AMES- After convincing wins against Kansas and Kansas State, the Cyclones will hope to play spoiler as they go up against the eighth-ranked Cowboys on Saturday.
One of the main reasons why Oklahoma State has been able to start 6-0 is something the Cyclones hoped would propel them to new heights in their own right: veteran leadership and lots of experience.
Primarily for the Cowboys, it has come from quarterback Spencer Sanders, junior out of Denton, Texas. He's played in 25 total games in his career and has passed for over five thousand yards.
Defensive coordinator Jon Heacock knows with that experience comes challenges for his Cyclone defense. He met with the media Wednesday ahead of his team's matchup against Oklahoma State and discussed that and the play of his defense thus far.
Cyclones preparing for experienced Cowboy offense
When you have someone with as much experience as Sanders to rely on calling the shots for your offense, it takes a lot of pressure off the offense and team as a whole. Iowa State knows first-hand as they have a seasoned veteran themselves in Brock Purdy.
While Purdy has had an inconsistent career against Oklahoma State thus far, Sanders has been rock-solid for his team in their matchups against Iowa State.
Sanders has thrown for over 500 yards in his two career starts against Iowa State, so Heacock and his team have an understanding of what he brings to the table.
"He's not the young guy he used to be," Heacock said Wednesday. "He's a dual threat guy, he makes a lot of good runs designed and undesigned."
Those off-schedule runs usually come with experience, as Sanders is more likely to escape the pocket and keep his team in drives than he is to throw a costly interception.
Sanders already rushed 56 times for 216 yards through the five games he's played in this season, close to passing his total all of last year (269). Throw in three touchdowns on the ground, and Sanders provides his offense with a dual-threat ability the Cyclones will need to respect.
Heacock believes Sanders is tough to play against because of his quick release throwing the ball.
"It creates a lot of challenges, he doesn't take sacks and you don't see that on the video tape," Heacock said.
Someone who doesn't take a lot of sacks and doesn't turn the ball over much presents a problem for any defense. Iowa State has caused eight turnovers this season (six interceptions and two fumble recoveries), and they'll have to work hard to increase that number against a disciplined quarterback like Sanders.
Offensive line, running backs present challenges for Cyclones
If Sanders is the one behind the wheel of the Oklahoma State vehicle, Jaylen Warren is the engine that's always running.
Warren transferred from Utah State and proceeded to step in admirably. He has rushed for 705 yards and scored six times — already career highs in both.
Warren takes over for another star, Oklahoma State running back Chuba Hubbard. In the most recent draft, Hubbard was drafted by the Carolina Panthers but put up mighty numbers of his own in college.
Their new star running back runs behind a Cowboy offensive line whom Heacock feels is as talented as any he's seen.
"Their O-line is physical and one of the best we've played," Heacock said. "Their running backs are talented with a combination of physical play and speed... you can't be bored playing in your gap."
The gaps Heacock is referring to have been filled up nicely by star linebackers like Mike Rose and Jake Hummel, and hard-hitting members of the secondary in Greg Eisworth and Isheem Young.
Opponents have averaged just 2.8 yards per carry against Iowa State's run defense, as well as averaging less than 100 yards a game in total at 97.7.
Iowa State is hoping that they hold up their end of the statistical bargain well enough Saturday to give them the best chance of planting themselves right back into Big 12 contention with a win against the 6-0 Cowboys.