Gridiron: Three-headed rushing attack can improve against Iowa


Tyler Brown poses at football media day. Brown is the most experienced running back on the ISU football team with only 24 carries last season. 

Luke Manderfeld

Redshirt sophomore Tyler Brown entered Iowa State’s football season opener with more experience than any other running back on the roster, boasting a whopping 24 carries in his entire collegiate career.

Doubted throughout the preseason along with the rest of the running attack, Brown remained confident he could prove the skeptics wrong.

“I always play better with a chip on my shoulder, and this is something to prove,” Brown said at ISU football’s media day. “That’s the best feeling you can have, when you prove someone else wrong and prove yourself right.”

That chip on his shoulder fueled Brown’s first carry of the 2015 season.

Brown took the ball and spotted a hole through the left side of the line. He split it with force and found open field. He ran until Northern Iowa defensive back Jordan Webb caught up to him 34 yards later, making it the longest rush of Brown’s career.

Brown’s 24 carries, while limited experience to be sure, still aided his explosive first carry against UNI and the rest of his touches throughout the game.

“I felt more prepared than [the other running backs] did because those snaps helped me see how the game is in real life, and that was pretty helpful from the beginning,” Brown said.

The running backs behind him on the depth chart, redshirt freshman Mike Warren and true freshman Joshua Thomas, entered the game against UNI with zero carries between them.

Although the Cyclones finished off the season-opening win against the Panthers with a score of 31-7, the running game was one of the units that showed a lot of room to improve and didn’t match Iowa State’s elite passing game as well as it could have.

“I’d like to run the ball better,” said offensive coordinator Mark Mangino. “I thought we ran it well but not good enough for my liking.”

The team combined for 77 yards on the ground on 32 attempts, an average 2.4 yards per carry. Not including quarterback Sam Richardson’s four sacks, the team averaged 3.04 yards per rushing attempt.

Brown didn’t help the numbers much after his first rush of the game, registering zero rushing attempts until the third quarter.

Mangino said that was because Brown was banged up after the first offensive series, leaving him in an arm sleeve until he was ready to re-enter the contest.

In the interim, Warren and Thomas traded off attempts. Warren saw more carries in earlier downs but not many, averaging 3.2 yards on six rushes.

“There was no question … we would have liked to get [Warren] more reps,” Mangino said. “I’m not worried about him. The thing he has going for him is he has ‘want to.’ He wants to get better, he’s always working at his game. He’s going to help us.”

Thomas saw the majority of his carries in short-yardage and goal-line situations. His 5-foot-11, 224-pound frame paid dividends for the Cyclones in those scenarios and assisted in scoring the first and only touchdown on the ground Saturday night, punching the ball in from a yard out. 

“The touchdown [Thomas] scored, we cut a guy loose, and he was ready to tackle him, and [Thomas] ran right through him,” Mangino said. “That’s an encouraging sign, and I’m pretty excited about him.”

Mangino said the team plans to use Thomas in a similar role against Iowa.

“He’s the biggest back we have,” Mangino said. “When we need tough yardage, we’ll give it to the big guy.”

Iowa State plans to use the three running backs against the Hawkeyes this weekend, but Brown will get the bulk of the carries early after his strong performance against the Panthers.

As it usually does, Iowa’s boasts a stout defensive front, led this season by defensive end Drew Ott, who tied for sixth in the Big 10 in sacks last season.

“I think it’s a typical Iowa defense,” Mangino said. “They don’t beat themselves. They don’t make a lot of mistakes. They’re a smart defensive football team.”

Brown has his own game plan to get the running attack going — jump on the Hawkeyes before they jump on him.

“I need to get going early,” Brown said. “Hit them in the mouth early and keep going.”