COLUMBIA — Three weeks ago, the Iowa State football team had a chance to win the Big 12 North. Two losses later, coach Paul Rhoads’ team is no longer playing for a berth in the Big 12 Championship game. The Cyclones are playing for bowl eligibility.
Saturday’s game against Missouri is the Cyclones' final regular season game. With a win Iowa State will have a 6-6 record and a chance at a postseason bowl game. A loss means the season is over.
No. 15 Missouri Tigers (8-2, 4-2)
at Iowa State Cyclones (5-6, 3-4)
WHEN: 6 p.m.
WHERE: Jack Trice Stadium, Ames, Iowa
RADIO: KTGR/1580 AM, KCMQ/96.7 FM
TV: Fox Spots Net
SERIES: Missouri has won its past three games against Iowa State and six of the past seven. MU coach Gary Pinkel is 6-3 vs. Iowa State and 1-0 vs. Paul Rhoads.
Things aren’t as dire for Missouri. Two games remain in its regular season, and its spot as Big 12 North runner-up is all but finalized. In recent years it has been the Cyclones playing spoiler, trying to ruin the hopes of Missouri. Those roles are reversed in the 2010 matchup.
The Tigers don't consider themselves spoilers, instead pointing to their goal of winning 10 games. But Missouri's coaches and players are fully aware that Iowa State will be desperate for a win this weekend in Ames, Iowa.
“Its kind of one of those trap games," sophomore wide receiver T.J. Moe said. "But I think every game is kind of scary, especially when you go on the road in the Big 12, I think it’s pretty scary. They are playing a little bit with a bit of a chip on their shoulder right now.”
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said during his team's media day Monday that he doesn’t like looking back on the schedule to judge his team or their opponents. But he did point out Iowa State’s performance against Nebraska, “a team that dominated us” two weeks ago. In that game, Iowa State went for the win by faking a point-after kick in overtime. That attempt was perfectly defended by Nebraska, and the conversion failed. The Cyclones lost to the Cornhuskers 31-30.
Iowa State’s senior quarterback Austen Arnaud went 21-for-32 and threw for three touchdowns against Nebraska, bringing the Cyclones back from a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit. It turned out to be Arnaud’s final home game. In the fourth quarter of Iowa State’s loss at Colorado last week, Arnaud was sacked by Patrick Mahnke and fumbled. Colorado returned the fumble for a touchdown, but the hit tore the ACL and MCL in Arnaud’s left knee.
Sophomore Jerome Tiller replaced Arnaud after the injury, completing 12-of-19 passes for 99 yards an a touchdown in less than a quarter of work.
“They are playing everyone tough this year, I certainly don’t think you can look past them,” Moe said. “I know their quarterback is out, but I don’t think that is any excuse to look past them. Baylor’s quarterback was out last year and their third-string quarterback torched us for a school record, so, I think we’ll remind ourselves a little bit of that this year and we’ll come out firing.”
Pinkel’s Missouri teams have had problems with backup quarterbacks in recent years. Nick Florence’s 468-yard performance for Baylor in 2009 is a good example, but two weeks ago, it was backup Taylor Potts subbing in for Texas Tech and leading the Red Raiders to victory. In 2007, Illinois’ Eddie McGee nearly stopped Missouri’s great season in its first game.
Pinkel has had a week to prepare for Tiller, but he said he isn’t sure the Iowa State offense will change with a new quarterback in place.
“It’s really hard to speculate,” Pinkel said. “He’s a real good athlete, they are similar in a lot of ways. You just got one with a lot of experience, and he has a little bit less. But he still has 125, 130 snaps, that’s a game and a half or so, close to two games ... I think, shoot, I think he’ll be a great player, no question about it.”
Rhoads has a similar perspective about his new quarterback.
"They present the same skills, they just accomplish them in a little bit different fashion," Rhoads said Monday. "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."
If Pinkel is looking for hints about Iowa State’s gameplan this week through Tiller's comments, he is out of luck, Rhoads has put Tiller on mute.
“He will not be talking to the media this week,” Rhoads said at Iowa State’s media day. “He’s got enough on his plate … I made that decision to allow him to remain completely focused on the preparation that needs to take place.”
Saturday’s game is Missouri's fourth and final road test. After a victory at Texas A&M, the Tigers looked as flat as the surrounding landscape when visiting Nebraska and Texas Tech.
At Iowa State, the Tigers will have to be as crisp as the cold weather they are expected to face Saturday in Ames.
“The season comes down to this — one great big opportunity here at home against the 15th-ranked Missouri Tigers,” Roads said. “A win, and we become bowl eligible — far exceeding most people’s expectations before this season began.”