COLUMBIA — This season has been far from ideal for second-year Iowa State coach Gene Chizik.
His flailing Cyclones are well beyond a point of no return. They will fail in their attempt to qualify for their first bowl appearance since 2005. They stand last in the Big 12 North, considered by some to be one of the nation’s weakest divisions in major college football.
On the surface, it appears Iowa State (2-8, 0-6 Big 12 Conference) doesn’t have much to play for against Missouri on Saturday night in Ames. But Chizik, who spent the 2005 and 2006 seasons as co-defensive coordinator at Texas, disagrees. Now, it’s about life lessons, he says. Now, it’s about pushing through difficult moments toward something more fulfilling.
“When you’re 2-8, it does get tough,” Chizik said. “But you know what? That’s life. There are going to be other tough parts in my life and in their (the players’) lives, and they’re going to have to work through it. You don’t walk away from it. You push through it.”
Come Saturday, pushing through might represent Iowa State’s greatest accomplishment. Statistically, the Cyclones don’t match up well against the Tigers. Iowa State ranks No. 102 in total offense (producing 326.92 yards per game) and No. 65 in total defense (allowing 390.33 yards per game).
But Iowa State proved competitive last year in Columbia with similar expectations. By halftime, then-Iowa State quarterback Bret Meyer brought the Cyclones within 20-14 against 13th-ranked MU. The Tigers pulled away late to claim the 42-28 victory but looked sluggish during one of their season’s greatest struggles at Memorial Stadium. MU’s most glaring gaffe occurred on rush defense; the Tigers surrendered 149 yards on 21 carries and a touchdown to tailback Alexander Robinson.
This year’s matchup carries Big 12 North championship implications. If Texas wins at Kansas on Saturday afternoon, Missouri can clinch the division with a victory over Iowa State.
It’s a possibility Chizik would rather avoid.
“Obviously, that’s what their goal is,” he said. “We’re going to go out there and prepare like we’ve been preparing. We’re going to go out there with the expectation to win. That’s the bottom line.
“We’re going to prepare like we always do, and we’re going to go back and look at what we did well last year and what we didn’t do so well and make a game of this thing.”
Throughout the season, Iowa State has had opportunities to earn its first conference victory. In the conference opener against then-No. 16 Kansas, Iowa State jumped to a 20-0 halftime lead but lost, 35-33, when quarterback Austen Arnaud threw four consecutive incomplete passes at the Iowa State 41-yard line during the Cyclones’ final drive. Last week, Iowa State surrendered 15 consecutive points in the fourth quarter to lose to Colorado, 28-24.
“They were crushed in the locker room,” Chizik said of his team after the Colorado game. “There were a lot of tears and a lot of emotion. A lot of guys put a lot into that. That’s tough to overcome in some ways.”
Come Saturday, Chizik would like to witness elation and prevent Missouri from earning its first victory in Ames since 2004. It has been a long season, but possibility remains as a potential spoiler.
“We don’t start looking at next season until next season,” he said.
“You can see our young guys coming on. They’re starting to play better.
"We don’t look forward to next year. We’re just looking forward to Missouri.”