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ISU Offensive Player to Watch: RB Mike Warren

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Mike Warren is carrying ISU on his back week after week. But is the freshman strong enough to carry them past the Frogs?

Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

In a season full of ups and downs, Iowa State has one consistent up.  Oklahoma native, Mike Warren, is a redshirt freshman running back who's blasting through school records like they're nothing, while maintaining the humility of a true role model.  His numbers increase every week—drastically.  For example: in the season opener against Northern Iowa, Warren rushed for 19 yards on six carries, the longest of which was seven yards.  But in last weekend's battle against Texas Tech, he rushed for 245 yards on 23 carries, the longest of which was 51 yards.  Like I said: drastically increasing numbers.  Take a look at his full stats for the season below (*you'll see my opinion on these stats a few paragraphs from now).  I also posted Aaron Green's numbers for comparison.  And just for kicks and giggles, I threw in LaDanian Tomlinson's numbers from the Frogs' old WAC days, 'cuz who doesn't like to remember those???

LaDanian Tomlinson Stats:

In high school, Warren was originally a defensive end, but in the middle of his junior season, he was moved to running back.  He immediately posted 440 yards on 50 carries. He rushed for 2,512 yards on 268 carries and 26 touchdowns in his senior year of high school and was ranked the 35th-best running back in the nation by Rivals.  He also has a background as a high school track athlete.  He had a 10.75 100m time in high school, and a 22.09 200m time.  He also ran the 4x100m relay.  He had a 4.34 40m time in 2013.  This season, his 245 yards against Tech is the #8 best single-game yardage in ISU history.  It's also the most by a freshman in the FBS this season.  He holds ISU's freshman season rushing record with 574 total yards so far, with plenty more games ahead.  Yet he maintains his humility and frequently gives accolades to his offensive line for aiding him in his success.

The weakness for Warren might just be ISU head coach Paul Rhoads.  He admits they're putting a lot of action on Warren—and his body—in just the first 5 games this season.  *ISU is cooking the books a bit with those stats, because they give Warren the ball every time (OK, maybe not literally every time, but it's pretty friggin' close).  He has 71 total carries so far this season, with 62 of them coming in just the last 3 weeks against Toledo, Kansas, and Texas Tech.  In a recent interview, Rhoads said, "He can shoulder more...I don't think he's conditioned to the point where he needs to be, so he can keep on with that....As he gets more accustomed to more carries and more yardage and more work, he'll be fine with what we give him."  In that same interview, Warren himself stated, "I have to be able to take most of the load (during games), which I do now, which is pretty much how it is."  This leads me to believe 2 things:

1.       Covering Warren leaves ISU with minimal offensive threat; and

2.      ISU is going to make or break their own running back.

Warren may rise to the occasion and continue to excel under the pressure of being the best offensive player in the Cyclones' arsenal.  Or he could crack under the physical pressure of being relied upon too much.  Or, even worse, he could end up seriously injured.  At some point, Rhoads may have to decide between adding more wins to his record this season and preserving the health of his prized running back.

In the meantime, TCU will have their hands full with Warren on Saturday.  In a recent interview he said, "I heard that their (TCU's) run defense is shaky and that's a big plus for me because I think I can have another great performance for this game."  As a quarterback in pee-wee football, he learned to read the defense and adapt early on.  Our defense can't let him get behind them, and they can't commit stupid penalties that allow him to get within spitting distance of the endzone.  He'll take every opportunity to score points with the rest of the Cyclones on his back.  The TCU defense has to hold him so Boykin and his Band of Merry Frogs don't have to make a last-minute rescue again.