Battle of experience: Cyclones ready for No. 8 Oklahoma State

Iowa State running back Breece Hall attempts to juke out an Oklahoma State defender during the Cyclones and Cowboys game Saturday in Stillwater, Oklahoma on Oct. 24, 2020

Matt Belinson

AMES — Experience won’t be an issue for the Cyclones and the No. 8 Oklahoma State Cowboys on Saturday. It’ll be a weapon.

The two schools returned a combined 36 starters from 2020 and plan on using that as a way to come out on top in a high-leverage battle for the Big 12 standings.

Iowa State sits at 4-2 overall and 2-1 in Big 12 play, while the Cowboys sit at 6-0 and 3-0 in conference play. For the Cyclones, who came into the season No. 7 in the country with Big 12 Championship aspirations, Saturday’s test will be short term and long-term.

Win, and the Cyclones catapult themselves back into the top half of the Big 12 conference race. But a loss drops them behind four teams with five games to go.

“You know, I think [they’re] very talented at the skill position, very talented on the defensive side of the football, really become one of the standards on the defensive side of the football in our conference and I think for years has been the standard on offense,” Campbell said of Oklahoma State.

Those stakes aren’t being ignored, but Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell is trusting his veteran leadership to come through on another big stage Saturday afternoon. And Oklahoma State won’t make things easy, no matter how many starts a player might have.

But it starts, naturally, with his quarterback, Brock Purdy.

“He’s going to see a lot of different things this week again,” Campbell said of Purdy. “I think one of the credits to Oklahoma State is they’re so multiple and they give you many variations in their look that it can be a real challenge to the quarterback. Those are things you hope a fourth-year senior who’s started a lot of football games, in the evolution of him, finds consistency in those areas.”

That consistency will be crucial, as the last six matchups have been one possession games between these two teams. Campbell holds a 1-4 record against Oklahoma State, with Purdy having lost the last two games as the signal caller. In his last two games vs the Cowboys, Purdy has thrown for 544 yards, four interceptions and two touchdowns.

Oklahoma State’s flexibility makes life difficult for any quarterback, even someone with Purdy’s trust in his targets and knowledge of Iowa State’s offense. But the experience stands out first and foremost when he evaluated the defensive unit he’ll face.

“Similar to last year, you know you have a lot of guys with a lot of experience so they’re back for the most part. And, obviously, they match-up really well against us,” Purdy said.

Safeties can cover tight ends and linebackers can be seen flying around the film for Oklahoma State and Purdy said the Cowboys’ history of playing man-defense can be a good and bad thing to face.

But veteran football is being played for the Cowboys too.

Redshirt junior quarterback Spencer Sanders is back for the Cowboys and has played a mixed bag so far this year. Sanders has completed 54 of his 89 pass attempts for four touchdowns and four interceptions in the three games against Big 12 opponents this season.

Although he’s new to the Oklahoma State program, redshirt senior running back Jaylen Warren is already running through defenses. Warren transferred in from Utah State and has rushed for 659 total yards and four touchdowns in his last four games. He’s averaged at least 130 scrimmage yards in his last four games.

Outside of the individual talent that will stand out on Saturday, the Cowboys’ defense is ruthlessly efficient at getting teams off the field on third-down. Oklahoma State ranks first in the Big 12 and No. 9 in the nation in third down stops.

Redshirt senior offensive lineman Derek Schweiger knows Iowa State will have to keep the early-down mistakes to a minimum to have a shot at beating the Cowboys.

But the complexity of the Cowboys’ front will create confusion at times, but Schweiger said the Cyclones have to be fundamentally sound to get past it.

“I think have a lot of complex packages that maybe cause some confusion, they are very athletic,” Schweiger said. “Just their ability to get off the field and add pressure to the quarterback is a huge part of what they do.”