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HCS Op-Ed: Iowa State is Closer than you Think to Success

It’ll be a redemption game November 1st at Jack Trice Stadium for both Oklahoma and Iowa State. Both are coming off of heartbreakers from last weekend. It looked as if the Sooners tied things up with K-State, but the extra point from the nearly-automatic senior, Michael Hunnicutt, was blocked by Travis Britz (who led the nation in blocked kicks in 2013). Now the Sooners playoff hopes look murky, at best, and there seem to be problems on each side of the ball.

The Cyclones are also frustrated. They’ve shown promise and have proven they’re not to be taken lightly in the Big 12. But, there is one problem: their record doesn’t reflect that. Whether the reason is a blown call or a blown play, Iowa State has a knack for not getting the nail quite in the coffin. This was also the case last year when Iowa State lost 5 games by one possession. Take away the mistake of running single coverage with 10 seconds left against Texas (which later set up the game-winning field goal), as well as the final Kansas State drive where Jake Waters marched down the field with ease, and you’ve got a 4-3 team on the brink of going to a bowl.

Fans in Ames are restless. They want to know what step needs to be taken to go from the cellar of the Big 12 standings to the top (see: Baylor pre-2010). Well, my words for Cyclone fans: Don’t panic. Iowa State is a tough place to recruit to, there’s limited football history, and it’s always second-fiddle to the Hawkeyes. Granted, “showing promise” isn’t winning, but the tools are there to take the next step.

The Mark “Mangenius” offense has lit up the scoreboards the past two weeks, and looks to finally be in sync. The biggest difference maker has been quarterback Sam Richardson. The Cyclones haven’t had consistency at the quarterback position in a few years, but Richardson finally appears poised, throwing for over 1,300 yards and 12 TDs in his past five games. He may not have a cannon for an arm, but Mangino’s bread n’ butter short pass play calls have opened up receivers.

When comparing this season to recent years, it feels like the tables have turned. The defense is now the biggest question mark each week. To their credit, Iowa State’s D actually looked decent for giving up 45 points versus Texas, scoring off a fumble and snagging a pick. The defensive problems fall on a lack of consistency.  There has been growth in the secondary, but also many blown coverages. We’ve seen big stops, but converted third and longs and big plays that make fans want to pull their hair out.

While bowl eligibility may be a stretch for the Cyclones (having to win 4 of 5), a win against Oklahoma is certainly in reach. If the play calling by Mangino continues to be on-point, you can bet on Richardson connecting with his plethora of targets in Bibbs, Lazard, West, and recent breakout sophomore, D’Vario Montgomery. The offense could really get humming if they receive the same ground performance out of Aaron Wimberly; against Texas he became the first ISU running back to post over 100 yards rushing this season. Although the Clones just put up over 500 yards of offense on a tough Texas defense, they must pay heed to this Oklahoma D– which has been scary in the secondary, snagging an interception in every single game this season.

Both teams will use a bye this week to prepare for a chance to not only redeem their losses, but turn their seasons around. Oklahoma looks to keep their playoff hopes alive and re-establish themselves as a conference powerhouse, while Iowa State looks to keep its bowl hopes alive and make the step from competitor to contender.

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