Iowa State football: Toledo becomes must win for confidence, bowl eligibility


Hell is finally over for Iowa State football. The first five games of the season lived up to the toughness that all of us expected. With so many ups and downs throughout the stretch, it’s time to finally do what everyone’s been waiting to see — winning.

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The Cyclones sit 1-4 after five games, a record that’s both disappointing yet not surprising. Similar to last year, close calls, some horrible officiating, and downright ugly play by ISU resulted in the current record. But this 1-4 team is different from last year’s 1-4 team at this point.

How’s that? Because the defense is so much better than a year ago. It isn’t just Jeremiah George and Jacques Washington making all the tackles that the other defenders missed. There are seven defenders that have recorded 24 or more tackles already on the season after five games — that’s 4.8 tackles per game or more. Last year, there were only three players that had more than 4.8 tackles per game at the end of the year.

Even the stats don’t do them justice. Just take their effort in the first half last week against Oklahoma State. They dominated and put the offense in position to win the game or at least take the lead before half, but they couldn’t muster anything more than two field goals before the chaos of the blown call.

A running game is still the kryptonite that the Cyclones can’t figure out how break. From 2011 onward, ISU’s running attack has been in decline, and it’s at an all-time worst of 107.6 yards per game, good for 111th nationally this year.

Oct 4, 2014; Stillwater, OK, USA; Iowa State Cyclones tight end E.J. Bibbs (11) catches a pass for a touchdown as Oklahoma State Cowboys cornerback Juwan Offray (22) makes the tackle during the second half at Boone Pickens Stadium. Oklahoma won 37-20. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Iowa State’s had the ability to point at all the top 25 teams and the great defenses they’ve had to face. Here’s the opponents and where their rush defense is currently ranked at nationally:

  • Kansas State – 5th
  • Iowa – 7th
  • Baylor – 14th
  • Oklahoma State – 29th

Obviously, North Dakota State isn’t listed because they’re an FCS program, but�they hold teams to 108.8 rushing yards per game. That’s equivalent to Virginia Tech, who is ranked 20th.

Truthfully, it doesn’t get much easier. Want to know where Toledo is? 30th, right behind the Cowboys.

But time is running out for Iowa State, and the Rockets have other weaknesses that the Cyclones can exploit to defeat them. Toledo isn’t a cakewalk, but even Vegas believes ISU can this game by a slim five-point margin at home.

If Iowa State wants to get into a bowl game this year, it’s still possible. There are four very winnable games ahead on the slate — Toledo, Kansas, Texas Tech, and West Virginia because it’s in Jack Trice Stadium. The other victory has to come from an upset somewhere. Either the home game against Oklahoma or the road games at Texas or TCU.

We can’t start debating which teams would be easier for Iowa State unless they start winning now.

However, we can’t start debating which teams would be easier for Iowa State unless they start winning now, and it absolutely has to happen against Toledo. It’s going to take not only continued improvement from the defense, but the offense has to stay out on the field and move the ball. Sam Richardson needs to find a way to deliver the ball to his receivers�without putting it in danger of being picked off.

If Richardson can’t do it, then Grant Rohach should take his place. However, if Rohach is under center, that puts even more emphasis on the running game because Richardson has the threat of taking off with his legs. Doesn’t matter if it’s Aaron Wimberly, DeVondrick Nealy, or Martinez Syria — somebody has to�take off and keep the defense honest.

At this point, there just needs to be some confidence surrounding this team. Perhaps athletic director Jamie Pollard fired up the team with his rant, but Paul Rhoads announcing his displeasure at the end of the Texas game last year didn’t do the team any good. But if Iowa State can somehow, someway win this game on Saturday, their goal of a bowl berth and victory are at least hanging by a thread.