Roland only had 147 rushing yards on 36 attempts through the Cowboys first six games this season, and in 23 career games had scored just six touchdowns. But the 6-2, 210-pound junior running back was impressive on Saturday, rushing for a career-best 219 yards and four touchdowns as the Cowboys took control in the second half after leading 28-20 at halftime.
The Cowboys defense also was opportunistic against the Cyclones, forcing three turnovers and turning two of those into 14 points. Senior cornerback Justin Gilbert’s interception of Iowa State starting quarterback Sam Richardson’s pass and his 31-yard return for a touchdown in the game’s first five minutes gave the Cowboys a 14-0 lead.
In the third quarter, senior linebacker Joe Mitchell and senior defensive end Tyler Johnson teamed up for a play that all but sewed up the victory. Mitchell stripped the ball from Iowa State tight end Ernst Brun Jr. after a short gain at midfield, and Johnson grabbed it before taking off toward the end zone, where he ended up 54 yards later for the first touchdown of his OSU playing career.
“It started with our defense. Defensively, we were terrific with two touchdowns. They set the tempo,” said Cowboys head coach Mike Gundy. “Joe Mitchell was just perfect on the strip and it was really neat to see Tyler pick it up, get a block and then run down and score. It’s nice to see those defensive guys score.”
Roland got his first career start on Saturday, and had 54 rushing yards and scoring runs of 2 and 6 yards as the Cowboys took a 28-20 halftime lead. But the junior from Dallas took over the game in the second as he became the first OSU running back since Kendall Hunter in 2010 to break the 200-yard rushing mark.
He carried five times for 41 yards on a nine-play, 53-yard drive which resulted in Ben Grogan’s 23-yard field goal to give the Cowboys a 31-20 lead. The defense forced a three-and-out and Roland and the Cowboys were back in business on their own 33-yard line, and it only took two plays to score again.
Roland gained nine yards on first down and then went 58 yards while breaking several tackles while following the blocks of receivers Josh Stewart and Jhajuan Seales into the end zone to give the Cowboys a 38-20 lead midway through the third quarter.
“We really ran the same play for three straight plays. I just tempo-ed it, and then once I hit the hole I just saw the safety, and I’m definitely not about to go down with the safety (only). I hit a little spin move and then I saw Josh, and he said to follow him, so that’s what I did. I followed Josh and Jhejuan Seales down the field,” Roland said of the 58-yard touchdown run.
“It was a great team win. Give all the credit to the offensive line and the receivers who were blocking their tails off the whole game, and I was just cutting off their blocks,” said Roland, whose 219 rushing yards was the best effort since Kendall Hunter ran for 257 yards in the 2010 season opener against Washington State.
“Like coach says, we’ve got to give relentless effort, and that was my mindset today, not to go down on the first tackle or even the second tackle. I worked my tail off during winter workouts and the whole summer. I knew I was going to have a chance at some point to show what I could really do. I just want to give all the credit to the offensive line and receivers.”
The Cowboys were only averaging 136.5 rushing yards per game (95th best in the nation) entering Saturday’s game. But behind the blocking of Daniel Koenig, Brandon Webb, Jake Jenkins, Parker Graham and Brandon Garrett they rolled up 342 yards, including 235 in the second half.
Roland led the way with 219 rushing yards but quarterback Clint Chelf also added 85 yards on just nine carries.
“Des Roland was terrific today. I thought our offensive line was good. I think they’ve been average and below average throughout the year, depending upon what the game was, but I thought they were good today,” said Gundy.
“I thought that we moved the nose guard and the three technique and we played on their side of the ball, which allowed our running backs to make cuts at the line of scrimmage or on their side of the football, and then (Roland) ran through arm tackles, and that’s where you saw the difference in the running game today.
“I thought that Clint was average throwing the ball (he completed just 10 of 26 passes for 78 yards with one touchdown and an interception) but I thought he managed the run game, the way we wanted to run the football and where we wanted to run it, and ran effectively himself. He did a nice job on the read zone,” added Gundy.
Gundy liked what he saw from Roland, whose 26 carries Saturday was double his previous high in a game (13 against Louisiana on Sept. 15, 2012).
“He really did (show a workhorse mentality). What’s most impressive for us is the blocking up front. Again, without watching the tape I think it’s going to be obvious that we were able to move their linemen and make cuts down field, but he ran through arm tackles. If plays are blocked well you’re going to get five, six, seven yards, and if you run through an arm tackle it’s going to be 12 or 15 (yards), and that’s what it comes down to. That’s what has happened around here forever with Keith Toston, Kendall Hunter and Joe Randle. When that happens, that’s where you get your bigger plays.
“It was a good win for everybody.”