AMES, Iowa — Even though Iowa State coach Matt Campbell has insisted that his first season is about building a stable program, he knows he has a player he can win with right now in running back Mike Warren.
Over the past two weeks, Warren has finally started to look like himself again.
Warren, who rushed for over 1,300 yards last season in roughly just 10 games, bounced back from a brutal start with 198 yards and a touchdown in his last two outings, including a 44-10 drubbing of San Jose State on Saturday. The Cyclones (1-3, 0-1 Big 12) host No. 13 Baylor (4-0, 1-0) this weekend.
“I feel like I can see the field better,” Warren said. “It all starts in practice and the film room, and maybe there were things that I was missing in the film room that I see now.”
In the early going, an inexperienced offensive line opened few holes for him, and the Cyclones were forced to throw the ball in an effort to open up the field.
The line has played better of late though, and Warren has been a key beneficiary. Iowa State committed to the ground game in a 41-20 loss at TCU on Sept. 17, running it 47 times despite falling behind early. Warren had 23 of those tries and rushed for 95 yards, 37 more than he had in losses to Northern Iowa and Iowa.
Against San Jose State, the Cyclones used turnovers and the passing game to grab a big lead. They used what was essentially garbage time to work on running the ball with Warren, and he cracked the 100-yard barrier for the first time in 2016.
“I think the offensive line is really coming along. Just knowing that we have set starting rotation now, those guys are going to really understand how to work together and be cohesive as a group and depend on each other and trust each other,” Warren said.
Warren struggled with fumbles at times in 2015, and he gave it away yet again last week after a long pass play.
“It’s one of those things that we have to just get out of his game,” Campbell said. “It’s something that’s obviously talked about. I think Mike knows that. He’s a prideful football player and he knows that’s something he needs to continue to strengthen and to do better to be the complete back he can be.”
If the Cyclones can keep throwing as well as they did against the Spartans, Warren should have even more room to operate in the weeks ahead.
Iowa State has apparently settled on a quarterback rotation with starter Joel Lanning and Jacob Park, who combined to complete 20 passes for 301 yards and five touchdowns last week. The pair complemented each other well. Lanning is the bigger threat to run and throw it deep, while Park has shown he can excel in a more traditional Big 12-type scheme.
But Campbell wants the Cyclones to be a program that controls games on the ground, and when Warren gets going there are few better backs in the league.
“It’s huge. To have him start playing with confidence … he’s just consistently getter better,” Lanning said. “We’ve got to keep him rolling.”