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Cowboy Football: Previewing OSU vs. Iowa State

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AMES, Iowa -

Oklahoma State heads to Iowa State on Saturday at 11 a.m. and while Cowboys (5-1, 2-1 Big 12) and Iowa State (1-5, 0-3) are on opposite sides of the spectrum in the win-loss column, both have been in their fair share of close contests and Saturday could shape up as another one at Jack Trice Stadium. Here is a breakdown of what to watch for in the showdown:

 

Three Things To Watch

1. Road Weary

The road hasn't been kind to the Cowboys in Big 12 play the past few seasons and Saturday they travel back to where the bad luck started – Ames, Iowa.

Since Oklahoma State had its national-title aspirations dashed in front of throngs of cardinal and gold on Nov. 18, 2011, the Pokes have gone on to lose five out of six in conference play away from Boone Pickens Stadium, including the loss at ISU.

The lone win in that stretch came in exhausting fashion in a 20-14 nail biter against an anemic Kansas squad a season ago in Lawrence.

That said, Iowa State is off to a 1-5 start and is reeling after a 71-7 thrashing at the hands of Baylor in Waco last Saturday. Oklahoma State should be able to handle things this time around but, if it doesn't, it could have long-lasting effects and also end any hope of a Big 12 title.

 

2. Child's Play

True freshman Rennie Childs gave fans a glimmer of hope that the running game might not be completely hopeless. The Houston native ripped off 45 yards and touchdown on just nine carries and added a nifty 34-yard reception. The sample size might be small but any sign of encouragement is welcomed in the backfield at this point.

Jeremy Smith has been rendered borderline ineffective this season save for the season opener and the lack of a push on the ground has placed added pressure on the Cowboys' inconsistent quarterback play.

Coach Mike Gundy said Child's has been on the coaching staff's radar as a potential playmaker, but didn't feel comfortable until recently with his knowledge of the playbook and his maturation at the position.

Apparently that time has come and it could make a big difference in achieving the balance this offense has been lacking.

 

3. Quarterback Carousel

Clint Chelf relieved a struggling J.W. Walsh in the first quarter of last Saturday's victory against TCU and it appears Chelf will receive the nod to start in Ames.

It will be Chelf's first start since the season opener in which he was abruptly pulled in the first half in favor of Walsh. The Enid native led the Cowboys to a 24-10 but wasn't exactly efficient, completing just 10-of-25 passes and he threw an interception on his first attempt.

It wouldn't be a surprise to see both quarterbacks get snaps as the Cowboy coaching staff continues to look for an answer on offense.

But the Pokes aren't the only ones with questions under center.

Cyclone QB Sam Richardson will earn the start but was pulled in their blowout loss at Baylor, finishing 7-of-14 passing for 68 yards with an interception. This has been an underwhelming position for ISU all season, as the Cyclones rank 73rd nationally in passing. Richardson has earned every start so far this season but at 1-5, there is restlessness that the sophomore might not be the answer.

 

Notables

• A win on Saturday would make the Cowboys bowl eligible for the eighth-straight season.

• Oklahoma State's offense might not be performing at the level fans have grown accustomed to, but it is still maintaining an impressive nation-leading streak. OSU has at least one scoring drive lasting two minutes or less in a whopping 28-straight games and 44 of its past 45.

• After another strong outing for the defense against TCU, the Cowboys have risen to No. 14 nationally in scoring defense at 18.3 points allowed per contest.

• Points allowed isn't the only category where the defense is among the national leaders: OSU ranks ninth in pass-efficiency defense (102.88), 17th in red-zone defense (72.2 percent), 18th in turnovers gained (16), 20th in run D (117.5 per game), 22nd in third-down defense (32.7 percent) and 28th in total defense (355.2 ypg).

• Josh Stewart has infused life back into the Cowboys' return game. He currently ranks second in FBS with a 23.8 yard average per return and is tied for the national lead with two touchdown returns this season. His most recent touchdown return against TCU covered a school-record 95 yards, passing a 67-year-old mark in Stillwater. It also set the Big 12 record, earning him conference special teams player of the week honors.

• The offensive line has taken some heat this season for under performing but it has still taken care of business in pass protection, ranking among the national leaders at No. 15 with only 1.2 sacks allowed per game. On the flip side, OSU defense could have a field day with the ISU line, which ranks 119th in sacks allowed at nearly four per game.

• Senior linebacker Caleb Lavey has been a dominant force for the Pokes this season and has been a key figure in OSU's high national rank in turnovers forced. In the past two games alone, Lavey has played a role in forcing four turnovers. He has two interceptions, a fumble recovery and a forced fumble that was snagged by a teammate.

• While the defensive rankings are climbing the charts, the offense has fallen off considerably. That said, a lot is expected of the offense and it is graded on a tough curve, but it still ranks in the top half nationally in several important categories. OSU currently ranks 21st in pass offense (303.7), 32nd in points per game (35.7), 34th in turnovers (9) and 50th in yards per game (440.2).

• The Cyclones have to win five of their final six games to become bowl eligible.

 

Prediction

This matchup isn't on the national radar but it is an important one nonetheless for Oklahoma State to stay in the conference title discussion. And, despite its 1-5 record, Iowa State has been competitive outside of the shellacking against Baylor. The Cyclones lost their other four games by eight points or less, taking unbeaten Texas Tech to the wire and losing on a questionable call to Texas. OSU will need to be relatively mistake-free in this trap-game setting. This is absolutely a game the Cowboys should win, but it will likely be a more difficult matchup than the records indicate.

Score: OSU 31, Iowa State 21

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