Right about the time Iowa State receiver Jake Williams caught a 23-yard touchdown pass with 32 seconds remaining against Kansas State last Saturday, the mood on the Cyclones’ sideline turned jubilant.
“After that,” said Williams, whose score pulled ISU within one, 24-23, with an upcoming PAT attempt, “we were kind of thinking about overtime.”
Kansas State defensive back Emmanuel Lamur, however, was thinking about something else, and after he blocked the ensuing PAT try to preserve a Wildcats’ victory, the Cyclones were left to bask in the disappointment of a missed opportunity.
While a victory could have put Iowa State — which finished a dismal 2-10 overall and winless in the Big 12 last season — at 4-1 to start the year, players instead returned to Ames hoping the outcome wouldn’t derail an otherwise promising start to the season.
“We’ll have to wait and see how they’ll handle it,” said first-year Cyclones coach Paul Rhoads, whose team will look to rebound today at 11:30 a.m. against 16th-ranked Kansas University. “Their spirits were still down when we came to work (Sunday), but our practice, although lacking some enthusiasm, was excellent.”
For their part, players insist the makeup of this team is different from that of years past. It took just four games for ISU to exceed last season’s win total, after all, and the team’s running game — led by junior Alexander Robinson, who is averaging 110.4 yards per game — is ranked among the nation’s best.
The Cyclones are built, they say, to overcome the kind of setbacks that, last season, appeared to fester at times.
“It was a tough loss on Saturday, but we’re changing the way we think about things around here,” defensive lineman Nate Frere said. “We’re a blue-collar team. We came back yesterday and went to work like we always do and put the game to bed, and we’re looking forward to Kansas.”
“Everybody is all in,” added linebacker Josh Raven. “We want to win, and we want to go to bowl games, and I think this team is ready to make a change.”
If nothing else, the Cyclones should be bolstered by the disappointment of last year’s game against Kansas, in which ISU had its way with the Jayhawks for two quarters, holding them to just 93 first-half yards and taking a 20-0 lead into halftime, before falling, 35-33, in Ames.
The loss seemed to send the Cyclones into a freefall. They went winless the rest of the season under coach Gene Chizik, who eventually left the school to take over as the head coach at Auburn, losing their next seven games by a combined score of 299-143 and enduring their worst season since 2003’s 2-10 campaign.
If last year’s game taught the Cyclones anything, however, it’s that one good half of football won’t cut it.
“We know we can play with anybody,” Frere said, of what the team learned in last year’s game against the Jayhawks. “We’ve just got to show up and execute for the whole game and not let up for a second.”