Cyclones’ win against Kansas sets up season-defining game at Texas Tech


Iowa State quarterback Sam Richardson runs into the end zone for a touchdown during the game against Kansas Oct. 3. The Cyclones would go on to beat the Jayhawks 38-13. 

Max Dible

When the Cyclones fell to 1-2 in Toledo, Ohio, two weeks ago, it felt as though the season’s trajectory shifted course.

Every year brings with it a few pivot games; an unexpected win, a loss that should have been avoided. Against Toledo, Iowa State pivoted the wrong way.

The win over Kansas Saturday wasn’t enough to right what went wrong in the Glass Bowl, but it was enough to infuse some much needed relief into the Iowa State ranks.

“It was absolutely necessary after starting 1-2 in non-conference,” ISU quarterback Sam Richardson said of the victory. “We really have no choice but to start getting a little momentum here and winning some games.”

Richardson wasn’t the only player to refer to the matchup against Kansas — in which Iowa State ended up a 20-point favorite before kickoff — as a “must win.” But that would have been true even if Iowa State had defeated Toledo.

The goal is a bowl game. It’s a race to six wins. And man, the season looks a lot different at a hypothetical 3-1 than it does right now at 2-2 — especially considering that the Big 12 is shaping up to be a little better than evaluators expected in the preseason.

Texas Christian and Baylor remain undefeated, top-three squads in the AP Poll, while Oklahoma has climbed it’s way into the top 10. And in the only conference in which every team plays every other team, those powerhouses are just the beginning of Iowa State’s troubles.

“Every game is tough in this conference. You watch KU as the season goes along, and you watch them give people challenges,” said ISU coach Paul Rhoads. “As of today, five [Big 12] teams were in the top 25. The other five can beat folks.”

It’s actually four Big 12 teams in the top 25, but close enough.

Rhoads is probably being a little too generous in his outlook on Kansas, which had less than a 10 percent statistical probability of defeating Iowa State — and those were the Jayhawks’ rosiest prospects of avoiding an 0-12 year, according to the numbers.

But for the rest of the Big 12, Rhoads’ comments hold relatively true. The perfect example is Iowa State’s next test, a road game at Texas Tech — a team that fell only three points shy in the final seconds of knocking off Texas Christian at home nine days ago.

The rowdy, Red-Raider offense — which handled Arkansas, kept pace with TCU, has averaged 50 points per game through five outings and has an offensive basement thus far of 35 points in a contest — represents the Cyclones’ second pivot matchup of the season.

The difference here is that there’s no Kansas left on the schedule to help Iowa State rebound if the team falls flat. If the Cyclones go down in Lubbock, Texas, they’ll stay down.

But a win that takes the Cyclones to 3-2 will allow hope to persist. Texas on homecoming week is a game Iowa State should be favored to win, especially after the Longhorns were throttled by the Horned Frogs Saturday 50-7, dropping them to 1-4 on the season.

Matchups with No. 21 Oklahoma State at home and Kansas State on the road will likely see Iowa State enter as the underdog, but they are winnable games in which the Cyclones should stringently compete.

The key will be what the ISU 3-4 scheme and its athletic components can muster in defense of the end zone against a barreling Red-Raider attack. Iowa State tallied five sacks against Kansas, bringing their season total to 14.

Any pressure they can apply to TTU quarterback Patrick Mahomes in terms of sacks, hurried throws or turnovers will prove paramount to the day ending in an ISU win.

Momentum would help the cause as well. There might be some to harness after the Kansas game, but it would have been amplified significantly by a 3-1 start.

Where Iowa State could scrape some momentum together would be in the proverbial monkeys on the team, and some of its individual players, shed from their shoulders Saturday.

The drubbing of Kansas was Richardson’s first Big 12 victory in 16 tries, a surprising statistic for a man who will challenge for the second most passing yards in school history and will likely wrap up his career with more passing touchdowns than any ISU quarterback to stand under center before him.

“Yeah, it’s cool,” Richardson said of his first successful conference venture, audibly sighing beforehand to indicate his disinterest in the question. “Personally, we’re just 1-0 in the Big 12. That’s all I care about.”

But however Richardson frames it, the win unquestionably eliminates a layer of pressure from the eight conference games that remain in his collegiate career.

Iowa State, which went winless in the Big 12 last season, had to wait only 60 minutes to notch its first conference victory of 2015, and there remains almost no danger of the Cyclones finishing in the Big 12 basement this season with the hapless Jayhawks lying defeated in their rear view mirror.

Never under Rhoads — and not for 13 years for that matter — has Iowa State kicked off its conference slate 1-0. These are all accomplishments to build on, even if they did come against essentially the worst competition the entirety of the Football Bowl Subdivision has to offer.

“All focus needs to be on Texas Tech now,” Richardson said.

The quarterback was referring to himself and his team, but he may as well have been speaking for all of Cyclone Nation.

Upsets occur in college football all the time, but following next Saturday, Iowa State will play the No. 2 and No. 3 teams in the nation in back-to-back weeks. It’s hard to fashion anything but two losses there.

A 2-5 start will slam the door on the Cyclones’ bowl aspirations, so as Richardson said, all focus must turn to Texas Tech.

The entire season rests in the balance.