AMES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa State couldn't afford to have anything go wrong this season.
Instead, the Cyclones were hit hard: Injuries along the offensive line and at quarterback doomed Iowa State's offense starting in September and an overwhelmed defense was gashed repeatedly in Big 12 play.
The result was a 3-9 record — by far the worst in coach Paul Rhoads' five seasons — that cost offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham and running backs coach Kenith Pope their jobs.
Iowa State (3-9, 2-7 Big 12) scored just 24.8 points a game, which ranks 93rd in the country, and had 17 points or less four times in Big 12 play. The Cyclones also allowed over 40 points six times in nine league games.
Iowa State was in trouble from the start.
The Cyclones thought they had finally found an answer at quarterback Sam Richardson, who had shown promise after winning the job late in the 2012 season. But Richardson sprained his ankle during the season opener against Northern Iowa, and Iowa State limped to a 28-20 loss that hardly felt like a fluke.
The Cyclones were pushed around in a home loss to rival Iowa. A win at Tulsa buoyed the program heading into Big 12 play, where a national stage and a national name, Texas, awaited in the first week of October.
It would be the only time all season that the Cyclones made national news.
Iowa State looked set to knock off Texas when Johnathan Gray was stripped of the ball by Jeremiah George near the goal line in the final minute. But the officials ruled Gray down, the Longhorns soon scored and Iowa State was saddled with a 31-30 loss that'll sting for years to come.
The next six weeks were a blur. After hanging tough at Texas Tech, the Cyclones were blown out by Baylor, Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Oklahoma and knocked out of the postseason picture by Nov. 2.
Rarely has a team with a 1-9 record close out the season the way Iowa State did. The Cyclones wiped out a seven-game losing streak by crushing Kansas 34-0 on an icy field in Ames, becoming the second team this season to post a shutout after giving up at least 70 points, according to STATS.
Iowa State started the last week of the year by announcing it had secured a $25 million gift to enclose an end zone that's currently just a set a bleachers buffered by two grassy hills, leaving the press box as likely the last piece of major renovation due to Jack Trice Stadium.
Iowa State then closed a dismal season with an uplifting win, rallying from a 24-point deficit to beat West Virginia 52-44 in triple overtime last Saturday.
“A lot people deserved this moment, this time. Players, first and foremost. A group of young men that played, prepared, worked, never gave up on the season,” Rhoads said.
But next comes the most important offseason Rhoads has had at Iowa State.
Whoever replaces Messingham should inherit all five starters along the offensive line. If that unit can stay healthy, it should go a long way in improving the offense's meager production.
Grant Rohach seized the starting quarterback job from Richardson and performed well against the Mountaineers, with 331 yards passing and four touchdowns. He'll be the starter heading into spring ball, though Richardson will also get a fair shot at reclaiming the starting spot.
Linebacker Jeremiah George headlines the list of key losses on defense — but the Cyclones have to start from scratch anyway since they're currently 110th out of 125 teams in scoring defense.
Iowa State will take solace in finishing the season on a two-game winning streak, which should be crucial in boosting the spirits of a program still waiting for its breakout season in the brutal Big 12.
“A huge momentum boost for us heading into the offseason,” Rohach said. 'It was huge for us to get these last wins ... I think that gives our team a lot of confidence.”
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