INDEPENDENCE - For Independence, the prep football season opener bore little resemblance to its winless 2016 campaign.
Even in defeat, a clear message was sent that there are brighter days ahead for the Mustangs.
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AMES — Perhaps the most pointed comments from Matt Campbell following his team’s 42-3 loss at Iowa were directed at his featured running back, Mike Warren.
The sophomore has totaled just 19 carries and 58 yards in two games and the first-year Iowa State coach’s frustration was evident after Saturday’s performance.
He offered up some criticism.
“I keep hearing about Mike, but Mike’s the guy that’s got to practice well and be a guy that’s accountable on and off the field, too,” Campbell said Saturday. “Michael’s got talent and really we’ve got some competition back there, in my opinion, right there as well in the tailback position.
“I think there was a couple times for Mike to make some plays tonight and he just didn’t make those plays.”
In the days that followed the loss, Campbell and Warren met face-to-face to talk about the context of those words. Warren didn’t see it as Campbell unfairly digging at him.
He saw it as a personal challenge.
“I didn’t take it any other way because I know where he’s coming from,” Warren said Tuesday. “Just knowing what type of guy he is, 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 and I accepted his criticism and got back to work.”
Campbell said in his Monday news conference the intent wasn’t to take public shots at Warren. He was Campbell’s example to illustrate how a 1,000-yard rusher can be just as big of a part of the solution as the offensive line — or anyone on the offense for that matter.
“There’s a lot of things that go into it and our job is to find solutions,” said offensive coordinator and line coach Tom Manning. “Our job is to find ways to get Mike the football and get him in space and let him do what he does really well.
“I love Mike Warren. He’s a prideful kid that works really, really hard and he’s going to continue to work really hard.”
The Cyclones (0-2) have run for 177 yards through two games while opponents have gained 430. A dismal opener against Northern Iowa gave way to an improved performance against Iowa where the team gained 126 yards rushing and averaged 3.6 yards per carry.
Iowa State still isn’t near where it wants to be in the ground game, but the marginally improved numbers last week show signs of progress.
“We know it’s going to come,” said wide receiver Allen Lazard, who has powered the passing game with 13 catches for 240 yards and a touchdown. “We knew this was going to happen especially first year with new coaches and a new offense and all of that.
“We know a time is going to come when our offense is going to click and we’ll have a lot of points. We’ve just got to stick to it and know the process of what it’s going to take to get there.”
The details of Campbell’s challenge to Warren when the two met after the game was simple: respect the attention to details. The nuance of taking a step with your left foot versus the right on any given handoff can make a difference, and it has to be practiced as such every snap if the Cyclones are going to find a run-game identity.
“He’s got to make sure that he’s at his best consistently so he can handle all that comes to him,” Campbell said. “A lot’s put on Mike’s shoulders and obviously it has been from the start of the season and will continue to be because Mike is a good football player.”
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