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Cyclones stick to their rhythm during the bye week, prepare for trip to Baylor

J.R.+Singleton+prepares+to+take+the+field+before+the+game+against+Cincinnati+at+Nippert+Stadium+in+Cincinnati+on+Oct.+14%2C+2023.
Tyler Coe
J.R. Singleton prepares to take the field before the game against Cincinnati at Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati on Oct. 14, 2023.

After their bye week, the emerging Cyclone football team looks to keep their midseason momentum going as they travel to Waco, Texas, to face a struggling Baylor team that looks to have found its identity.

Heading into the final five games of the season, the Cyclones still control their own destiny as far as making it to a bowl game and potentially getting to the Big 12 Championship game.

Before they can set their sights on the big stage, head coach Matt Campbell focused on staying right during the bye week and not letting all the balance they had after the win against Cincinnati get away from them.

“We didn’t want to miss the rhythm of the season,” head coach Matt Campbell said. “I think it’s a huge challenge to our team. Part of that challenge is you’re in such a routine and a rhythm and you can get off rhythm and I didn’t want that to happen to this team. I felt like we were really able to keep that rhythm.”

The Cyclones have benefited heavily from the play of quarterback Rocco Becht, who has taken the reigns of the offense and showed why he won the starting job at the beginning of the season. Against conference opponents, he is third in passing touchdowns (8) and sixth in passing yards (915) in his first year as a starter.

“I think Rocco certainly has great maturity and that maturity has shown forward and it will need to continue to do so,” Campbell said. “He would tell you there’s still a lot of work for him to do to continue to evolve to be what he’s capable of being. But I think at least the feedback and what I’ve watched is there’s a relentless pursuit to it.”

Although the Cyclones have struggled to get things going on offense when not playing at home the Bears have not defended their home turf as they have won only one of its five games at McLane Stadium this season.

The Bears have allowed the most yards per play (6.8) and fourth most total yards against conference opponents through four games. They have also allowed 32 or more points in each of their last four games forcing their offense to consistently have to play shot-for-sot or from behind.

Quarterback Blake Shapen has been asked to be the bulk of the offense as the run game has been sluggish in conference play, and in his four starts has led the team to a 2-2 record. Shapen’s smart decision-making behind center has led him to throw zero interceptions in his four starts.

The Cyclones lead the Big 12 in interceptions against conference opponents (9), but will face a quarterback in Shapen who has both protected the ball but also made big plays with his arm in all four of his starts.

“If you look at especially the last six quarters he’s been exceptional,” Campbell said. “He’s got great escapability, he’s made big play after big play.”

Shapen has thrown for over 300 yards in three of his four stars, with a pass for over 50 yards in each of those games. Those passes have gone to Baylor’s pair of veteran wide receivers, Monaray Baldwin and Ketron Jackson Jr., who each have been electric deep threats and safety nets for the Bears’ offense.

Both Baldwin and Jackson Jr. average over 18 yards per reception on less than 25 catches in seven games.

The Cyclones’ quickness at every level and ability to shut down plays on the ground has resulted in them having allowed the third-fewest rushing yards against conference opponents (588) through four games and will match up against a run game that has struggled since entering conference play and has averaged 77.5 yards per game.

Despite Baylor’s lack of success on defense, Campbell believes that they’re still a team that the Cyclones have to take seriously, especially since Iowa State has not won in Waco, Texas since 2017.

Campbell is aware that this is a crucial part of the season where teams start figuring out and embracing their identity. He believes that Baylor is a team that is on the rise, much like the Cyclones, and that his team cannot overlook this game.

“I feel like as a football team in general their identity has really started to evolve and form,” Campbell said. “They have a great coaching staff, their kids are tough and they play really hard for four quarters. I feel like they’re clicking on all cylinders now and will be a great challenge for us.”

The Cyclones will kick off against Baylor at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in Waco, Texas, and the game will be streamed on ESPN+.

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