Oklahoma State hung with the top-ranked team in the nation its last time out, coming up just short as it suffered its first loss of the season.
As heartbreaking as that result was, a defeat this week would feel much worse.
The ninth-ranked Cowboys look to bounce back from last week’s disappointment when they host Iowa State, the Big 12’s only team without a conference win, on Saturday.
Oklahoma State (7-1, 3-1) no longer controls its own destiny in the pursuit of its first Big 12 title after a 28-24 loss at No. 1 Texas last Saturday. The Cowboys defense came up with a couple of crucial stops in the fourth quarter to give the team a chance to win, but Zac Robinson’s heave on the final play came up short of the end zone and was intercepted.
The loss left the Cowboys visibly shaken after nearly rallying from a 14-point second-half deficit.
“After the game Saturday, I saw looks in their eyes that I hadn’t seen in this program in four years. They were painful, but that’s what it’s supposed to be,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said.
“When you play in a big showcase and there’s a lot on the line and you don’t win, you’re supposed to feel that way.”
Although the loss hurt, the Cowboys only dropped two spots in the AP poll. They also stayed in contention for the national title game, falling just three spots to No. 9 in the BCS standings.
Any chance to play for the title would vanish if Oklahoma State loses Saturday, though.
“It’s going to make everyone practice harder,” Cowboys defensive end Jamie Blatnick said. “It’s going to make everyone play harder because it hurt, so no one wants to go through that again. We’re just lucky that we have more games to play.”
A matchup with the struggling Cyclones (2-6, 0-4) should help Oklahoma State get back on track.
The Cowboys boast one of the top offenses in the nation, ranking seventh in scoring at 43.6 points per game and eighth in total offense at 490.8 yards per game. They’ll be taking on a defense that’s 102nd in the country in points allowed (31.6 per game) and total defense (422.8 ypg).
Iowa State’s pass defense has been particularly bad lately, allowing an average of 329.0 yards through the air in four games since the start of October - second-worst in the Football Bowl Subdivision in that span.
Oklahoma State’s offense is led by Robinson, who has thrown for 1,092 yards, 11 touchdowns and one interception in his last five games, and Kendall Hunter, fourth in the nation in rushing yards with 1,116.
Considering Hunter rushed for 161 yards on 18 attempts last week against the nation’s third-ranked run defense, he shouldn’t have trouble finding room to run against Iowa State, which has allowed 170.3 rushing yards per game and 17 touchdowns on the ground this season.
The Cowboys, trying to open a season 8-1 for the first time since 1985, have won eight straight at home against unranked teams.
Iowa State, meanwhile, has been awful on the road, losing 14 in a row away from Ames since a 42-14 win at Texas A&M on Oct. 29, 2005. It’s also dropped 33 consecutive regular season road contests against Top 25 opponents since a 33-31 win over Oklahoma on Oct. 20, 1990.
The Cyclones are coming off a 49-35 home loss to Texas A&M on Saturday.
Iowa State’s Austen Arnaud threw for a career-high 371 yards and a touchdown as the offense gained a season-high 574 yards, but the defense gave up 509 and allowed the Aggies to convert on 11 of 14 third-down attempts.
“The focus is to play better on all sides of the ball and get things fixed,” Cyclones coach Gene Chizik said. “There are four games left and we are going to take it one game at a time. There is improvement in some areas but obviously we didn’t put it together as a team.”
Iowa State is trying to avoid losing seven straight games for the first time since dropping its final 10 in 2003.
The Cowboys and Cyclones have not met since a 37-10 Iowa State win Oct. 22, 2005 in Ames.