISU will try to take away the big play and force Oklahoma State to work underneath. ISU will always run a bend-but-don’t-break defense as long as Burnham is the defensive coordinator.
5. ISU has traditionally played well at home under Rhoads, yet all three games at Jack Trice Stadium so far this season have been close losses. What’s been missing in those games (officiating aside)? Some OSU players have come out and said that they will be extra motivated in their first trip back to Ames since that 2011 double-overtime loss that essentially knocked the Cowboys out of the national championship game. Will that be a factor at all on ISU’s side?
Rhoads said in his weekly press conference the 2011 game won’t impact ISU in this one. The Cyclones are too busy trying to fix things after the Baylor fiasco. The problem for ISU in every loss (minus last week) is that the Cyclones can make enough plays to stay in a game, but they can’t make the additional two or three needed to win one. Against Texas, ISU failed to score the game-clinching touchdown when it got in the red zone late in the fourth quarter. The Cyclones settled for a field goal. Texas scored the winning touchdown on the next drive.