AMES — Aaron Wimberly knows Jake Waters.
He likes him — a lot.
"He’s like one of my brothers," said Wimberly, who scored two touchdowns but carried the ball just nine times last week.
The fact that Wimberly’s, at least in theory, Iowa State’s featured runner, and Waters, in fully practical terms, makes Kansas State’s offense go as its quarterback, doesn’t change that long-cemented relationship one bit.
“His dad (Rick, a former Cyclone) used to cook steaks for us on Sundays,” Wimberly said about facing his former Iowa Western Community College teammate in Saturday’s 11 a.m. Big 12 opener at Jack Trice Stadium. “That was good.”
They’re close — this slick, sleek and quick running back from just east of Atlanta and the gritty, late-bloomer from Council Bluffs.
They also both serve as obvious keys for their respective teams as conference season swings into view in week two for the first time since 2002.
“I don’t mind it,” ISU coach Paul Rhoads said of facing the No. 20 Wildcats (1-0) in a week that had been reserved for intra-state rival Iowa in his previous five seasons. “All 12 games are hard. And all 12 games count towards what our goal is and that’s the postseason. … It certainly provides a great focus for us in the second week of the season and we need it.”
Last week’s deflating 34-14 loss to North Dakota State shoved the Cyclones (0-1) and their fan base into recently-familiar territory.
Thursday’s stunning news that fifth-year senior and starting left tackle Jacob Gannon was leaving the team for personal reasons simply served as another unwelcome jolt.
Fuel for a raging fire that — unless doused by an upset win, as CF publisher Chris Williams noted this week — surely will spread beyond message boards and call-in shows.
“It’s just a will to want to be able to do it,” ISU cornerback Nigel Tribune said of this week’s firefighting effort. “Just don’t give up. Things are going to go bad at times. You’ve just got to keep pushing forward. Keep progressing as the season goes forward.”
That starts Saturday — and it better start with a reinvigorated rushing attack.
Bottom line: If ISU can rediscover its running game (and it’s fueled by actual running backs), last season’s 41-7 loss to the Wildcats likely becomes an outlier in the Rhoads’ era.
The Cyclones will keep it close, as they did in Coach Paul Rhoads’ first four seasons, in which K-State won by no more than seven points.
But that’s a big “if,” considering ISU’s one-two backfield punch of Wimberly and DeVondrick Nealy combined for 11 carries and 44 rushing yards in last week’s discouraging setback to the three time-defending FCS champion Bison.
Couple that with the fact that preseason all-Big 12 tight end E.J. Bibbs caught just one pass for eight yards and the offense again finds itself searching for answers.
They’ll come, coordinator Mark Mangino said.
“We need (Wimberly and Bibbs) to be a big part of our offense and they will be,” Mangino said. “I’d like to think that in our first game of the year we learned a little bit about our offense, about our personnel, about how we do things. We need to learn from that and we will.”
The same holds true on the defensive side of the ball, which must contain Waters and force him to be one-dimensional.
Needless to say, that’s a difficult task for any defense, let alone a young one.
Waters, a Council Bluffs native, rushed for two touchdowns and passed for two more in last week’s 55-16 whitewash of FCS Stephen F. Austin.
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He totaled 278 yards passing and rushing and is expected to have a more healthy big-play receiver in Tyler Lockett at his disposal.
Lockett didn’t play after the first quarter. He caught one pass for nine yards and a touchdown.
“I think it’s a hamstring or something like that, maybe,” ISU defensive coordinator Wally Burnham said. “I’m sure he’ll be out there at 11 o’clock Saturday.”
Waters will be pulling the strings.
He went from un-recruited high school graduate to coveted prospect in his two years at Iowa Western.
Now he’s one of the top quarterbacks in the Big 12.
“He does a great job,” Burnham said. “He might not be the best quarterback in the league, but he’s up there on the top three because of what he does. He’s a great thrower. He throws a ball kind of three-quarters, kind of sidearm, but he gets it there. And he’s a great reader. Then he can hurt you with his legs a little bit.”
Few know that better than the Cyclones’ honorable mention all-Big 12 defensive end, Cory Morrissey.
He also played with Waters at Iowa Western.
And he also enjoyed several of Rick’s juicy steaks.
“He’s a student of the game and he bought in completely to (Wildcats coach Bill) Snyder’s system,” said Morrissey, who was credited with half a sack last week. “It’s working out great for him.”
Now it’s up to Morrissey and company to disrupt that rhythm while working on soundly fitting their gaps.
K-State’s a 12-point favorite and ISU has lost its last seven games to ranked teams.
So opportunity knocks and “urgency” must answer the door after a second straight season started with a head-shaking loss to a high-caliber FCS team.
Will that be enough?
“We’ll respond to it better than we did last year and that’s something that’s obviously our main focus this week,” Cyclone quarterback Sam Richardson said. “We’ve got to respond quicker from it than we did last year.”
BIG ADDITION: Standout center Tom Farniok’s slated to play after missing nearly three quarters of the North Dakota State game with an MCL strain. “You’ve got to sort of let game day play and see what happens,” Rhoads said of Farniok’s health this week. “We won’t be bashful if he’s feeling good to let him go. The thing about an injury like this is, you sit out, you stiffen up. … If he’s able to go, resting’s not necessarily a positive thing.”
BIG SUBTRACTION: When Jacob Gannon unexpectedly quit the team on Thursday, it left a gaping hole at right tackle, where he’d started nine of the last 13 games. Enter four-star recruit and redshirt freshman Jake Campos (6-8, 291), who is expected to make his first start Saturday, with all-Big 12 defensive end Ryan Mueller lurking on the other side of the ball.
KEY MATCHUP: The Wildcats’ big-play receiver, Tyler Lockett, likely will start after missing most of the season opener with a hamstring tweak. ISU corner Nigel Tribune’s excited about the opportunity to lock horns with him, though Rhoads said he’ll be covered situationally by more than one guy. “He’s pretty solid, too,” Tribune said of Lockett. “It will be a fun matchup.”
QUOTABLE: Kansas State quarterback Jake Waters grew up watching games at Jack Trice Stadium. He’ll play in his first — and last — game there on Saturday. "It is going to be a special experience for me, going there as a kid and seeing the games and not knowing if I was going to be able to play there, but I have to treat it like every other game,” Waters said in K-State’s weekly news conference. “I cannot go out there and try to win the game on the first play or on one single play. I have to go out and prepare the way that I know how and take what the defense gives me.”