Iowa State has faced one of the most grueling stretches of any team in the country over the past two months and it lost every game.
The beleaguered Cyclones (1-9, 0-7 Big 12) finally get someone they believe they can hang with on Saturday, along with their best chance yet to snap a seven-game losing streak, when they host Kansas (3-7, 1-6) in a matchup of the Big 12's two worst teams.
Though the Jayhawks scored their first league win by beating West Virginia last weekend, the Cyclones are still favored to beat someone for the first time in Big 12 play.
Kansas should feel pretty good about itself heading to Ames. But the Jayhawks will be facing an Iowa State team desperate to get its first home win of the year and send its seniors out with a victory.
"I'm pretty sure they will have a lot of confidence. But I'm more than positive that we'll have just as much confidence taking the field because it'll be our last time taking the field," Iowa State senior running back Shontrelle Johnson said. "We're fighting to get that last win, so it'll be highly intense, emotional game."
Iowa State is coming off yet another blowout loss, a 48-10 drubbing at Oklahoma.
But when a team is struggling as badly as the Cyclones are, coaches will often search for any positive signs they can find — and Iowa State actually outplayed Oklahoma on the road for nearly a half.
The Cyclones led 10-3 late in the first half and were set to pin Oklahoma deep in its own territory. But Jalen Saunders took a punt back 91 yards for a touchdown to seize momentum heading into the locker room. Damien Williams then gave the Sooners the lead for good on a 69-yard touchdown run straight up the middle just 43 seconds into the third quarter.
For a team that's grown accustomed to having bad things happen, that run by Williams proved to be the tipping point.
Clay Brennan had a 63-yard TD run, Trevor Knight had a 56-yard touchdown and Williams ran another one in from 19 yards out as the Sooners racked up 405 yards on 44 carries.
"That's the challenge of a team that has things stacked against them, to not allow that run to happen, to be able to fight through the first piece of adversity that you saw," Rhoads said.
Iowa State's losing streak has left them with little but pride and momentum for next season to play for.
There is reason to believe that the program is in better shape than its 1-9 record might indicate. The Cyclones have been banged up all year — especially along the offensive line and at quarterback — and five of their losses have been by single digits.
But while Iowa State's players insist that they continue to believe in themselves, it'd be a lot easier to continue to do so through the season finale at West Virginia on Nov. 30 if they can at least beat Kansas.
"I think we got confidence coming out of the Oklahoma game, even in the loss," Rhoads said. "Not enough to match Kansas's will be, with the elation that went along with that victory. But hopefully enough to propel into a good week of practice and taking the field with the mindset to overcome whatever adversity is going to come our way. Because it's going (to). It's a football game."
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