Prospects for a turnabout at Iowa State likely rest in the run, the facet of the game in which last year, more often than not, a snap was a crisis.
The Cyclones, winless in the Big 12 during a 2-10 overall 2014, were ranked near the bottom of the conference in rushing on both sides of the ball.
Iowa State hasn’t had a 1,000-yard rusher since 2009 and averaged only 121 a game a year ago.
Iowa State hasn’t had a 1,000-yard rusher since 2009.
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“It goes hand in hand with what you’re doing up front and your ability to block people and your ability to open up holes,” coach Paul Rhoads said. “But then the backfield takes a large chunk of that responsibility. Not only do they got to run through holes, they’ve got to make folks miss at times.
“And it’s one of the things that we haven’t done a good enough job of accomplishing since 2009.”
The outlook for the run game is a dubious one considering the most experienced player returning at that position is sophomore Tyler Brown, who had 109 yards on 24 carries a year ago. The depth chart is filled out by redshirt freshman Mike Warren and true freshman Joshua Thomas.
“We’re going to be very young at the running back position,” Rhoads said. “Michael brings speed. We’re excited to get him finally on the field. He’s developed his size and strength in the short amount of time that he’s been on campus.”
Back at quarterback is Sam B. Richardson, a fifth-year senior who begins his second season under offensive coordinator Mark Mangino.
While the Cyclones struggled offensively, ranking 89th nationally, Richardson finished the season 25th in total offense, becoming only the third quarterback at Iowa State with more than 3,000 yards of total offense.
Sam B. Richardson is only the third quarterback at Iowa State with more than 3,000 yards of total offense.
Keeping Richardson upright has been a challenge in the past.
“We’re very fortunate to have Sam in place,” Rhoads said. “It’s the first year in seven years at the helm that we’ve had a veteran quarterback like Sam ready to lead us into the season. So we’re very happy to have a fifth-year guy who, I think, is one of the best in the Big 12.”
Richardson’s statistics aside, the quarterback knows how he’ll ultimately be judged. He is 0-15 against conference opponents.
He can go over 6,000 career yards running and passing this season, but if that winless skid continues it won’t matter. One of life’s cruelties is the burden of responsibility the quarterback takes on, whether fair or not.
“It’s something I’ve thought about a lot,” Richardson said. “I’ve talked to the guys about it a lot. The main stat of a quarterback is their winning record.”
The bottom line coming out of this summer, coming out of this off-season is we are a closer football team heading into 2015.
Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads
Controlling possessions with a good running game will go a long, long way.
So will stopping the run.
A year ago, Iowa State was at the mercy of run offenses, giving up 246.2 yards a game.
The Cyclones are expected to play more three-man fronts and utilize two middle linebackers, Jordan Harris and Kane Seeley, in hopes of better play against the run.
Rhoads said he’s confident there is good depth behind the nucleus of the defensive front of Dale Pierson, Demond Tucker and Trent Taylor.
“The bottom line coming out of this summer, coming out of this off-season is we are a closer football team heading into 2015,” Rhoads said. “Talent, experience, continuity, all very important, but if you don’t have that chemistry, you don’t have that closeness, you’re starting at a disadvantage.”
Last year’s record: 2-10
Bowl result: None
Opener: Sept. 5 vs. Northern Iowa
Players to watch: QB Sam Richardson, RB Tyler Brown, RB Mike Warren, DT Demond Tucker, WR Quenton Bundrage, DE Dale Pierson, LB Jordan Harris.
Tarrant ties: Matt Swoyer, DB (Southlake Carroll), Brian Bonacci, RB (Southlake Carroll)
Big 12 countdown
The Star-Telegram will spotlight each team leading up to TCU’s season opener at Minnesota on Thursday.
Aug. 24: TCU
Aug. 25: Texas Tech
Aug. 26: Oklahoma
Aug. 27: Oklahoma State
Aug. 28: Kansas
Aug. 29: Kansas State
Aug. 30: Texas
Aug. 31: Baylor
Tuesday: Iowa State
Wednesday: West Virginia