Oklahoma State game is more than a game, it’s the seniors last home game ever

Joel Lanning reacts to a TCU fumble during the Cyclones’ 14-7 win. 

Jack Macdonald

As No. 24 Iowa State prepares to welcome Oklahoma State to Jack Trice Stadium on Saturday, it’s not just a game that the Cyclones need to win to keep their Big 12 Championship hopes alive; it’s a game that will witness 19 seniors stepping onto the grass at Jack Trice for the last time ever.

Through the ups and downs of their careers, these seniors have experienced it all. The losing seasons, the coaching carousel, the winning seasons and a stretch this October when they defeated then-No. 3 Oklahoma and then-No. 4 TCU in a span of four weeks.

“I believe we’ve laid the foundation,” said senior wide receiver Trever Ryen. “When [Matt Campbell] first got here it was tough and we got the first taste of that and the 20 seniors that are still around, we’ve survived that part when they first came in.”

And for two seniors, it’s an end of an era that started well before Joel Lanning arrived in 2013, and Allen Lazard in 2014. For Lanning, an Ankeny High School graduate and Lazard, an Urbandale High School graduate, this game signifies the last time the two will step onto the same football field as teammates, rather than rivals.

Growing up in the Des Moines suburbs, the two were dominant players in the state of Iowa, which undoubtedly set up a thrilling rivalry. Lanning was a blue-collar bruiser, while Lazard was a skill player that dazzled at reeling in grabs, both as a safety and as a wide receiver. And that rivalry started right away.

“My sophomore year we were playing at Ankeny, it was a pretty close game and they had the ball at like the 20-yard line,” Lazard said. “I’m playing safety, I come downhill and [Joel Lanning] just runs my ass right over.

“And just gets up in my face and starts ‘Whoo!’ – I’m like damn this kid’s big.”

But it was only fair that Lanning got payback after Lazard intercepted a pass the year earlier when the two squared off. Even thought that was years before Lanning arrived in Ames ahead of Lazard, it gave an insight to, according to Lazard, the word that describes this senior class — grit.

“I have a tremendous amount of respect of this group of seniors,” said offensive coordinator Tom Manning. “What they’ve been able to do and how they’ve bought into really deciding to make a change and just the way they’ve led and been really constant and steady through really the end of last season and until now and really kind of take the bulls by the horn.”

Although Iowa State fans have consistently been graced by that grit, they will truly need that grit from its Cyclones this Saturday. The Cowboys enter Saturday’s contest with an overall record of 7-2 and 4-2 in Big 12 play. Ranked No. 12 in the AP Poll, the Cowboys boast a lethal offense that ranks second in terms of total offense.

Lethal, yes, but lethal still may be an understatement as they average 579.4 total yards per game, only second to Oklahoma, who racked up 513 yards in a 38-31 loss to the Cyclones. But for Iowa State, it carries the 40th best defense in the country and relinquishes an average of 367.1 yards per game.

However, Iowa State’s passing defense sits at No. 77 in the country after allowing a total of 2,081 passing yards through nine games. Offensively, Oklahoma State sits at No. 3 with 3,413 passing yards through nine games.

A week after facing David Sills, the Cowboys have a similar talent in senior wide receiver James Washington. Washington has accumulated 1,133 receiving yards and nine touchdowns on an average of 125.9 yards per game.

“I think you gotta put your guys you count on [Washington],” Heacock said. “I think [Brian Peavy and D’Andre Payne] and those guys deserve the right to cover guys.”

It was also only a week ago that Will Grier and West Virginia ripped through the Iowa State defense for 316 yards, a feat that opposing teams have only done on three occasions to the defense. Two of those times have resulted in losses (Iowa and West Virginia).

But unlike its offense, the Oklahoma State defense sits at No. 78 and allows an average of 405.6 yards per game. Even though that’s almost 27 yards more than the Cyclones’ offense averages, they still know it’s no easy task.

“They’re physical, they’re fast, probably a little more physical team in the Big 12, but they’re a good team,” Ryen said. “They’re defense is good, they’re offense is good, so it’s going to be a good game.”

With their back to the walls and opportunities running out to make a push for the Big 12 Championship game, the Cyclones are up for any task, even if it’s against Mason Rudolph, the nations leading quarterback in passing yards per game.

“[Mason Rudolph] is really something – he’s dangerous,” Heacock said. “That’s a really good word, he’s very dangerous.

“We’re just gonna have to do a great job of being sound everywhere and that’s not always easy.”