AMES — Mike Warren knew he need to step up when he heard Matt Campbell’s postgame comments after Iowa State’s 42-3 loss to Iowa on Saturday. Campbell had questioned his work ethic and practice habits.
The first-year head coached declared that he saw a competition opening at the tailback position.
“It was really just a personal challenge for me,” Warren said on Tuesday. “I feel like that was just a direct challenge to me. We even talked some the day after the game. He told me what I had to do. I just accepted his criticism and got back to work.”
After leading all freshmen rushers in 2015, Warren has carried the ball just 19 times for 66 yards during the first two games, which led many fans to question why he wasn’t getting the ball more. Campbell’s comments seemed to shed some light on that situation, while also creating the question of whether or not he was calling out his starting tailback.
“Mike’s the guy that’s got to practice well and (has) got to be the guy that’s accountable on and off the field too in some ways,” Campbell said. “So Michael’s got talent. And we’ve really got some competition back there in my opinion right now as well at the tailback position. I think there’s a couple times for Mike to make some plays tonight and we just didn’t make those plays. Again it’s not fair because we haven’t really sustained anything in the running game for any of our running backs and we’re going to have to.”
Campbell diffused the situation during his weekly press conference on Monday when he clarified that he was only trying to motivate Warren.
Everyone knew the expectations would rise during Warren’s second year of playing time in cardinal and gold, but the early returns haven’t lived up to those expectations. In a way, Campbell’s message could be looked at as a wake up call.
One of Warren’s first moves on Sunday was to meet with running backs coach Lou Ayeni. He wanted to know what needed to be done to get his mojo back.
Ayeni told him it was time to step up his game — not just on the field on Saturdays — but every day in practice.
“I think its really just attention to detail,” Warren said. “Just do the little things right, because we haven’t done those things well lately. It starts with the basics. You have to do fundamentals, technique right. You’ve got to do the little things right before you can accomplish bigger things.”
Warren’s lack of production had led to questions of giving more carries to true freshman David Montgomery and Kene Nwangwu. The two young backs were raved about during fall camp and have shown flashes of success in a combined 12 carries in the first two games.
Despite that, Warren is still the main focus of the Iowa State coaches at tailback.
“We’re still in that deal trying to get Mike Warren the ball the best we can and most ways we can,” offensive coordinator Tom Manning said. “I think David’s done a really good job. He’s worked really, really hard, but I also think Mike Warren’s done a really good job.”