Lost in the uproar over Iowa State's controversial loss to Texas earlier this month was that it appeared to show that the Cyclones could hang with the best of the Big 12.
A thin and inexperienced roster was decimated by injuries, and the bottom fell out for Iowa State. The Cyclones have lost their last two games by a combined 95 points and appear headed for their worst season under fifth-year coach Paul Rhoads.
Iowa State (1-6, 0-4 Big 12) heads to Kansas State on Saturday needing to win every game left on its schedule for bowl eligibility.
Given how poorly the Cyclones have played over the past few weeks, such a streak seems unlikely.
"It's a challenge, for sure, to keep them motivated. It's one that welcome. It's one that I think I'm pretty good at," Rhoads said. "These guys are mature enough to understand that college football isn't a Cinderella story...it's not a fairy tale. You win by having great preparation and great execution."
Staying healthy is also important — and neither quarterback Sam Richardson nor running back Aaron Wimberly were around by the second half of Oklahoma State's 58-27 blowout win on Saturday.
Richardson, who has been battling an ankle injury since the opener, had 95 yards passing and 64 yards rushing in just over a quarter as the Cyclones worked to rally from an early 21-0 deficit.
But Richardson slid awkwardly on a third down run early in the second quarter and was hit in the head and neck by linebacker Tyler Johnson. Richardson spent the rest of the afternoon on the bench, and backup Grant Rohach finished with just 97 yards on 12 of 23 passing.
Richardson is expected to start Saturday against the Wildcats.
"Sam is fine. He practiced (Sunday), did everything we asked of him," Rhoads said. "The plan will be to go through the week and make sure that he's 100 percent off this recent injury and can operate the offense."
Wimberly, who ran for 254 yards in back-to-back games against Tulsa and Texas, didn't play against the Cowboys because of a hamstring injury.
Rhoads said Monday that Wimberly is "day to day." The Cyclones might be in trouble if Wimberly can't play against the Wildcats, considering that DeVondrick Nealy and Shontrelle Johnson combined for only 40 yards on 11 carries against Oklahoma State.
Iowa State will also likely be without wide receiver Jarvis West (knee), and freshman linebacker Luke Knott is questionable because of issues with his groin and hip.
Those bumps and bruises are nothing compared to what's happened to Iowa State's offensive linemen.
The Cyclones have so been devastated by injuries there that they haven't started the same five players once all season.
Iowa State has been also forced to start seven different underclassman blockers, which has been the main reason its offense has been so inconsistent.
"It's very frustrating because it's out of your control," Rhoads said. "We like to be in control, and when injuries pop up and you can't play a guy and everything gets out of whack, there's a high level of frustration that goes along with that."
Even though the Cyclones probably won't reach a bowl game, they do have a shot at a decent finish to 2013.
The schedule has a lot to do with that.
The Cyclones are one of five Big 12 teams with at least three league losses — and they still have to play those other four teams. So Iowa State is doing its best to stay positive and focus on what they're doing right rather than what they're doing wrong.
For running back Jeff Woody, that means taking solace in Oklahoma State's interception and fumble returns for scores as proof that the Cyclones were just a few mistakes away from making it a game.
"This week is a little easier than the Baylor game because, in the Baylor game, we got trounced," Woody said. "Knowing that we didn't play awful, knowing that there are correctable mistakes is an easier way to put it behind you."
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