Notebook: Injuries returning, Mike Warren and Big 12 opener

Iowa State running back Mike Warren (2) dodges tackles during the Iowa vs. Iowa State game on Saturday. 

Luke Manderfeld

The ISU football team was plagued by injuries just a season ago, with the worst of it starting right off the bat. Star receiver Quenton Bundrage lost his season after tearing his ACL in the third play of the opening game.

While this season hasn’t been as bad as 2014, the team has still seen its fair share of early injuries.

The Cyclones held out cornerback Sam E. Richardson, safety Qujuan Floyd, defensive end Gabe Luna and linebacker Brian Mills against Toledo on Sept. 19, a game Iowa State lost in double overtime.

Adding nagging injuries to the mix, like running back Tyler Brown’s aching knee, and the Cyclones have been legitimately hampered through three games in 2015.

But after the bye week to rest some of the players, ISU coach Paul Rhoads expects all of his impact players to return for the upcoming game against Kansas. 

“We’ll put a healthy football team on the field this weekend,” Rhoads said. “The healthiest football team that we’ve put on the field this season.”

The returnees include offensive lineman Jacob Dunning, who lost more than just last season when he injured the patella tendon in his knee against Iowa, missing the first three games of this season.

He’ll bolster an offensive line that helped running back Mike Warren have the best game of his career against Toledo.

Mike Warren preparing for encore

The first two games of the season weren’t the best performances for the ISU running game. But in the third game against Toledo, the running attack exploded, thanks to redshirt freshman Mike Warren, who finished his career day with 126 yards.

This weekend, Warren is preparing to follow up his breakout performance. 

“Confidence comes with success,” Rhoads said. “Mike Warren went out and had some success, along with the rest of the offense in the running game, and it showed the very next week on the practice field.”

Warren was recruited to Toledo by now-ISU running back coach Lou Ayeni, who coached the Rockets at the time. The breakout game came against a Toledo team that he would most likely have played for if Ayeni hadn’t left for Iowa State. 

“I thought it was pretty interesting because coach Ayeni told us to outperform his old guys,” Warren said. “I take that personally, and I tried my best in that game.”

Kansas again?

Iowa State will take on Kansas in its first Big 12 game of the season Saturday.

ISU fans may not want to reminisce about last season’s matchup between the Jayhawks and Cyclones. Iowa State fell in Lawrence, Kan., 34-14, and the Kansas fans stormed the field after the game.

This time, the Cyclones are heavily favored, projected as a 15-point favorite. But with the underdog tag removed from around the Cyclones’ collective neck in the process, Iowa State may find that the win won’t come without a fight.

“Kansas is a good team, I’m not going to try and knock them or anything,” Warren said. “They’re going to give us a battle because they want to win the game, too. This game is going to be important for us to start off the Big 12 right.”

An underdog in their last two games, the Cyclones’ preparation for the Jayhawks does change slightly. The real challenge comes from a mentality standpoint, especially with a loss from last season.

“[The loss from last season] is not something to dwell on,” Rhoads said. “If you need a chip on your shoulder, or if you need outside motivation like that, then you are probably competing at the wrong level.”

Kansas has started the season 0-3, including a loss to Football Championship Subdivision opponent South Dakota State in its season opener.

The Cyclones haven’t started Big 12 play with a win since 2002, when they defeated Kansas in the second game of the season.

“It would be pretty big,” said linebacker Jordan Harris. “That’s the goal, to start 1-0 in Big 12 play. We’re not going to approach Kansas — because of their bad record — like they’re a bad team. They’re still a great team.”