Haywood, Wagner flourish in two-back set

Zac Reicks

ISU football has always been synonymous with a strong running game. Whether it was Blaise Bryant of the late 80s or the Troy and Darren Davis combination throughout the 90s, the Cyclones have always been able to count on their running backs to move the ball.

The 2000-edition Cyclones just completed their season with a sparkling 8-3 record after giving the Kansas Jayhawks a 38-17 whipping Saturday.

Keeping with tradition, the Cyclone win was triggered by a rushing game that produced two 100-yard rushers in Ennis Haywood and Michael Wagner.

Haywood ended the regular season crowned the leading rusher in the Big 12, logging 229 carries for 1,237 yards with a gaudy average of 5.4 yards per carry.

When Haywood was hurt or needed a breather during games, Wagner stepped in admirably and found a way to get 422 yards on only 85 carries.

“It feels real good to be able to carry on such a strong tradition,” Haywood said. “You don’t want to be the one who has a drop off, so all the backs just work real hard to keep the tradition going.”

Wagner was also adamant about not letting the running game tradition stop with him, but he knows that he will have to bide his time before he truly bears the burden of the full load at tailback.

“Of course I don’t want to be the one who doesn’t have a good year,” Wagner said. “On the other hand, Ennis will be a senior next year and he has put in his dues, so I am just doing what I can to help.”

After the Kansas game, ISU head coach Dan McCarney said, “The football team goes as the running game goes, and that sets the tone for the whole team as well.”

While that can be said for every team, it rings even more true for the Cyclones.

“It isn’t any extra pressure unless you make it pressure,” Haywood said. “I take pride in being in the backfield because if the offense is going, that means I am doing my job.”

Someone who can take much of the credit for the outstanding performance of the Cyclone backs is running back coach Tony Alford. “Coach A,” as he is known to his players, was a former all Western Athletic Conference running back who was also nominated for the Doak Walker Award.

His running backs have not fumbled the ball once this year, and that can be accredited to Alford’s attention to discipline and focus.

“I am a firm believer that you get what you stress,” Alford said. “Ball security is something we stress everyday so that results in us having no fumbles.”

“Mike and Ennis did a phenomenal job for us all year, and they will continue to do that at the bowl game and throughout next year,” he said. “All the guys are fun to be around, and I am proud of how they played.”

Seen for the first time in Colorado, both Haywood and Wagner saw extensive time in a two back set employed by Cyclone coaches to give defenses one more weapon to worry about. This has drawn rave reviews from the running backs as it gives both rushers a chance to utilize each other’s talents.

“The coaches really didn’t want two backs on the field because they thought we would fight for the ball,” Wagner said. “We have been getting on them the whole year about letting us try it and now I just hope we can keep it going and make it a permanent set.”

Haywood also said he would like another pair of legs to help carry an often imposing offensive load.

“Having two backs out there just makes it tougher on the defense,” Haywood said. “If the offense is running smooth, I am happy for who ever is back there.”