AMES — Aaron Wimberly talked.
Mike Warren listened.
What wise words did Iowa State’s former leading rusher share with this season’s ground game leader two weeks ago?
“Just keep my head up and keep running,” Warren recalled.
He’s still going strong.
Warren darted, churned and jetted for a single-game freshman record 175 rushing yards Saturday, setting a tough-minded tone as ISU bullied and battered the haggard and helpless Jayhawks in a 38-13 get-well win before a crowd of 55,837 at Jack Trice Stadium.
The redshirt freshman from Lawton, Okla., became the Cyclones’ first back with consecutive 100-yard rushing performances since Wimberly accomplished the feat against Tulsa and Texas in 2013.
“It’s going to snowball, keep snowballing,” Warren said of ISU’s reinvigorated run game. “The more you play the game, it’s just going to come naturally from now on.”
Just as the schedule gets much more difficult. ISU (2-2, 1-0 Big 12) started its conference slate off with a win for the first time since 2002 and out-gained the 0-4 Jayhawks 512 yards to 288.
Next up: High-scoring Texas Tech, then top-five TCU.
“You’ve got to buckle it up every single game that you play in this league,” said Cyclones coach Paul Rhoads, whose team halted a nine-game conference skid. “What do we got? As of today, five remaining conference teams that were in the top 25 today? The other five can beat folks and you’d better be ready to play every week.”
A necessarily cleaner and meaner ISU team showed up Saturday after a bye week:
*** The Cyclones weren’t whistled for their first penalty until 17 seconds remained in the third quarter. They committed two infractions overall — two weeks after drawing 14 flags in a 30-23 double-overtime loss at Toledo.
“Discipline,” Rhoads said of the drastic improvement. “Emphasis. There were some foolish penalties that occurred two weeks ago. Being on the road can contribute to that and then there were some aggressive penalties that happened in there. Those you’re going to have in the game of football, it was the foolish ones we worked really hard to eliminate.”
*** ISU started slow but produced two blueprint-perfect drives in the final eight minutes of the first half to surge to a 17-0 lead.
First, Warren rushed three times for 13 yards to set the stage for a 30-yard pass to tight end Justin Chandler. A 15-yard carry by backup quarterback Joel Lanning followed, then starting playcaller Sam Richardson strolled four yards into the end zone.
Second, Richardson — who threw for 269 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions — connected on five straight high-tempo passes to set up a nine-yard scoring pass to Allen Lazard. That quick-hit drive covered 73 yards in 1:26.
“Anytime you’re running the football other things are opened up to you,” Rhoads said. “And it doesn’t matter if it’s the flat or if it’s the deep ball or if it’s off play action. You’re going to get better opportunities in the middle because of play action and the things that are going to come off of that when you’re running the ball successfully.”
*** The defense held a Kansas team that had averaged 171 rushing yards a game to 38 yards on 33 carries. The Cyclones also attacked the quarterback, recording five sacks that involved five different players. Linebacker Willie Harvey led the way with two. ISU now has 14 sacks this season. Dale Pierson’s notched six — as many as last year’s leader, Cory Morrissey, totaled in 12 games.
“I look at it like this: the whole defense as a unit, we’ve still got a lot of work to do, but the work that we’ve showed so far is good,” said nose guard Demond Tucker, who joined forced with safety Qujuan Floyd for one sack. “We work hard, so the sacks and stuff, they’re just going to come.”
Just like chunks of real estate for Warren, who would need to average 83.9 yards per game to become the first ISU back to run for 1,000 or more yards since Alexander Robinson racked up 1,147 in 2010.
Snowball? Bring it on.
“The cuts he made today and the timing of when he made them and why he was able to make them was because of where his vision was, he didn’t do before the Toledo game,” Rhoads said. “That’s the process of the light turning on and burning a little bit brighter.”
As for the single-game record? News to Warren.
“I found out after the game,” he said with a smile. “I didn’t even know. I was taken off guard. It was really surprising.”