The start of Big 12 play is upon us. Paul Rhoads held his weekly press conference on Monday to preview this week's game against Kansas, a team that must really suck if these Cyclones are favored by 14.5 points against them. There's a lot of pressure on Rhoads and his team to come away with a win on Saturday in the team's easiest game of conference play. Here are five highlights from Monday's presser.
1. Improved Health
The Cyclones will be the healthiest they've been in quite some time when they matchup with the Jayhawks Saturday, which of course happens when they are overwhelming favorites and really shouldn't need this healthy of a squad. Rhoads said Monday that the defense will get several players back on the field, including linebacker Brian Mills, defensive end Gabe Luna and defensive back Qujuan Floyd.
"We're going to put a healthy football team back on the field, the healthiest football team that we've put on the field this season," Rhoads said. "Brian Mills will be back in uniform for us, Gabe Luna will be back, Jacob Dunning will be suited up and ready to go for the first time this year. Qujuan Floyd and Sam Richardson will be back on the field. We're excited about that and what it gives our football team."
2. Comparisons to 2014 game vs. Kansas
Not to bring up the past or anything, but since Iowa State lost to Kansas last year in Lawrence 34-14, a talking point has been how this year will be different. Rhoads said 2014's loss is not something to dwell on, and if you need that game to motivate you, you really shouldn't be competing at this level. Iowa State has a great chance to start 1-0 in conference play this season, which is what they are focused on.
"Our mental makeup is way different than it was a year ago," Rhoads said. "At 1-2, we have an awareness of reality. We've played three good football teams and I think those three football teams have shown that week in, week out this season. We know we are a better football team. We have a group of young men who are anxious to start Big 12 play."
3. Running game
The Cyclones running game got back on track last week against Toledo, as the team ran for 207 yards after rushing for just 140 combined in the first two weeks. Redshirt freshman Mike Warren led the way against the Rockets and accumulated 126 yards on 21 carries. Rhoads said Monday that Warren had a great week of prep leading up to the game, and added the whole team needs to discover confidence like he did.
"(The running game) takes the ingredients of scheme work and figuring out what it is that you are capable of doing," Rhoads said. "It takes blockers, not just the front five but everybody involved. It takes a ball carrier being productive with the ball in his hands. I think we got all of that out of the Toledo game, and I think that was apparent during it and showed up on the film as well."
4. Sam Richardson's First Big 12 Win?
This will likely be the week that Sam Richardson finally posts his first Big 12 win as a starting quarterback. If it doesn't happen this week, I don't know when it will happen for him. Even with some inconsistent play to start the year, Rhoads said the team will keep playing Richardson in order for him to gain confidence.
"He has nine (Big 12 games) left to play," Rhoads said. "I think the body of work will show what that is. A quarterback doesn't win it on his own. It takes a full cast to go along with him. That's the guys on the field, on the other side of the ball, on special teams, and certainly the coaching staff and the other staff that surrounds him."
5. Trever Ryen Scholarship
As I'm sure everyone knows by now, the feel-good story of the Cyclones' bye week was walk-on running back Trever Ryen receiving a scholarship from Rhoads (Congrats, Trever!). It's well-deserved as the Ida Grove native currently leads the team in touchdowns with two and has played well above expectations this year.
"Big time exciting," Rhoads said. "Offering a scholarship period is one of the greatest things that I'm allowed to do. Offering it to a walk-on who is part of your program tops that and seeing him turn white with excitement and seeing his teammates, as they always do, recognize him with love and support is great fun."