AMES, Iowa — Jeremy Smith had disappointed as OklahomaState’s feature back. Rennie Childs had offered a glimpse of promise for the future, and perhaps, the present.
Desmond Roland was largely the forgotten man.
That is, until Saturday.
There was Roland, rumbling and trudging and bouncing his way to a historic day in his first career start, picking up 219 yards and four touchdowns to carry the Cowboy offense in a 58-27 victory at IowaState Saturday afternoon at Jack Trice Stadium.
“I can’t even explain...I’ve been waiting on this opportunity for a long time now,” Roland said. “…I just knew when my name was called, I had to show them that I was worth playing, was worth starting.
“And I feel like I did that today.”
Roland’s performance was OSU’s best since Kendall Hunter tallied 257 yards against WashingtonState in 2010 and the Cowboys’ first 200-yard rusher since Hunter compiled 201 against Nebraska that same season.
In many ways, Roland’s production was needed, as Clint Chelf and the OSU passing game labored its way to just 78 yards through the air against the Cyclones. But to outsiders, Roland getting this shot at all was a surprise, as he had totaled just five carries for 12 yards over the Cowboys’ last two games.
Yet Roland found out in last Sunday’s team meeting that he would start over Smith, who had been largely ineffective in that role throughout the season, and Childs, who sparked optimism with a breakout second half against TCU.
And Roland took the opportunity and, well, you know the rest.
“You just ride the hot hand,” Cowboy offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich said.
Roland hit holes hard and broke arm tackles all day. But after totaling 54 yards and two scores on 11 carries in the first half, some key adjustments helped Roland explode after intermission.
The Cowboys ran a heavy dose of two-back sets. Some were zone-read plays, while others were designed handoffs.
Roland broke a 32-yard run on OSU’s first possession after the break, getting the Cowboys to the Iowa State 26 before a Chelf interception. He totaled 42 of the Cowboys’ 53 yards on their next possession, which ended in a Ben Grogan field goal.
Then on OSU’s next drive, Roland ripped off a highlight-worthy scamper, which featured him breaking four tackles — one of those coming on a spin move — and following his blockers down the sideline for a 58-yard score.
OSU coach Mike Gundy said he was most curious to see how durable Roland could be while handling the bulk of the workload. But after 26 carries, Gundy was ready to compare Roland’s tough, downhill style to another bulldozer who used to man the backfield for the Cowboys.
“Keith Toston used to get better as the game went on,” Gundy said, “and I’m hoping that Des Roland proved he’s a guy that can gain momentum, and his strength allows him to get better as the game goes on. Maybe that’s a good sign for our team.”
The OSU running game overall showed plenty of other positive signs.
Chelf rushed for 85 yards on nine carries, including a pair of 32-yarders. An offensive line that kept the same restructured combo that debuted against TCU last week “actually blocked people and pushed them the other way” for the first time this season, Gundy said, allowing the ball carriers to make cuts beyond the line of scrimmage rather than behind it.
But Roland was certainly the star in his first start since high school. That was also the last time he rushed for 200 yards — 265 to be exact, he says — before missing the rest of that season with an injury.
Roland said he never got discouraged when he wasn’t getting carries in recent weeks. He admitted he was surprised when he got the nod to start, but prayed about it each day leading up to the game. After the contest, his gaudy numbers hadn’t sunk in, but he couldn’t wait to tell his parents.
Then, Roland wanted to forget about his historic day. A trip to Texas Tech is next on the schedule, as the Cowboys begin their toughest stretch of the season.
And as quickly as Desmond Roland became the forgotten man in OSU’s backfield, he’s suddenly become a key piece of the Cowboy offense.
“Just stay positive and stay humble and work harder next week,” Roland said. “We’ve got a big game next week, and this game’s over and I’ve got to get it out of my mind right now. We’ve got to stay hungry.”