When Baylor coach Matt Rhule looks at Iowa State, he’s sees a program that he’d like to emulate in upcoming seasons.
After building a successful Toledo program, Matt Campbell led the Cyclones to a 3-9 record in his first season as coach last season.
But they’ve been one of the major success stories in the Big 12 in Campbell’s second year as they’ve become bowl eligible with a 6-4 record. The Cyclones’ comeback season has been highlighted by wins over Oklahoma and TCU, both in the top five when they played them.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity for us to play against a team that’s done what we would like to do in terms of building off of last season and becoming a ranked team,” Rhule said. “They’ve got tough guys. They’ve got guys who compete. They have guys who play together and play football the right way. They never beat themselves.”
The Bears host the Cyclones at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at McLane Stadium in the home finale before ending the season against TCU in Fort Worth on Nov. 24.
Saturday’s game will be the last for Baylor’s seniors, including five starters: linebacker Taylor Young, tight end Jordan Feuerbacher, safety Taion Sells, offensive tackle Mo Porter and defensive end Brian Nance.
Rhule would like to send them out with Baylor’s second win of the season after going 1-9 overall and 1-6 in the Big 12.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to honor our seniors in their last time playing at McLane,” Rhule said. “This entire week, I know our guys are giving everything they have to make sure this great group of young men goes out the right way.”
The Cyclones looked like they were headed toward a mediocre season when they split their first four games, beating Northern Iowa and Akron, and dropping a 44-41 overtime decision to Iowa and a 17-7 loss to Texas in the Big 12 opener in Ames.
But Iowa State shocked everybody with its 38-31 upset of then-No. 3 Oklahoma in Norman when walk-on quarterback Kyle Kempt stepped in for Jacob Park and threw for 343 yards and three touchdowns.
It started a four-game winning streak that was capped by a 14-7 win over then-No. 4 TCU on Oct. 28 in Ames.
The Cyclones have dropped their last two games, including a 20-16 loss at West Virginia followed by last weekend’s 49-42 loss to Oklahoma State in a shootout in Ames. Kempt injured his shoulder against the Cowboys, and is listed as day to day coming into the Baylor game.
Freshman Zeb Noland performed admirably in relief against Oklahoma State by hitting 17 of 28 passes for 263 yards.
“Zeb was outstanding,” Campbell said. “He really came into a situation that wasn’t easy to get his first real extended playing time. It’s the first time he’s gotten meaningful reps and did a great job. He’s obviously a young man with a big arm, he’s accurate and has the ability to manage the game. He’s certainly proven he can do it.”
Though the explosive Cowboys scored 49 points, Iowa State’s defense has been the biggest reason for the team’s success. The Cyclones are tied for second in the Big 12 by allowing 21.9 points per game and are third in total defense by allowing a 382.6-yard average.
Leading the way is senior Joel Lanning who converted from quarterback to middle linebacker, and has recorded a team-high 99 tackles with seven tackles for loss, three sacks and an interception. Lanning is Iowa State’s iron man since he still plays quarterback in some situations.
“Obviously, I’m a big believer in playing good defensive football,” Campbell said. “It still matters when you talk about winning and losing games. Our staff has done a great job of putting our guys in position to be successful. They’ve helped us continue to grow and we’re looking forward to seeing how they continue to progress.”
Freshman Charlie Brewer will get his third straight start for the Bears, but Rhule said Zach Smith is getting healthier as he tries to bounce back from a sprained shoulder.
Brewer set Baylor records with 43 completions in 63 attempts while throwing for 417 yards and three touchdowns in last Saturday’s 38-24 loss to Texas Tech at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
But Brewer also fumbled twice and threw an interception in the end zone. In contrast, Iowa State hasn’t lost a fumble all season and has thrown just nine interceptions.
“I think for Charlie to throw the ball that many times and be as accurate as he was, was impressive, but we do have to correct that interception,” Rhule said. “I certainly didn’t go into that game thinking let’s throw it 63 times. We do have to correct the two fumbles, which were on him and the back which were obviously critical plays.”
The Bears will be without freshman receiver Gavin Holmes, who went down in the first quarter against the Red Raiders with an ACL injury that will require surgery. The knee injury will likely keep him out throughout spring drills and possibly into next season.
“He’s going to have surgery here in a couple weeks,” Rhule said. “He’s got to build some strength up first. He’ll rehab and he’ll come back better. I think for him it’ll be next year. I’ve always been very slow with guys coming back from ACLs. If he’s ready before next year, great. If he’s ready in the middle of next year, great. But if not, then he’ll be ready next spring and redshirt next year.
Holmes is the third Baylor receiver to go down with a season-ending injury as he joins Chris Platt and R.J. Sneed. Rhule thought Pooh Stricklin was out for the year with a sprained foot, but he played against Texas Tech and finished with eight catches for 99 yards and a touchdown.
Rhule said Stricklin’s status for Iowa State will be a game time decision.
“We’ll see if we have Pooh or not,” Rhule said. “That’s kind of one of those things, the day of the game he says to me, ‘I can go’ or ‘I can’t go.’”