The Jayhawks and the Cyclones are rolling into their matchup Saturday brimming with confidence.
Kansas snapped its 27-game conference losing streak Saturday while the Cyclones — wait, what?
Yes, despite a 48-10 loss to Oklahoma, Iowa State head coach Paul Rhoads feels his team has a bit of a momentum streak, thanks to a playing the Sooners to a draw in the first half.
"I think we got confidence coming out of the Oklahoma game, even in the loss," Rhoads said Monday. "Not enough to match Kansas', what it will be with the elation that went along with that victory, but hopefully enough to propel us into a good week of practice and taking the field with the mindset to overcome whatever adversity comes our way."
The first half in Norman ended with the teams tied 10-10, and it was a melancholy walk to the locker room for the Cyclones, who would have had a 10-3 lead had they not allowed Jalen Saunders to house a 91-yard punt return for a touchdown.
Oklahoma ran for three scoring plays of 50 yards or more to pull away in the second half.
"We're playing Oklahoma, prestigious Oklahoma, and we're just little 'ole Iowa State but we were right there with them," linebacker Jeremiah George said. "We were competing at a high level, matching them athletically in every category, doing a lot of big things."
"Then the turn went for the worse and we got exposed in a couple of areas. In the first half of the game, we looked great. If we can take that and do it for four quarters, we'll be fine."
A few positive takeaways from the game, according to Rhoads:
"Explosive run plays against a very good football team, plays that have been lacking. Easier throws and catches that have been lacking. A quarterback that threw the ball in the neighborhood of 60 percent. An o-line that protected from a salty defensive line very well in the pass. A defense that is gang-tackling better."
Cyclones Eying Sims
Kansas tailback James Sims is second in the Big 12 in total yards rushing (914) and third in yards per game (91.4).
Sims is coming off his biggest game of the year, a 211-yard, three-touchdown day in the win over West Virginia, coming off 22 carries.
"Sims is a good player, we've always felt that," Rhoads said. "Seeing him have such an explosive game the week before is not encouraging, not exciting for us."
Added Jeremiah George: "Sims he's gonna go at you for 60 minutes. He's gonna get his touches. We've got to do our best to slow him down, play gap-control defense."
The Jayhawks benched BYU transfer Jake Heaps in favor of Montell Cozart. The 6-foot-2, 189-pound freshman from Kansas City has gained 55 and 60 yards on the ground in consecutive games, although his passing game remains a work in progress.
Last week against the Mountaineers, Cozart was 5-for-12 with 61 yards. In the prior game at Oklahoma State, Cozart was 6-for-17 for 58 yards.
"The quarterback, who I saw first on television earlier in the year when they started giving him some snaps and said, 'Oh boy, that guy just needs some time and he's really going to add to their offense,'" Rhoads said. "And he's getting to that point right now."
Emotional Senior Day set up
Twenty one Iowa State seniors will play their last games at Jack Trice Stadium on Saturday, including defensive stalwarts like Jeremiah George and Jacques Washington and walk-on-turned-legend Jeff Woody.
"Emotional week, emotional night, emotional game," Rhoads said.
A few snippets from the seniors:
George: "I know for a fact I'm probably going to cry."
Washington: "Last game in Jack Trice, thank God it's not my last game playing college football, still got another one after that. Hoping for a good crowd, it's going to be cold but I probably won't be worried about that."
Running back Shontrelle Johnson: "I just want to win. From the business aspect, you're trying to go out there and do what it takes by all means necessary. From an emotional standpoint, it'll be the last time we take the field as seniors playing at Jack Trice Stadium."
Woody: "Hopefully I can keep the emotions in check but I know that's not going to happen. As soon as I see (wife) Hannah out on the field and the fans in the stands, I know I'm not going to be able to contain myself because it's such an emotional thing of all those good times the last five years I've been able to have out on the field.
"It's just something you can't really put into words."
Status Quo at QB
Grant Rohach remains at the top of the depth chart. The good bet is he gets the start while Sam Richardson continues to come in for a few plays here or there to use his feet in short-yardage and in the red zone.
If Richardson's thumb behaves, he could be in line for a heavier load.
"Want to get more out of Sam in everything we do," Rhoads said.
Rohach was 21-for-34 against Oklahoma, throwing for 179 yards and two interceptions. Richardson kept an option four yards for a score.