Iowa State’s schedule saves toughest test for last in three-week gauntlet

TCU wide receiver Ja’Juan Story and ISU defensive back Nigel Tribune go up for the ball┬áduring the game against TCU on Oct. 17. The Cyclones would go on to lose 45-21.

Max Dible

Iowa State’s opponent this weekend wears a different uniform, but aside from that, the story remains much the same.

No rest is on the horizon for the Cyclones, who will take on the No. 2-ranked Baylor Bears this Saturday in Waco, Texas. It will be the third straight game in which Iowa State has squared off against one of the nation’s top three offenses and the second week in a row the Cyclones have faced a team ranked in the top three nationally.

ISU coach Paul Rhoads visited with a recruit and his mother Sunday morning at Rhoads’ home. Even a player not yet committed to Iowa State could sympathize with the Cyclones’ predicament.

“Coach, who do you got this week?'” the recruit asked.

“Baylor,” Rhoads replied. “We get to face the No. 3, the No. 2 and now the No. 1 total offensive teams in the country back-to-back-to-back.”

Two words from the young man summed it all up.

“Good luck.”

Iowa State might well need a spot of luck, not to mention a whole lot more, to pull out a win on the road against the country’s best offense, which has compiled 720 yards per game this season.

That is roughly 100 more yards per contest than the previous two ISU opponents, Texas Christian and Texas Tech. The Horned Frogs and Red Raiders combined to score 111 total points on the Cyclones over a two-week span.

Baylor enters Saturday with an average of 64 points per outing, easily besting both TCU and Tech.

The dynamic Baylor offense rises from several factors, starting with quarterback Seth Russell.

“He’s been plugged into the offense, and he’s run it as efficiently as the guys in front of him,” Rhoads said. “And I thought the three [quarterbacks] before him were pretty good. One [Robert Griffin III] won the Heisman, and as I’ve stated before, I thought the other two were better than him.”

Russell has compiled more than 1,900 passing yards and 27 touchdowns this season, but last week he had a breakout rushing performance of 160 yards against West Virginia.

Rhoads said this development will only give his defensive coaches that many more headaches. Russell’s rushing also made ISU linebacker Jordan Harris take serious notice.

“That’s the only thing that stood out to me, him running the ball,” Harris said. “I knew he was a good passer, and I knew he had great weapons around him, but when he ran for 160 yards, I was like, ‘Dang, this guy can do it all.'”

Perhaps Russell’s most lethal weapon is wide receiver Corey Coleman, who Rhoads referred to as a “touchdown waiting to happen.” Coleman is garnering Heisman consideration after finding the end zone 16 times already only midway through the season.

Turning the defensive coaches’ collective headache into a migraine, they must decide if doubling Coleman is a tactic they can afford to employ with so much talent and speed spread across the Baylor offense.

“The defensive staff spent about four hours this morning on a couple different formations with that question in mind,” Rhoads said. “One of the answers that came back was, ‘Well, if we don’t do that, it’s a touchdown.’

“What poison cup do you want to drink out of?”

Rhoads added that the Baylor offense, like TCU’s and Tech’s offenses before it, is not the type that can be adequately prepared for in only a week. The rest of the country can’t keep up with Big 12 offenses.

Still, the ISU defense improved by 21 points in overall production allowed from Texas Tech two weeks ago to TCU last Saturday. If the Cyclones are able even to replicate their performance against the Horned Frogs and hold the Bears to 45 points, ISU fans might have to consider that a victory.

To assume, however, affording Baylor 45 points on the road would lead to an ISU victory is a precarious notion, particularly considering that the ISU offense failed to score in the final 45 minutes against TCU after taking a 21-14 lead to end the first quarter.