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Cyclones Regroup to Face Oklahoma State

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa -- The main reason Iowa State set a school-record for football season-ticket sales this year is the pixie dust the Cyclones spread across each of Paul Rhoads' first four seasons as head coach.

The win at Nebraska in 2009. The win at No. 22 Texas in 2010. The triple-overtime win over Iowa in Ames and the rout of No. 19 Texas Tech in Lubbock in 2011. The win at No. 15 TCU last year.

And most unforgettably, the double-overtime triumph over No. 2 Oklahoma State on a November Friday night in 2011.

It's a program with just one winning season and a 12-25 Big 12 record in Rhoads' time, but the special moments and warm memories have sustained and grown the fan base.

Now Oklahoma State, ranked 19th, makes its return to Jack Trice Stadium Saturday. Boy, oh boy, do the Cyclones ever need some more magic.

ISU's 1-5 record (0-3 in the Big 12) is bad enough, but the 71-7 loss the Cyclones endured last Saturday night was well, here were Rhoads' own words Tuesday:

"The Baylor fiasco."

Iowa State competed against Texas Tech the week before, and were one reasonable officials' reversal from getting another win against Texas the week before that. But that thing last Saturday at Baylor truly was a fiasco.

You knew the Bears would hang 50-plus points on the Cyclones. It has a superb, ruthless offense. Baylor is ranked sixth in the Associated Press poll, and that may be too low. The Don Best Advantage College Linesmakers poll out of Las Vegas has the Bears fourth, behind only Alabama, Florida State and Oregon.

But ISU managed a mere 174 yards and nine first-downs, causing Rhoads to single out his offense as more of a disappointment than a defense that has allowed 1,380 yards over its last two games.

"Back-to-back weeks we've been overall very unproductive and at times inept in what we've gotten done on the offensive side of the ball," Rhoads said. "We've gone 19 series without a first-down in the last two weeks. That's awful offensive football."

The first thing Rhoads noted in his Tuesday press conference was that senior offensive tackle Kyle Lechtenberg is doubtful for Saturday's game because of an injury. Already, nine different players have started on the offensive line this season. Saturday's will be ISU's seventh different starting O-line in as many games.

"I don't think you people appreciate how big of a challenge that is for a young football team," Rhoads said.

Then you add the fact quarterback play hasn't been overwhelming, with sophomore starter Sam Richardson yanked in the Baylor game for freshman Grant Rohach.

It's Richardson's job again this week, but Rhoads said "He's got to make smarter decisions and quicker judgments."

Hard times, made harder by ISU running its usual gauntlet. The three Big 12 teams it has played are all unbeaten in league play, and here comes Oklahoma State, then a game at Kansas State, then TCU, then a trip to Oklahoma ...

If there is a sliver of a positive omen, it's that the Cyclones got walloped 68-27 by Utah and 52-0 at Oklahoma in consecutive weeks three years ago, then went to Texas and shocked the 27-point favorites.

"That team," said Rhoads, "like this team, like the nature of our program the kids never lost faith."

This year's meeting with Oklahoma State is another chance for stardust, a chance for ISU to win its fifth game over a ranked team in the last four years. But its hello-America win over the Cowboys two years ago is now a memento gathering dust.

"That victory over Oklahoma State in 2011 is irrelevant to this particular ballgame," Rhoads said.

If Iowa State gets drubbed by the Cowboys, "irrelevant" is a word that will extend beyond Saturday's game.

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