AMES | In the wake of Iowa State's 71-7 loss to Baylor last Saturday, Cyclone head coach Paul Rhoads was asked which aspect of his team needed to make bigger strides in advance of ISU's home game Saturday with No. 19 Oklahoma State.
Based on numbers alone, Rhoads was sure to say defense, right?
"Offense ... no question about it," Rhoads said. "It's not just the Baylor week, it has been back-to-back weeks where we have been overall very unproductive and at times, inept with what we have done on the offensive side of the football.
"We've had 19 series without a first down in the last two weeks, and that is awful offensive football."
Quarterback Sam Richardson has been hobbled with injuries, and Rhoads said although Richardson came out of the Baylor game relatively unscathed, he won't ever be 100 percent this season so that can no longer be an excuse.
The Cyclones tried to play healthier, but less-experienced freshman quarterback Grant Rohach last week against Baylor, but it was clear, and Rhoads said as much at his weekly press conference Tuesday, that Rohach is not ready.
Rhoads believes Richardson just needs to make smarter and quicker judgments with the football.
More pressing for the Cyclones (1-5 overall, 0-3 Big 12) is an offensive line that is young and banged up. ISU will be without senior tackle Kyle Lichtenberg Saturday and will start its seventh different offensive line combination against the Cowboys (5-1, 2-1).
Rhoads announced Wednesday that Lichtenberg will have Tommy John surgery but is hopeful the senior from Bettendorf will be able to return and play with a brace before the season finishes.
"I don't think you guys appreciate the challenge that is for a young football team," Rhoads said. "I looked out there Sunday (at practice) and we had a sophomore, sophomore, junior, sophomore and freshman across the board on the o-line."
Iowa State has had only one lineman start every game this season, freshman Daniel Burton. Burton is the only freshman lineman in the Big 12 listed as a starter this week.
The Cyclones will start junior Tom Farniok, sophomore Brock Dagel, sophomore Jamison Lalk, sophomore Oni Omoile and Burton Saturday. Both Farniok and Lalk have suffered MCL injuries this season and are not 100 percent, either.
Lichtenberg will be joined on the sidelines by junior Jacob Gannon and his nine career starts. Take away Farniok's 29 career starts, and ISU's other four projected starting linemen have combined for 16 starts.
"That is what we've got right now," Rhoads said.
"It is what it is," Farniok said prior to the Baylor game. "We get one guy back, we lose another. We've got a job to do and we're going to try to do it to the best of our ability."
Rhoads said not having a lot of veteran leadership out there definitely hurts.
"With veterans you get a number of things," Rhoads said. "You get physical development with veteran players. Now as we are in the league a little bit and you start watching ... comparisons in teams ... not citing any other teams, you can see a big difference and that is the first place you see it (being more physical).
"So you've got physical development that is taking place and you've also got the checks and nuances of it."
Texas Tech's defense moved its players around a ton and disguised its looks, while Baylor, seeing the success the Red Raiders had, dialed up more blitzes against the Cyclones. Both approaches were challenging for a young ISU line.
"Having to pick up blitzes and having a guy who is talking to this guy and this guy and everybody is working in concert is something that happens when you are playing with a veteran offensive line," Rhoads said. "We certainly don't have that right now."
HELP SACK HUNGER: Iowa State is hosting Sack Hunger Day Saturday.
Cyclone Sports Properties has partnered with Hy-Vee and Farm Credit Services of America to Sack Hunger in Iowa. As a part of the program, HyVee is accepting non-perishable food and cash donations at the Ames stores, as well as drop-off locations outside of Jack Trice Stadium on Saturday.
Donations will be accepted at the Hy-Vee semi trucks located at the north and south ends of the stadium.