MANHATTAN, Kan. - Paul Rhoads is painfully aware that he hasn't knocked off Kansas State since becoming coach at Iowa State five years ago. The point is driven home by how close he's come to doing it.
He lost by one his first year. Lost by a touchdown the next two. And last year, his scrappy Cyclones took the then-No. 6 Wildcats down to the wire in a heartbreaking 27-21 defeat.
"Any time you face Kansas State and a Bill Snyder-coached team, you'd better be prepared yourself, and that's still the case," Rhoads said. "Our full focus is on going down to Manhattan and doing something we haven't done in our five years here."
Something the Cyclones (1-6, 0-4 Big 12) haven't done much of this season.
After going to bowl games in three of his first four seasons, expectations were high that Iowa State was on an upward trajectory. But starting with a season-opening loss to lower-division Northern Iowa, things have mostly spiraled downhill for the Cyclones.
Along with a loss to rival Iowa, the Cyclones were narrowly defeated by Texas and Texas Tech, and then blasted 71-7 by Baylor. They were routed 58-27 last week by Oklahoma State, even though miscues on offense resulted in points for the Cowboys that made the score appear much more lopsided.
Iowa State (1-6, 0-4) at Kansas State (3-4, 1-3)
Today, 11 a.m.
At Bill Snyder Family Stadium, Manhattan, Kan.
TV: Fox Sports 1
"There's less a sense of letdown this week than last week," Cyclones running back Jeff Woody said. "You kind of saw at the Baylor game, getting trounced. It's hard to return off that."
Snyder isn't going to be bamboozled into thinking that Iowa State will keel over when it takes the field against his Wildcats (3-4, 1-3) on Saturday. He's watched his team scratch and claw to beat the Cyclones in recent years, and his praise for Rhoads was overwhelming.
"He's a better football coach than I am," Snyder said. "Their players are accustomed to a demanding program. They work extremely hard. Our ballgames have been close for the last four years, and we've been fortunate to win each one."
Close games have been a bane for Kansas State all season, too. Two of its four losses have been by four points or fewer, and it led No. 5 Baylor in the second half of a 35-25 loss.
"You just look at how they have played over the course of the year, there are some similarities there between us," Snyder said of the Cyclones. "We have not, in our own right, been good enough to win those ballgames that were there for the taking."
If the Wildcats are going to take this one, or the Cyclones are going to finally win a game against Kansas State, here are five things to keep in mind:
HEALTHY WIDE RECEIVERS
Kansas State's offense got a lift last week against West Virginia when Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson returned from injuries. They combined for 11 catches, 164 yards and four TDs. "It was big," quarterback Jake Waters said. "Whenever you can have two guys like that it is big for your offense."
Cyclones quarterback Sam Richardson is expected to start against the Wildcats after leaving last week's game with a head and neck injury. He's listed alongside Grant Rohach on this week's depth chart. "Plan will be to go through the week and make sure he's 100 percent off this recent injury and can operate the offense," Rhoads said. "We'll figure it out from that point."
SPEAKING OF QBS
The Wildcats appear to be sticking with the two-headed monster of Waters and Daniel Sams. They combined to complete 18 of 21 passes for 291 yards and four TDs without an interception against the Mountaineers. They also ran for 71 yards. "Some people see Sams more as a runner, but I don't see that as all," Cyclones linebacker Jeremiah George said. "They can both throw the football."
Far-fetched as it may sound, Iowa State still has bowl aspirations. The Cyclones would have to win out to become eligible, but the only ranked team left on their schedule is Oklahoma. "That bowl eligibility is still right there," defensive lineman Brandon Jensen said.