AMES — Allen Lazard, Quenton Bundrage, D’Vario Montgomery — and let’s not forget Dondre Daley and Jauan Wesley.
Coming into the 2015 season, Iowa State quarterback Sam Richardson seemed poised to spark lightning from each of his five fingertips as he confidently gazed downfield, running through his progressions.
The Cyclones simply needed at least a semblance of a rushing attack to materialize, then they could take flight.
And therein lies the chronic problem. Through two games, they’re still waiting for that to happen — and for a variety of reasons.
“I continue to talk about the running game because it’s not going away and it’s something that you still have to do,” said ISU coach Paul Rhoads, whose team ranks 124th nationally in rushing at 70 yards per game entering Saturday’s 7 p.m. road test at favored Toledo. “You can’t abandon it. It’s one of the challenges that our offensive staff has and our offensive side of the ball has. We talked about it at length on Sunday on some of the things that we potentially can do to get it on track and help the rest of the offense.”
With all the weapons the Cyclones can deploy on the outside, even marginal success in the running game could open things up.
That’s what’s frustrating, said guard Wendell Taiese, who made his first two career starts this season in a win over Northern Iowa and last week’s loss to Iowa.
“As a player, you’re thinking, ‘What’s going on? What’s happening”? Is it me? Is it the guy next to me? What can I do?’” Taiese said. “You’re so eager to figure out what you can do to fix it you forget about your own job.”
The tailbacks, though inexperienced, are capable of flying through holes, as Tyler Brown, Trever Ryen and Mike Warren have shown in fleeting glimpses.
Those running gaps simply haven’t opened up with any regularity — and ironically, as Taiese noted, one of the reasons why stems from guys up front trying to do too much individually.
He offered a personal example:
“Saturday (in the 31-17 loss to Iowa) I was too worried about getting beat on a twist so I kept overextending my hip,” Taiese said. “I was hanging on the tackle too long and I allowed the D-end to come under because I was trying to help my left tackle out too much. Instead of just doing my job and handling my business, I allowed the sack.”
So far, the line has struggled to both protect Richardson (eight sacks through two games) and carve out space for the running game.
That’s why Rhoads and the offensive coaches are looking for new wrinkles and possible tweaks in scheme in advance of the trip to Toledo.
“I don’t know that it’s all offensive line,” Rhoads said. “I think our coaching staff needs to give them some help. The easy answer to that is when people block people, you need to move them wider, or move them more downfield to allow a ball carrier more space to run in. Now, how can I help you get that done as a coaching staff? There’s a lot of different methods, whether it be formations, or splits, or motions or the use of your quarterback. And that’s what as a coaching staff we’re challenged to find out and go put in place.”
And this just in: The Rockets (1-0) held Arkansas’s typically high-powered running attack to just 103 rushing yards on 31 carries in Saturday’s 16-12 shocker at Fayetteville.
The Razorbacks did light up Toledo’s secondary for 412 yards, but an inability to gain the tough yards on the ground doomed them to defeat.
That’s been the Cyclones’ MO in recent years and obviously must be reversed in order to give Richardson time and room to operate.
The fifth-year senior threw for a career-best 351 yards in last season’s 37-30 win over the Rockets, with key strikes to Lazard, Montgomery and Daley.
“This game’s really big for us, Taisse said. “Just to get our mojo back.”