Key questions surround Cyclones in lead up to TCU game

AMES — Trevone Boykin will make big plays. Josh Doctson will likely shake free of coverage — or flat out beat it — more than once.

Boom and gloom for Iowa State fans? We’ll see. 

 Simply put, the heavily disfavored Cyclones face a bona fide behemoth as No. 3 Texas Christian comes to town for Saturday’s 6 p.m. Big 12 game at Jack Trice Stadium.

 And it all starts with Boykin, who’s come a long, long way since his first career start against ISU in 2012 ended in a 37-23 loss.

 “He’s a tremendous, tremendous football player,” said Cyclones coach Paul Rhoads, whose team is a 20-point underdog. “He could be people’s tailback, he could be a starting wide receiver and certainly he’s a Heisman Trophy candidate-worthy quarterback. You’d better be ready for him, but you’ve got to be ready for their whole football team.”

 Boykin is second to one (Matt Johnson of Bowling Green) nationally in total offense at 411.5 yards per game.

 He’s as dynamic a player as ISU (2-3, 1-1) will face this season — and piled up a career-high 559 yards of offense in last season’s 55-3 romp past the Cyclones. 

 “One of the best players in the country,” ISU linebacker Jordan Harris said. “I haven’t seen anything he’s bad at. He’s pretty good at everything he does. So we’ve got to come out ready to play.”

 The Cyclones face a crossroads after an enervating and exasperating 66-31 loss at Texas Tech. Crafting a resilient response against the even more talented Horned Frogs hinges on a few crucial elements:

 Question 1: Can the 3-4 defense hold up after being battered by Texas Tech last week?

 Don’t ask defensive coordinator Wally Burnham, who notably invited a handful of reporters to draw something better up earlier this week. Or do ask — the veteran Burnham was just venting, obviously. The defense performed well the first four weeks, allowing an average of 20.3 points before the Red Raiders’ 66-point outburst.

 “We’ve got to run to the football,” Burnham said. “We’ve got to play a heck of a lot better speed-wise and reaction-wise than we did last week. It comes down to that, really.”

 Last week, Tech scored touchdowns on seven plays spanning 20 yards or more. The Red Raiders lead the nation in explosive plays, but TCU’s not far behind.

 “You’ve got to play smart and you’ve got to play fast,” Cyclones linebacker Luke Knott said. “Those two go hand in hand. The smarter you are, the faster you’ll play. You really can’t get ready for every single play that a team like this is going to throw at you, but you have to be able to react fast on your toes.”

 Question 2: Can Sam Richardson rebound from his worst game as a Cyclone?

 It’s required as he threw three interceptions in a single game for the first time in his career in the 66-31 pounding at Texas Tech.

 “I think he’s got to — and he knows all this — he’s a guy that wants to be good and he wants to help his team,” offensive coordinator Mark Mangino said. “I think he’s just got to stay in there and keep focused and not get distracted. And if he makes a bad play, you’ve got to forget about it and go to the next play.”

 Richardson’s unusually erratic performance caused many fans to clamor for backup Joel Lanning to replace him this week. 

 That’s not happening.

 “I think right now I’m not ready to throw Sam to the wayside,” Mangino said. “I think that he’s proven that he can play and he’ll get his mojo back, I’m confident he will this week. But we do know that we have Joel, who we have a great deal of confidence in right now.”

 Question 3: Will MIke Warren continue to make tasty waves as a redshirt freshman?

 The shifty, savvy tailback from Lawton, Okla., must be ultra-productive on the ground again for ISU to have a chance to compete deep into the game against the Horned Frogs (6-0, 3-0).

 He’s averaging 8.1 yards per carry — tops among freshman nationally, and sixth among all players, a mere four hundreths of a yard behind Georgia’s injured star, Nick Chubb.

 “Honestly, I think the guys are a little bit down, but this week is going to be really big for us because we have to prepare for another good team, like last week,” Warren said on Monday. “I think confidence will build up throughout practice.”

 It better.

 Rhoads said he surmised his team was somewhat “intimidated” by the Red Raiders’ speed last week.

 A sense of swagger, merged with regained precision, must return this week for the Cyclones to have any chance of recreating magic under the lights, a la the shocking Oklahoma State upset in 2011. 

 “I think the guys know what type of team they’re playing this week,” Harris said. “I think they were surprised by Texas Tech’s speed. And I don’t think we’ll be surprised this week by TCU because we’re training for it.”


Rob Gray


Rob, an Ames native, joined Cyclone Fanatic in August, 2014 after nearly a decade and a half of working at Iowa's two largest newspapers. He spent 10 years at the Des Moines Register and, after a brief stint in public relations, joined the Cedar Rapids Gazette as an Iowa State correspondent three years ago. Rob specializes in feature stories for CF.

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