AMES, Iowa — Iowa State began November needing one victory to become eligible for a bowl game, with three chances to get it.
After two straight losses, the Cyclones are down to their last chance. And they have to try to make it happen with backup quarterback Jerome Tiller running the offense and No. 15 Missouri as the opponent at Jack Trice Stadium on Saturday night.
Starting quarterback Austen Arnaud, a fifth-year senior, injured his left knee in last Saturday's 34-14 loss at Colorado and is out for the rest of the season. That puts things in the hands of a sophomore who's 1-1 as a starter.
Tiller threw a touchdown pass in Iowa State's 9-7 upset of Nebraska last season and started the next week in a 35-10 loss to Texas A&M. Tiller also finished Iowa State's 27-0 victory against Northern Iowa this season after Arnaud aggravated a shoulder injury on the game's third play.
Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said the offense won't change much with Tiller in the game instead of Arnaud.
"They present the same skills," Rhoads said Monday. "They just accomplish them in a little bit different fashion. Austen runs hard. He's a physical runner. He drops his shoulder. Jerome likes to make people miss. But it's the same running plays, the same passing plays that we'll execute."
With some minor tweaking, that is. Rhoads wants to make sure Tiller gets a package he can manage.
"The run game stuff is all stuff that he can run just fine and, in certain aspects, run better," Rhoads said. "You don't ask him to make a lot of challenging throws. By that I'm talking about stuff deep down over the middle or stuff that takes longer, like a corner route or a post route, to develop."
Rhoads put Tiller off-limits to the media this week. But Arnaud showed up to answer questions before limping off to have an MRI on his knee.
Arnaud was injured in the fourth quarter of the Colorado game when he was sacked for the fifth time. He couldn't put any weight on the left leg as he was helped off the field and won't be able to do anything more than watch as his teammates seek that elusive sixth victory on senior night.
"It'll definitely be tough, but I'm excited to see these guys play," Arnaud said. "Jerome's had a bunch of time to study and see what's going on. We've won games with Jerome. In that sense, this team has complete confidence in Jerome.
"He brings a versatility with his speed. That can help. He's more elusive. But he's got to do his work this week, and I'll be helping him. We'll get it taken care of."
Tiller and the rest of the offense will have to generate some points to keep up with Missouri (8-2, 4-2 Big 12), which is averaging 31.5 points a game. Iowa State has scored more than 31 only once all season.
"The season comes down to this one great opportunity," Rhoads said. "We have to execute."
No matter what happens, it's a tough ending for Arnaud, a local icon who grew up in Ames after his father, John, played defensive back at Iowa State. He goes out as the school's career leader in completion percentage (.597) and second on the career list in passing yards (6,777), total offense (8,044), completions (616) and touchdown passes (42).
His conduct off the field has been even more stellar.
"Nobody has represented Iowa State in better form than he has," Rhoads said. "He answers all questions. He steps forward every time. He's done that in bad times; he's done that in good times. He's a neat young man and I'm sorry he doesn't get one more chance to play."
Arnaud said he's been barraged with supportive text messages and phone calls. He's heard from former Iowa State coaches Dan McCarney and Gene Chizik; former teammates such as Bret Meyer, Reggie Stephens and Marquis Hamilton; Iowa State faculty members; and even his former elementary school music teacher.
"This is going to sound kind of stupid, but I feel fortunate," he said. "I played four years straight. I was fortunate enough to have a great portion of my career unimpeded by injuries.
"It does (stink) that I'm not going to be able to play my last game at Jack Trice Stadium, but I've played many in the stadium and had great memories. I'm going to miss it, of course, but there's nothing I can do about it."
Missouri (8-2, 4-2 Big 12)
at Iowa State (5-6, 3-4 Big 12)
WHEN: 6 p.m.
WHERE: Jack Trice Stadium
RADIO: KTGER/1580 AM, KCMQ/96.7 FM
TV: Fox Sports Net
Missouri has won three straight games against Iowa State. Since 1996, the Tigers are 3-4 in Ames. Missouri coach Gary Pinkel is 6-3 against the Cyclones.