ISU an Underdog on Saturday vs. Tulsa
By Rob Gray, Reporter
AMES — Kansas opens at home against South Dakota State.
Oklahoma State welcomes Savannah State to Stillwater.
Kansas State — well, the Wildcats being the 2012 season at Bill Snyder Family Stadium against Terry Allen’s Missouri State Bears.
Sensing a Big 12 scheduling trend here?
Iowa State stubbornly bucks it, facing off with dangerous and slightly-favored Tulsa at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in Ames.
“I don’t know if it’s fair to say we’re comfortable being in the underdog position, but we find ourselves in it quite often and have played to a high level,” Cyclone coach Paul Rhoads said during Monday’s news conference.
It’s almost always a fit, according to oddsmakers — and the Cyclones are cool with that.
“Vegas really doesn’t like Iowa State too much,” ISU running back Jeff Woody said. “I don’t think we’ve been favored in more than three games in a season since Rhoads has been here and we’ve won, what is it, seven, (five) and six? So Vegas thinks what they want to think and we know what we’ve got.”
That’s increased size, strength and depth, among other things.
Rhoads said his defensive line could feature as many as 12 players.
The Cyclones’ receiving corps?
Up to eight, led by a healthy Josh Lenz, who helped rescue ISU in last season’s 20-19 opening win over underdog Northern Iowa with three catches for 57 yards and a second-half touchdown.
“Right guys on the field at the right time based on situations is what we’ll try to figure out as this game goes along and the season goes along,” Rhoads said.
The Golden Hurricane are coming of their seventh bowl trip in nine seasons.
They return a total of 13 starters — including their top two tailbacks, Ja’Terian Douglas and Trey Watts, and most productive pass-catching duo, Willie Carter and Bryan Burnham.
Douglas and Watts combined for 1,764 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground last season.
Carter and Burnham totaled 1,718 yards in catches last season, along with 16 touchdowns.
“It’s a spread offense and they throw the ball,” Cyclone defensive coordinator Wally Burnham said after a recent practice. “It’s either going to be the quick game or the deep game. There’s not many intermediate routes, or there haven’t been up to this point. (Carter), he’s really good and they move him around; try to get him into spots, get him on a linebacker-type guy.”
That could come into play Saturday.
ISU’s hoping to use its Jeremiah George-bolstered 4-3 defense more this season, but that configuration can become problematic when players such as Carter are slotted all over the field, looking to exploit mismatches.
“You’d better know where he is when he does that,” said Rhoads, who is 3-0 in season openers as a head coach. “He’s a very dangerous player.”
And that’s Tulsa.
Oddsmakers had pegged ISU as 1-1.5-point underdogs as of Monday afternoon.
The Cyclones are the only Big 12 team pronounced as likely to lose in week one by outsiders.
Internally, different story.
“We’re kind of used to being the underdogs every year,” Lenz said. “It doesn’t really change our mindset.”
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