Two Teams Seeking Better Offensive Line Play

The story lines are plenty for Saturday morning in Ames, Iowa as Oklahoma State visits Iowa State. Two years ago, the Cyclones notched the biggest victory in school history knocking the second-ranked Cowboys out of a potential shot at the BCS National Championship Game. Last week, Iowa State went to Waco and became the latest to absorb the Baylor Bears butt-whooping with a 71-7 loss.

Both teams have had some quarterback changes in their last game. Like I wrote, all kinds of scenarios at play here, but Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy and Iowa State head coach Paul Rhoads may most be anxious to see if they can fix problems of overcome injuries on the offensive line.

Rhoads opened his news conference earlier this week with the news that veteran offensive tackle Kyle Lichtenberg looks to be out this week, which means Iowa State will have a different starting lineup on the offensive line for the seventh time this season. The group is getting really young.

"I looked out there Sunday and we had a sophomore, a sophomore, a junior, a sophomore and a freshman across the board," Rhoads analyzed. "Tackle to tackle on the offensive line. Not a league that you want to be playing with those kinds of young people at those positions."

Meanwhile, Gundy has seen several different combinations since losing projected starting left tackle Devin Davis to an ACL knee injury in August camp. The musical chairs orchestrated by veteran offensive line coach Joe Wickline has been trying to find that one plug with four other starters actually doing a good job.

The Cowboys thought they had it going into the TCU game by moving Parker Graham from left tackle to the unsettled right guard position and moving Chris Grisbhy to right tackle. But the 24-hour flu weakened Grishby to the point that he barely lasted the first series in the game.

"They got better as the game went on, but they are still playing very average," said Gundy. "I'm looking forward to getting settled in on a group and them adjusting and working well together.

"We went a number of years here and had five guys playing together throughout the season. We'd have one guy get hurt. A couple years ago we were playing (Texas) A&M and we lost the center and put another guy in and then those guys played the rest of the year.

"Continuity is very important to the offensive line and we haven't had that up to this point. They'll improve and get better as we get a grasp of the same guys playing all the time," Gundy said.

Rhoads is wondering if anybody can fully appreciate how difficult it is to try to get offensive production and win games with "pups" on your offensive line.

"I don't think you people appreciate how big of a challenge that is for a young football team," Rhoads said.

"It's been a weird year for (injuries)," said Daniel Burton, a 6-foot-5, 302-pound redshirt freshman. "I'm just hoping that I'm not next."

Gundy said a steady lineup is the solution at offensive line. With half the season to go, he's hoping the lineup of the line will remain constant and the team can move forward.

"We've improved in certain areas. We've had guys playing in positions that made some mistakes but it's not the same mistakes guys made playing the same position in week two," Gundy explained on Monday.

"We had a new guy playing guard who hadn't played guard and he made a few mistakes inside. Then we had a new guy playing tackle who had never played college football and he made some mistakes. Then there were times their defense made plays. There were times that they beat us. So it's a combination of all that."

Now both Gundy and Rhoads are hoping to keep the combinations from changing, and maybe that will help both gain more offensive success. The best line on Saturday will go a long way in determining who wins the game. Of course, the defensive line is a factor too. That factor looks to be in Oklahoma State's favor.

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