Last year’s Big 12 rushing leader was averaging only 11 carries through four games before the junior was unleashed last week at Kansas and raced for 189 yards on 31 attempts.
Hill’s contribution was decisive in a victory that enabled the Cowboys to bounce back from a humbling home defeat to Texas Tech. Oklahoma State (4-1, 1-1 Big 12) re-entered the rankings at No. 25 and will play host to Iowa State (1-3, 0-2) on Saturday.
“Rhythm is important to a running back,” said Hill, a junior who passed Barry Sanders, a Heisman Trophy winner for the Cowboys, with his 18th 100-yard performance.
“Not every run is going to break out as a big run, so you’ve got to keep pounding it down there. The more you run it, you get a rhythm and you get a good feel for it.”
More touches from Hill provided more openings for the Oklahoma State receiving corps. That unit has been thinned by injuries, as well as a surprising decision by senior Jalen McCleskey to transfer after four games, a move made possible by the NCAA’s new redshirt rule.
Senior quarterback Taylor Cornelius will gladly accept assistance from other contributors while breaking in as a starter. Cornelius logged the most efficient performance all-time by an Oklahoma State passer with at least 20 attempts when he completed 15 of 20 throws for 312 yards and four touchdowns against Kansas.
“His operation was good,” Gundy said of “Corn-dog,” the nickname he often applies to his QB. “His reads, his thought process on run-pass, what to do with the ball, etcetera, was maybe over 90 percent, so he was really good.”
Of course, that was against Kansas. Iowa State presents a different challenge. The Cyclones’ record does not reflect their competitiveness in losses by 10 points or less against Iowa, Oklahoma and TCU.
“Quite honestly, we’re inches away in every game we’ve played,” Iowa State coach Matt Campbell said. “For us and this team it’s all about our response to some tough situations, knowing that a lot of people will write us off, and that’s OK.”
Iowa State will be judged, Campbell said, by what it does at the end of the season playing a schedule front-loaded with strong opponents.
Still, a breakthrough Saturday would be encouraging for the Cyclones, who had a game against Northern Iowa cancelled because of inclement weather.
Iowa State must deal with an injury suffered by David Montgomery late in the 17-14 loss to TCU. Listed as “day-to-day,” Montgomery ranks third among Big 12 rushers behind Kansas’ Pooka Williams and Oklahoma State’s Hill.
Defensively, Iowa State has been stout. TCU was limited to 299 yards, averaging just 2.5 yards per carry, but converted 11 of 20 third downs.
A hobbled Montgomery will not help a rushing attack that ranks last in the Big 12 with an 89.2-yard average. Throwing on Oklahoma State has its risks too. The Cowboys lead the nation with 24 sacks, including seven by the Big 12 leader, defensive end Jordan Brailford.
Under new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles, Brailford has lined up in different spots, often in a standing position, creating problems for blockers.
“I’m definitely having a lot more fun out there being able to line up wherever, and just kind of freestyle,” Brailford said. “Whenever I see openings come up, I’m able to hit them and it’s given me a lot of freedom out there.”
Oklahoma State soared to No. 15 in the polls before the 41-17 setback it suffered against Texas Tech. The Cowboys carry a six-game win streak against Iowa State, the longest for either team in a series that dates to the Big Eight.