AMES (AP) — Make no mistake, Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads wants to run the football.
Rhoads pounded the table twice at his weekly news conference Monday to emphasize the point, which has become a critical issue for the Cyclones. Their running game has been scuffling and leading rusher James White is out with a knee injury.
“I’m not a (bam!) ‘you’ve got to run the ball’ guy,” he said, showing a wry smile. “But (bam!) you’ve got to run the ball.”
Rhoads said in August that he wanted to be a run-first team and believed he had the depth at running back to do it.
But the Cyclones (4-2, 1-2 Big 12) haven’t had a 100-yard rusher since Shontrelle Johnson ran for 120 in the opener against Tulsa and they’ve topped 200 yards rushing in a game only once, against FCS foe Western Illinois.
Iowa State managed only 65 yards on the ground in Saturday’s 27-21 loss to Kansas State and sits last in the Big 12 and 85th nationally in rushing at 143 yards a game.
That’s not what Rhoads had in mind going in, though in fairness all five of Iowa State’s FBS opponents were in the top 31 nationally in run defense.
“If we can get to 200 (yards rushing), we’re probably having a pretty good day overall as an offense,” Rhoads said. “Right now, I’d settle for 180.”
Or maybe 190. Iowa State is 14-4 under Rhoads when rushing for at least 190 yards in a game and 8-18 when it falls below that mark.
“Our running game over the past couple of weeks, whether that be defensive scheming against us and us not adjusting to it or whether it is just bad execution by us, it’s not getting the job done as well as it needs to right now,” running back Jeff Woody said. “That’s the work in progress. That’s going to be a focus, to make that an uptick.”
Iowa State’s longest run against Kansas State was an 11-yarder by Woody, who has been nagged by ankle and knee injuries. The Wildcats often bunched six defenders near the line of scrimmage, giving them one more tackler than the offensive line could block.
Quarterback Jared Barnett said the Cyclones will have to adjust if teams continue doing that.
“If they’re going to load the box, we’re going to have to load the box as well and have more blockers,” Barnett said. “We’re going to have to make sure that we can come back with an extra tight end or even a receiver coming out and blocking the edge.”
White still leads the team with his 264 rushing yards even after missing Saturday’s game. He had surgery last Thursday and won’t play in Saturday’s game at Oklahoma State. Rhoads hopes he’ll be cleared to play the Cyclones’ Oct. 27 home game against Baylor.
Iowa State also is last in the Big 12 in total offense and passing efficiency, not a good place to be in a league dominated by high-powered offenses. Four of the top 10 teams nationally in total offense are from the Big 12, with Oklahoma State and Baylor — Iowa State’s next two opponents — at first and second.
“We’re 4-2 and we’ve scored 37 or better three times,” Rhoads said. “But we’re not operating as efficiently as we need to, especially with six games to go in the Big 12.”
Rhoads would like to say the offense, and running game in particular, would improve if the Cyclones could just patch up one area. But he can’t. He said they have to shore up several areas.
“We’ve got to open up bigger holes,” he said. “We’ve got to make the right run reads consistently. We’ve maybe got to create some plays that create those holes and that space you need. And we’ve got to make some people miss as ball carriers.”