By Rob Gray
AMES — As soon as he uttered the word, Iowa State safety Jacques Washington seemed to regret it.
The senior used the term after describing how imperative it is his Cyclones (1-5, 0-3) re-energize a burgeoning, but disconcerted fan base by embarking on a stirring second-half roll — beginning with today’s 11 a.m. Big 12 matchup with No. 19 Oklahoma State (5-1, 2-1) at Jack Trice Stadium.
“This thing’s still up for grabs,” Washington said after ably shifting gears to assess the state of the team’s resolve on the heels of the 71-7 ‘Baylor Fiasco’. “We feel we can compete with every team in the Big 12. And now it’s time to stop talking about it and go out there and execute.”
That’s not hope.
It’s faith — in himself, his teammates and his coaches.
The clock’s ticking on what could become a lost season after three bowl appearances and numerous odds-defying wins in Coach Paul Rhoads’ first four seasons.
Time’s also winding down on the ISU careers of Washington, fellow safety Deon Broomfield, and 2011 Oklahoma State upset-sealer Jeff Woody, who synthesized all the seniors’ steely sentiments.
“One of the things we’re saying is we’re not going to stand for losing,” said Woody, who accomplished the seemingly impossible by battering defenders en route to the winning touchdown against the Cowboys in that two-year-old landmark triumph. “Whether it’s a 3-0 win or a 71-70 win, whatever way it happens we have to do it. We’re just not going to stand for losing anymore because these guys need to know what it’s like to win.”
These guys: Ten non-senior starters on the offense; six on the defense.
There’s been talk of — and evidence of — growth.
There have been flashes of brilliance, from sophomore receiver Quenton Bundrage in the longest touchdown reception in program history, to senior linebacker Jeremiah George, whose near-strip at the goal line against Texas likely would have prevented a loss.
“I saw a train that started moving down the tracks at a pretty good clip and playing very competitive football,” Rhoads said of a win and four one-possession losses in advance of the Baylor Fiasco. “And then I saw a train come off the tracks.”
So glimpses need to become fixtures.
Cold, hard truth snuffs out hope and even faith; leaving unmet wishes and unused season tickets.
“I think we’re down,” said Rhoads, who has cited the example of the 2001 Pitt team he helped coach that turned a 1-5 start into a 7-6 finish to highlight what’s possible. “It’s not like we’re out there skipping around and tossing each other any Snickers bars or anything like that. We act like we got our (tail) whipped — and should be, quite honestly, as we’re working toward (Saturday).”
The transformation could begin against a Cowboys team that’s formidable on defense (117.5 rushing yards allowed per game), but unstable on offense, save for electric playmaker Josh Stewart (136.8 all-purpose yards per game).
Whether the makeover’s dramatic enough to break through against yet another upper-division Big 12 foe remains to be seen.
The cumulative conference record of ISU’s first four opponents is 12-1.
That puts hope in its proper place — beyond discussion.
It also draws out determination.
Until the math says no, goals remain achievable.
End of discussion.
“I really don’t care what people think,” junior center Tom Farniok said. “Really, that’s just me. We know what we’ve got to do for us. We know we’ve got to fix things and nobody, no offense to them, but they’re not going to win us a game by what they say.”
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