AMES, Iowa (AP) Mike Warren's emergence is coming at the right time for Iowa State.
The Cyclones running back has rushed for 301 yards in the last two games, including a 175-yard effort in last Saturday's victory over Kansas, the most ever by an Iowa State (2-2, 1-0 Big 12) freshman.
He could play a key role in the weeks ahead because the Cyclones' next three opponents are the Big 12's top three offensive teams - Texas Tech, TCU and Baylor. Iowa State's defense may depend on the Cyclone ground game to chew up clock and keep those offenses off the field.
Texas Tech is first up on Saturday in Lubbock, Texas. The Red Raiders (3-2, 0-2) are averaging 602.8 yards and 50 points per game.
''We don't want to end up in a shootout,'' Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said Monday.
Enter Warren, whose rise has been meteoric.
He played on the scout team in 2014 and saw little action in the first two games this year, carrying only nine times for 28 yards. Now, after running for 126 yards in an overtime loss at Toledo and his big game against Kansas, he's sixth in the league in rushing and averaging 6.9 yards per carry.
''He's starting to grow up,'' Rhoads said. ''The cuts he made (against Kansas) and the timing of which he made them and why he was able to make them is because of where his vision was. He didn't do that before the Toledo game. It's a process of the light turning on and burning a little bit brighter.''
Even with that happening, Warren seems surprised by his success.
He had expected to begin the season buried deep on the depth chart. But two running backs who had eligibility remaining are no longer on the team, and the run game struggled the first two weeks with Tyler Brown as the feature back, so Warren got his chance.
''I didn't think this time was going to come for a long time,'' he said. ''But things happen. Players left. It was just my time to step up. I knew I had to step up.''
Warren rushed for 2,512 yards, including a pair of 300-yard games, as a high school senior in Lawton, Oklahoma. But he didn't play much on offense as a junior, so he received little recruiting notice.
That worked to the Cyclones' advantage. They got in with him early, and he stuck to his commitment despite drawing bigger interest in his senior year.
''This was a guy that was sitting third team, behind some good running backs, and just keep plugging away until he finally got his opportunity,'' Rhoads said. ''When he got his opportunity, he made the best of it. There's a parallel between what he did coming out of high school and what he's done in a short time here.''
No Iowa State player has rushed for 100 yards in three consecutive games since Alexander Robinson did in 2010, and no freshman at Iowa State has ever topped 100 yard three times in a season. With Texas Tech giving up 277 rushing yards per game, Warren just might get another opportunity to shine.
''I know I can capitalize off my last game if I just stick to the little things and stick to my fundamentals and technique,'' he said.