AMES - No. 19 Oklahoma State will open the second half of the season unsettled at quarterback and with an offense that's been somewhat average of late.
What a perfect time to play Iowa State.
The Cyclones (1-5, 0-3 Big 12) are coming off the worst loss in school history, a 71-7 shellacking at No. 6 Baylor. They've given up 113 points since a heartbreaking one-point loss to Texas and are on pace for their worst finish in the five-year tenure of coach Paul Rhoads.
Still, the Cowboys (5-1, 2-1) aren't nearly as certain at quarterback as they'd like to be by now.
Sophomore J.W. Walsh was pulled in favor of senior Clint Chelf after throwing a pair of early interceptions last week against TCU.
Chelf's first pass was also picked off, but he eventually led Oklahoma State past the Horned Frogs 24-10.
Oklahoma State (5-1, 2-1) at Iowa State (1-5, 0-3)
Today, 11 a.m.
At Jack Trice Stadium, Ames
TV: Fox Sports Net
The Cowboys don't intend to announce who will start on Saturday. The Cyclones - and everyone else - will probably find out who they're facing when either Walsh or Chelf trots out for the first play.
"We feel we have two good quarterbacks and we need to make sure we're doing what we can to help them improve and get them playing at a high level. It starts with ball security," Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich said. "It's about getting the ball to our playmakers and creating space for them."
Iowa State is also a bit shaky at quarterback. But coach Paul Rhoads said Tuesday that he's sticking with sophomore Sam Richardson even though he, like Walsh, was pulled during last week's game.
Richardson is just 22 of 52 passing in losses to Texas Tech and the Bears in the past two weeks.
"He's got to make smarter decisions and quicker judgments," Rhoads said.
Here are five things to know as Oklahoma State looks to keep pace with the front-runners in the Big 12 against the struggling Cyclones.
Oklahoma State visits Iowa State for the first time since a stunning 37-31 double overtime upset in 2011 that knocked the Cowboys out of the national title race. For the Oklahoma State players who were on that team two years ago, that defeat still stings. "The main thing I remember is the feeling leaving from there. It's something you can't explain, especially knowing that you were supposed to beat that team. It was a good thing to learn from but it was probably one of the worst feelings I've ever had," receiver Tracy Moore said. The Cowboys beat Iowa State 31-10 in Stillwater last season.
Even though Iowa State's defense just let up 71 points, Rhoads remains more concerned the struggles of the Cyclones offense. Iowa State has failed to pick up a first down on 19 separate drives over the past two weeks. "It's been the two back-to-back weeks where, overall, we've been very unproductive and, at times, inept," Rhoads said. Iowa State is eighth in the Big 12 in scoring at 25.2 points per game.
Oklahoma State receiver Josh Stewart is one of five players in the country with multiple punt returns for touchdowns this season. He had 265 all-purpose yards in the win over TCU, including 10 receptions for 141 yards and a 95-yard punt return for a TD. "That was as good of an executed play as you get," Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. "Obviously that was a great return, and punt returns are all about getting started if you have a talented returner who can make the first guy miss."
Iowa State's starting offensive line on Saturday will be the seventh different combination in seven games this season. The Cyclones opened this week's practice with a freshman, three sophomores and a junior working along the line. "Not a league where you want to be playing with those kinds of young people at those positions. But that's what we've got," Rhoads said.
Most teams would take Oklahoma State's 35.7 points scored a game, which is third-best in the Big 12. But the Cowboys were third-best in the country in 2012 at 45.7 points per game, second with 48.7 points two years ago and third at 44.2 points a game in 2010. "We as an offense have to get better," Yurcich said.