Iowa State finds identity through run game
Five days after Mangino's departure as offensive coordinator, the Cyclones discovered a personality and it is anchored in their surging running game.
Iowa State ran 54 times last weekend against Texas, one shy of its season high. The result was a 24-0 win that snapped a three-game losing skid and restored some confidence to a program that appeared to be teetering on the verge of collapse.
The Cyclones (3-5, 2-3 Big 12) still have a long way to go to earn bowl eligibility, starting with a trip Saturday to face No. 14 Oklahoma (7-1, 4-1). Iowa State has not beaten the Sooners since 1990.
But Iowa State found a blueprint for success against the Longhorns that it will try to repeat over the final month of the season under recently promoted coordinator Todd Sturdy and new volunteer assistant Paul Wulff, a former Washington State coach.
''You've got to run to win,'' tackle Jake Campos said.
Perhaps the main reason the Cyclones have shifted to a run-first philosophy was a simple matter of personnel.
Mike Warren, a backup in September, has become one of the nation's best running backs. He leads all freshmen nationally with 954 yards, and since the third week of the season, he is third in the country among all backs with 154.3 yards per game.
Coach Paul Rhoads said he saw a change in Warren's habits in the week leading up to a 23-20 loss to Toledo. Since then, he's led all Big 12 backs with 160 yards per game.
''His game exploded,'' Rhoads said. ''A lot of upside left in his game.''
The move to bench senior quarterback Sam Richardson in favor of sophomore Joel Lanning should also help the Cyclones run the ball more effectively.
Lanning, who at 6-foot-2 and 235 pounds is built like a power back, rushed for 82 yards on just 13 carries against Texas, with 18 yards of those negated by six sacks.
Thanks largely to Warren and Lanning, the Cyclones were 15 of 24 on third down against the Longhorns. Rhoads said six of those were from just a yard after running successfully on first or second downs.
Lanning and Warren combined for 221 yards rushing against the Longhorns, the fifth time in six games the Cyclones have gone over 200 yards.
For Iowa State, establishing the run will also be crucial to keeping Oklahoma's offense off the field. The Sooners are averaging 60 points in their last three games.
''With Mike in the backfield running the way he's running, and then Joel adding that extra threat, I think it really adds a lot of diversity,'' Campos said.
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