AMES — It’s commonly called a video game offense, but it’s only as good as the nimble fingers and strong hands that cradle the controller.
Baylor quarterback Seth Russell possesses those hands — and don’t forget his legs, either. He’s an all-around nightmare for opposing defenses, as the 160-yard rushing effort he unveiled in last week’s 62-38 rout of West Virginia clearly proves.
“Oh, by the way,” Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said when asked about Russell’s emerging run game prowess. “He runs better than you think he does from a speed standpoint, but he’s a powerful runner, too. He’ll run you over.”
That’s how the No. 2 Bears (6-0, 3-0) approach the point of attack and all parts in between and far downfield.
The Cyclones (2-4, 1-2) enter what’s expected to be a storm-swept Saturday in Waco as 37-point underdogs. Kickoff’s set for 11 a.m., weather permitting. Fireworks — along with lightning strikes — to ensue swiftly.
“It’s a big challenge mentally,” said ISU linebacker Jordan Harris, who’s collected one of just six takeaways this season. “But if you’re a football player and you know competition you’ll be up for it and our defense will be up for it.”
Against Baylor, a defense never stays up long. The Bears rank No. 1 in scoring at 63.8 points per game, total offense (719.4 yards), and passing efficiency (215.04 rating).
And oh, by the way …
Baylor’s second in the nation in rushing offense, chomping down 348.7 yards per game. Heck, the Bears trail only Georgia Southern, which, it should be noted, has rushed the ball 81 times more.
If you’re looking for a weakness, good luck. It doesn’t exist. The video game offense simply can’t be stopped — unless an act of God (a.k.a. weather) intervenes. Russell has thrown for 18 touchdowns and one interception in the past four games alone.
“They’re so far ahead of anyone else, offensively,” ISU defensive coordinator Wally Burnham said.
Oh, by the way, the Cyclones’ defense improved in last week’s 45-21 loss to TCU. They gave up 621 yards, but that’s only the fourth most yards the Horned Frogs have gained in a game this season.
ISU, despite not scoring after the first quarter, stood a manageable 10 points in arrears at the onset of the fourth against the nation’s No. 3 offense. Texas Tech, which thrashed the Cyclones 66-31 the previous week, is ranked No. 2.
These are the offenses we’re dealing with. Back-to-back-to-back. Your Xbox One and PlayStation 4 have nothing on them.
But back to Baylor. Burnham helped coach a national championship defense in 1993 at Florida State. He helped gameplan against top title contenders then such as Miami (Fla.), Nebraska, Florida and Auburn.
“Offensively, they don’t come close to Baylor,” Burnham said of those past great teams.
As for Art Briles’s offense …
“It’s the most prolific, efficient offense I’ve ever coached against,” Burnham noted.
So, again, good luck. The best defense will be a vastly better-than-before offense.
That means ISU quarterback Sam Richardson must take and connect on more shots with Allen Lazard and other receivers — something, he said, he’d like to do.
That means his backup, Joel Lanning, must be ultra-effective when he’s deployed with a limited playbook. That means Mike Warren — who was only banged-up in the TCU loss and is “full-go” this week — must gouge Baylor on the ground.
“Obviously we have to score a lot of points and I think do a much better job of scoring points than we have in the first few (Big 12) games,” Richardson said.
A little good fortune’s required too. OK, a lot of it.
That used to come occasionally.
Rhoads’s Cyclones raked up eight turnovers in a stunning 9-7 upset win over Nebraska in 2009. It’s a common thread for ISU’s big uprisings of the past: The Cyclones tore loose five takeaways in the landmark 37-31 double-overtime win over Oklahoma State in 2011. It’s also been a missing element in recent years. Since 2010, ISU has not finished a season on the plus-side in turnover margin once. The Cyclones sit at minus-five this season.
“We’ve got to get more takeaways,” Harris said. “We talk about that every day as a defense. We’ve been working on it during practice. We’ve just to to translate it to the game field.”
So bring on the thunderstorms. A slippery football. The weird and the wacky.
Absent a flurry of fortuitous surprises, Russell’s controller offers an endless array of combinations — a throw to Corey Coleman here, a pitch to Shock Linwood there — that will operate lethally all day.
“What poison cup do you want to drink out of, to a certain extent, with some of that stuff?” Rhoads said. “But you’d better have defensive formations and personnel aligned to try to stop (it) and defend (it), however you want to say it. I shudder using the word, ‘stop,’ because it hasn’t happened.”