By Rob Gray
AMES — The calendar read Monday, but Iowa State football coach Paul Rhoads quickly untethered his team from the normal passage of time.
“It’s Wednesday for us,” Rhoads said Monday as the Cyclones’ unconventional schedule rolled toward today’s 6:30 p.m. Fox Sports 1-televised game at Tulsa. “If that makes sense to you.”
Not much of the early bye week-riddled 2013 slate — nor what nearly amounts to a playoff series with Tulsa — fits routine plans.
It’s the third time ISU (0-2) will face the Golden Hurricane (1-2) in the past 13 months.
“It’s the first time in my career that we’ve played somebody this often,” said Rhoads, whose team has won three of its past five road games. “I think there’s good and bad in that.You can chase tendencies too strong. You can chase ghosts a little bit too strong.”
The Cyclones shined in the 2012 season opener, downing Tulsa 38-23.
The Golden Hurricane gleamed in the Liberty Bowl rematch, winning 31-17.
Both teams have struggled while shoring up inexperienced players this season.
ISU featured 11 new starters in the season-opening loss to Northern Iowa.
Tulsa trotted out nine in its opening setback to Bowling Green.
“I think we’re probably in the same boat, teams coming off a successful run a year ago,” Golden Hurricane coach Bill Blankenship said in his weekly news conference. “We both desperately need to get back on track.”
For the Cyclones, that begins with heath, which merges with offensive production.
Quarterback Sam Richardson has battled a sore right ankle and injured groin since the Northern Iowa defeat and pronounced himself at perhaps “85-90” precent early this week.
If he’s unable to be as fluid as usual in the read-option run game, backup Grant Rohach could see his first competitive snaps in hopes of jump-starting a stalled running attack (100th nationally, 113.5 yards per game).
“He’s been playing really well this week, too,” ISU wide receiver Justin Coleman said of Rohach after also noting improvement in Richardson’s health. “Really kicked it into gear and I think part of that is knowing that he needs to be ready.”
That’s if — and only if — Richardson can’t go at full speed.
One pivotal player who will be back is center Tom Farniok, who has mostly healed an injured right knee.
“You’ve got the level of play, first off, then you’ve got the leadership and toughness — the mental tougness — that goes along with that,” Rhoads said of Farniok’s return. “Having a better player out there will help the offensive line play better and the offensive line has not played good enough.”
Neither has Tulsa’s.
Despite fielding electric back/slot man Trey Watts, the Golden Hurricane rank 95th nationally in rushing offense at 120.3 yards per game.
Watts has 40 percent of Tulsa’s carries and 31 percent if its pass receptions.
He’s also the leading kick and punt returner.
“Obviously, he’s their best player,” Cyclone safety Jacques Washington said. “Just take him out of the equation and force (quarterback Cody) Green to run.”
Not always easily executed, as shown last Dec. 31.
And that was a Monday.
“I think what you’re going to see with a Bill Blankenship-coached team and just Tulsa overall is they’re really going to start improving now as the year goes along,” Rhoads said. “I think they do a really good job figuring out who they are, what they’re capable of doing and starting to jell. I’m nervous it’s going to be (today).”
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