AMES, Iowa (AP) - After a resurgent year in which Iowa State finally broke out the Big 12 basement, the Cyclones can’t seem to catch a break.
Iowa State’s canceled opener put it a week behind everyone else on its schedule and it’s been a climb ever since. The Cyclones (1-3, 0-2 Big 12) will be without starting quarterback Kyle Kempt (knee injury) for the fourth week in a row when they travel to No. 25 Oklahoma State (4-1, 1-1) on Saturday.
They might also be without running back David Montgomery, who suffered an upper arm injury in last week’s loss to TCU and is day-to-day, according to coach Matt Campbell.
“I think you have to talk about it. There’s too much social media, there’s too much out there to be naive. (You have to) say ‘Hey listen, we’re a 1-3 football team,’” Campbell said. “There’s a lot of growth happening, even if you said (that) where we were at the end of last football season to where we are today, we’re a completely different football team.”
Iowa State was 8-5 in 2017, its best season since it went 9-3 in 2000. Perhaps the biggest reason for the struggles - besides a schedule front-loaded with good teams - dates to 2016: Campbell inherited a roster thin on offensive linemen when he took over for Paul Rhoads. It is a position that might the hardest thing to fix in a hurry.
Iowa State still isn’t there yet.
The Cyclones simply can’t get the push up front they need in the run game, and that’s cramping their ability to do much else on offense. Iowa State is 126th out of 130 teams with just 89.25 yards rushing a game behind a line that doesn’t have any seniors in its rotation.
“The reality of it is, the competitor in all of us, we want to win. How do we get there, how do we take the next step?” Campbell said. “Part of it is you have to negate everybody else and you have to stay centered on what the job is.”
Coaches loathe using their schedule as an excuse. But this year’s lineup broke badly for the Cyclones.
After opening with a trip to rival Iowa, which might have the best defense in the Big Ten, Iowa State sandwiched a win over Akron with tight losses to No. 7 Oklahoma (5-0, 2-0) and TCU (3-2, 1-1) - the two teams who met in last year’s league title game - by just 13 combined points.
After Oklahoma State, the Cyclones get ninth-ranked and unbeaten West Virginia (4-0, 2-0) and high-scoring Texas Tech (3-2, 1-1) at home.
Iowa State’s first seven opponents are 24-7 entering the weekend. The Cyclones’ last four, ahead of a hastily scheduled finale against Incarnate Word of the FCS, are just 11-9.
“The worst thing you could do is listen to the outside noise,” quarterback Zeb Noland said. “It could bring some controversy in our own locker room, so it’s just about tuning it out and putting in work every single day to get better.”
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