By Rob Gray
AMES — Mom and dad went to Oklahoma State.
So did his two older brothers.
It was a black and orange world for Daniel Burton as he made his way through life in Oklahoma City.
Until he became an Iowa State Cyclone.
“Yeah, I grew up an Oklahoma State fan,” ISU’s redshirt freshman offensive lineman and iron man said. “But the tide changed a little bit when I came here.”
Burton’s iron content is relative.
Entering Saturday’s 11 a.m. Big 12 game against the formerly-beloved No. 19 Cowboys, the 6-5, 302-pound “quick” guard stands as the lone member of the constantly-shifting front five to have started every game this season.
He’s also the only freshman slated to start on any Big 12 team’s offensive line this week.
So ISU’s young.
But mostly black and blue up front.
The Cyclones (1-5, 0-3) will start their seventh different offensive line this season against the Cowboys (5-1, 2-1).
“That’s what we’ve got,” ISU coach Paul Rhoads said. “I don’t talk about it a lot. I certainly don’t use it as an excuse, but it’s facts and you people need to appreciate that a little bit.”
The most experienced players have been hit hardest.
Senior Ethan Tuftee continues to battle myriad career-spanning injuries that limit his time on the field.
Senior Kyle Lichtenberg is doubtful this week and will undergo Tommy John surgery for an elbow problem.
Junior Jacob Gannon hurt his knee in the Texas Tech loss and remains out.
Junior center Tom Farniok suffered an MCL strain in the season opener, forcing him to end a streak of 28 starts — though he only missed one game while inching back toward strength and practice-honed sharpness.
“Thank God he’s the one veteran that’s out there, because he can (help lead),” Rhoads said. “Jacob, Kyle and Ethan are all guys included in that — at every spot at least you have an elbow rubbing against another elbow. Now Burton, Oni (Omoile), Brock (Dagel), they’re on their own at times to try to come along together.”
Inexperienced elbow rubs sometimes lead to mistakes and statistical shortfalls.
The Cyclones allow a Big 12-worst 3.8 sacks per game and a portion of that stems from lack of continuity up front.
It’s the most turnover in the trenches ISU offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham has faced in all his years of coaching.
“Before, I’ve had it where you had a rash, where two or three guys in a hurry, something happens, but never had it where it’s going on seven weeks now and we won’t have started the same offensive linemen once,” Messingham said.
The road forward begins with healed bodies, but communication’s key, as well.
Farniok said that aspect of performance has been solid, at least.
“Really, that’s why I think the injury thing’s not a huge deal for us because we communicate so well,” he said.
But the lack of protection afforded quarterback Sam Richardson — and, briefly, Grant Rohach — is wearing on the guys laboring to provide it.
Just ask Burton.
“We understand we’re one of the worst in the country in sacks given up and that hurts all of us and it’s frustrating,” Burton said. “It really is. We just haven’t been able to find a way to get it done for the most part. That’s something we’re really focusing on and we want to do better this game.”
That’s a want and a need.
It’s obvious as pressure goes up, completion percentages go down.
And as health improves, the converse should be true.
“Nine (Big 12) teams as of a week ago had at least three starters (on the line) that had started every game for them,” Rhoads said. “That, in front of a quarterback is not to be undervalued and Sam knows that. And the play of the position reflects that to a large extent.”
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