By Rob Gray
AMES — They wow! They amaze!
They turn defensive backs into beaten, confused and energy-sapped onlookers.
So if it seems Baylor’s wide receivers have been afforded superhero status entering today’s 6 p.m. Big 12 matchup (ESPNU) with heavy underdog Iowa State at Waco, Texas, it’s because they have been.
It’s all about the numbers — and lithe, lightning-quick, field-stretching touchdown catchers such as Tevin Reese and Antwan Goodley produce stunning statistics seemingly at will for the No. 12 Bears.
“(We’ve been trying) to get faster, bigger at the same time, but faster,” Cyclone defenside coordinator Wally Burnham said of schemes to keep up with ultra high-tempo spread offenses like Baylor’s. “If you don’t match up, you’re not going to be able to be successful, most of the time.”
But for ISU (1-4, 0-2), slowing the Bears (5-0, 2-0) starts where it does against any run-of-the-mill team not averaging 63.4 points per game.
It’s where the grunts ply their brutal trade, keying on and stringing out the true cardinal and gold enemy No. 1 today: Baylor’s top tailback, Lache Seastrunk.
“His strength is he doesn’t have any weaknesses,” said ISU coach Paul Rhoads, whose team upset the Bears 35-21 last season by forcing four turnovers and holding Seastrunk to 30 yards on seven carries. “He’s fast, he’s strong, he’s agile — makes people miss. … He makes it hard to make them one-dimensional.”
No, with Seastrunk averaging 9.9 yard per carry and already visiting the end zone a team-leading eight times, the Bears’ offense unfolds in 3-D.
It’s a challenge redshirt freshman linebacker Luke Knott — whose big brother, Jake, zestfully and successfully took on one last memorable time last season — relishes.
“That’s why you come to play in the Big 12,” said Knott, the Cyclones’ third-leading tackler. “To face an offense like that and try to find solutions to a powerhouse offense like that.”
A missed tackle means six.
“They’ve got speed everywhere,” ISU safety and second-leading tackler Jacques Washington said.
That’s nothing new — and it’s not unique to Baylor.
The Cyclones weathered Texas Tech’s distant second-best Big 12 offense last week enough to have an opportunity to extend the game in the closing moments, had a well-executed onside kick been recovered.
They did it with opportunism, not mirrors.
ISU ranks 13th nationally in turnover margin at plus-1.6 per game and coaxed three cough-ups from the Red Raiders.
“You don’t have the turnover margin that we have right now, scoring more points then we have as an offensive football team, and not have good things fall your way,” said Rhoads, whose team’s four losses have come by a collective 22 points. “Catching a bouncing ball here and there and so forth. As long as our kids keep fighting and giving the effort that they are, allowing the improvement to take place that I see, we’re going to keep being in ball games and sooner or later we’re going to end up on top.”
Sooner, as in today?
On paper, it would be a bigger upset (Baylor’s a 33.5-point favorite) than the landmark double-overtime win in 2011 over Oklahoma State (27-point favorite).
So “eventually” may be the operative term — especially with an ISU offense riddled with injuries across the line and at quarterback.
But when it happens, watch out.
“We feel like we’ve kicked the door hard enough that the next kick’s going to open the whole thing,” said Cyclone running back Jeff Woody, who’s tied for the team lead in touchdowns with four. “We just have to close the door and actually win.”
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