Focus on Iowa State offense? Getting Mike Warren more touches
AMES, Ia. — Iowa State run game coordinator Lou Ayeni often reminded the rest of the coaching staff to get Mike Warren the ball on Saturday.
For one reason or another, the Cyclones never established their top offensive threat in their season-opening 25-20 loss to Northern Iowa. Iowa State knows that must change in this week's Cy-Hawk matchup at No. 15 Iowa.
“You know you’ve got a weapon,” Ayeni said of Warren. “We’ve just got to get it locked and loaded and ready to go.”
Warren is Iowa State's most proven offensive weapon. As a redshirt freshman, he ran through defenses at a record-breaking rate last season. Warren set an Iowa State rookie standard by rushing for 1,339 yards.
When Matt Campbell came to Iowa State from Toledo, Warren was expected to take on an even bigger role in an offense that relied on the running game. That didn't happen against Northern Iowa.
Iowa State mustered together just 51 yards on 25 attempts. The Cyclones averaged only 2 yards per attempt. Warren got only 12 carries for 30 yards and a fumble, a far cry from his averages last year (5.9 yards per attempt and 19 carries per game).
It was the third-lowest output of his young career. Warren, who came off the bench for Iowa State’s first two games of last season, combined for 28 yards on nine carries. Warren took over the starting job in Game 3, rushing for 126 yards against Campbell's Toledo squad, and he never looked back.
“We tried to get Mike going early on,” Campbell said. “They kind of did some things to take him away and some of the quarterback run/read situations.”
Saturday’s struggles weren’t just on Warren, though.
Iowa State debuted an inexperienced offensive line that entered the Northern Iowa game with six career Division I starts under its belt.
Holes were hard to come by. Penalties were not.
Iowa State was whistled for nine of them for 89 yards. Five of those penalties came on offense. Two of those came on runs by Warren, including a 21-yard gain that was brought back. Other penalties took Iowa State out of running situations. Nine of Warren’s 12 carries on the night came on first-and-10s. When Iowa State dug itself into a hole on offense, it usually looked elsewhere.
“Not putting ourselves behind the chains definitely would have helped with that because once we got back there was really no opportunity to run the ball,” Iowa State center Brian Bobek said. “Also, whenever we seemed to run the ball, we would have holding penalties and stuff like that.”
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Ayeni said the inexperienced Iowa State offensive line forced the coaching staff to find new ways to utilize Warren. A highly effective downhill runner in 2015, Warren was utilized mostly on read-options against Northern Iowa.
“We’ve got to do things to cater to help them in that transition,” Ayeni said. “It may not always be just running right at people. (We) may have to run around them, might to throw it to him, might have to do some stuff like that to get it going and then when we get him going downhill, he’ll do his thing.”
Ayeni said Warren can be used in both type of schemes.
“I think he can do both,” Ayeni said.
Still, Warren can't be an afterthought.
"I'm on the headset saying, 'Hey, we need to get 2 (Warren) the ball. We have to get 2 the ball,'" Ayeni said. "(Offensive coordinator Tom) Manning wanted me to keep reminding them to make sure. We've got a guy up there charting his touches and stuff like that. It's disappointing, because you know the talent that he's got and the talent that we have in the room."
The hope is that Iowa State will be able to utilize it more.
“He’s a major part of our offense,” Ayeni said. “We’ll find a way to get him the ball more and more, especially as we get our whole team together.”