AMES — Tuesday, ISU coach Paul Rhoads hinted at the very real possibility true freshman running back Martinez Syria could see playing time in 2014 — and very soon.
In Saturday’s 49-28 loss to Baylor, possibility met reality as Syria eventually became the primary back in a pass-heavy offense that tried to play catch-up all night.
“We made a decision to play him,” Rhoads said of the 6-0, 205-pound Syria, who first appeared on the depth chart this week and saw the likelihood of burning his redshirt grow when Rob Standard left the team. “By that I mean he was going to be part of a package (Saturday). He was going to get carries with the idea that moving forward with eight games to go after this one that he was going to become more and more part of our offense.”
Syria rushed as often Saturday as any other running back who saw the field, carrying eight times for 15 yards.
He said he’s still growing into his sturdy frame and expects to make a larger impact as the season and his career progresses.
“Still going to put some weight on, still going to lift weights and everything,” Syria said. “I’m going to get bigger and bigger.”
No. 1 back Aaron Wimberly also rushed eight times, gaining 15 yards while scoring a touchdown.
No. 2 back DeVondrick Nealy carried the ball four times — all in the first half — for two yards.
No. 3 back Tyler Brown hasn’t run the ball once this season.
Through four games, Cyclone running backs have rushed 73 times for 200 yards (a 2.7 yards-per-carry average).
“It’s a big concern because there is no running attack,” said Rhoads, whose leading rusher this season by almost 100 yards is quarterback Sam Richardson. “It’s not the backfield. It’s the whole combination of everything that it takes to establish a running game and it needs drastic improvement.”
Syria’s longest run of five yards came in the fourth quarter.
He’s billed as a bruising runner, a role Standard previously was expected to excel in.
“We’ve had struggles with short yardage,” Rhoads said. “We don’t have a back of his physical stature as an upperclassmen so we move ahead and he’ll be a part of our rotation in the backfield.”
That doesn’t surprise Syria, a 19-year-old from Humble, Texas, who began taking more reps in practice this week, but was prepared to play if called upon two weeks ago in the 20-17 win at Iowa.
“The coaches told me, ‘Stay ready, stay ready, be ready,’” Syria said.
Syria wasn’t the only true freshman to shed a redshirt.
Wide receiver Jauan Wesley also made his debut Saturday.
Rhoads cited simple math to explain why Wesley saw the field this soon.
“We’ve got three wide receivers on our two-deep (Quenton Bundrage, Brett Medders, P.J. Harris) that have been lost for the season through three ballgames,” Rhoads said. “We need receivers, so we made a decision that Jauan was the next man ready to go and he’s in there and you’ll see him the rest of the season.”
Medders, a walk-on junior, suffered a torn ACL recently, Rhoads confirmed after the game.
OTHER FIRSTS: Touted South Florida transfer D’Vario Montgomery made his first career catch — a 24-yarder — in Saturday’s loss. Fellow receiver Dondre Daley recorded his first receiving touchdown, scoring on an 11-yard strike from Richardson.
THE BEST MEDICINE: Richardson and Rhoads shared a “don’t do that ever again” laugh after his second-quarter interception that came as he tried to avoid a sack.
“I couldn’t help but laugh walking off the field,” Richardson said of the play in which he attempted to throw the ball away. “Just dumb. That’s all I have to say about it.”
Rhoads said more.
“I said, ‘Let’s laugh at how stupid that play was,’” he said. “And he did. And then, ‘Let’s not make that play again. And let’s keep that right attitude to go out next time you step on the field and continue to lead this offense.’”
OVER AND OUT: ISU’s offense ran more than four plays on just two of its 12 non-scoring drives Saturday.
Eight drives totaled three plays or less.
“I think we had way too many three and outs,” Richardson said. “I guess that’s just kind of it: not holding onto the ball long enough and not making the plays ahead of us.”