Wags Runaway Favorite Monday

Maybe it was being demoted to third-team status after Saturday morning's scrimmage that got a veteran Iowa State tailback's juices flowing Monday afternoon. Perhaps the Cyclone line played a key role in the offensive explosion. Either way, ISU head coach Dan McCarney would like to see more as his team wraps up spring ball this week and starts preparation for the 2003 season.

Going into workouts Monday, senior tailback Michael Wagner had the most incentive of any player at his position. The proud veteran who busted onto the scene as a redshirt freshman in 2000, had just been slotted behind classmate Hiawatha Rutland and newcomer Stevie Hicks.

Wagner made his case to offensive coaches with a dynamic performance, rushing for 96 yards on just five carries in a 70-play scrimmage. He scored on touchdown runs of 50 and five yards. Just as impressive is Wagner's ‘burst' that's been on display this spring. He has shown the ability to run away from defenders for long gains and scores.

Running backs coach Tony Alford admits to making the decision to slot Wagner on the third team, and said his back took it as motivation.

"He might not tell you that, but that's part of it," said Alford. "But that's also how it has to be all the time – that's how you have to play. I was happy to see him run like that. You're talking about a kid that has a lot of pride and cares about this football team. He really took that to heart.

"As soon as I saw him today, I asked him how he was doing. He kind of looked at me and said, ‘How do you think I'm doing?' He handled it well and really ran hard today."

But Wagner also wasn't the only running back to shine during a dominant day for the offense. Rutland carried eight times for 46 yards, while Hicks mustered 21 on four attempts. Both tailbacks scored five-yard touchdowns in goal-line sets.

The trio took advantage of some great blocking up front, and were able to grind out some of the tougher yards when needed.

"The offensive front did a fantastic job of blocking, opened up some holes and the guys ran hard and made some guys miss," Alford added. "It was not just any one position today. As a whole, guys really performed a lot better today. They have some pride. We got handled pretty well in Saturday's scrimmage, and the kids came back ready to play.

"It's just execution (up front). They came off the ball a little harder with better pad level. The backs were a little more in-tune and were running the ball downhill, trying to break tackles and run with contact. These kids really want to do well and get better, and they did that today."

McCarney feels some of the youngsters on offense are gaining valuable experience as spring wraps up, which is helping the overall unit perform well.

"The offense obviously got the edge overall today and I was real pleased with the way they worked," he said. "It's our last week of spring ball and it's been tough and physical. There have been a lot of situations this spring where our defense, for a number of reasons, has had the edge. But today our backs ran the ball better and our line executed. It wasn't the whole scrimmage, though, because the defense won some things.

"There's no installation and hasn't been in the last few days. It's all review and we have everything. Some of those young guys, Austin Flynn, Stevie Hicks, Aaron Brant and Seth Zehr are all improving. I'm pleased with the way this team has practiced."

Flynn made some big plays of his own and again had the upper hand over incumbent backup Cris Love. The redshirt freshman quarterback completed 8-of-16 passes for 128 yards, but fired an interception into the hands off cornerback Anthony Forrest on his final attempt. Flynn did, however, make nice throws downfield to Todd Miller for 50 yards and Jon Davis that netted 25.

Love, meanwhile, hit on 10-of-19 passes for 93 yards but added another crucial interception to a list of many this spring when cornerback Harold Clewis snatched one of his attempts.

Danielsen put up his finest performance yet this spring, catching four passes for 62 yards. He showed off some of the skills that made him one of the Big 12's top receivers in 2002, making a nice catch near the sideline and getting one foot inbounds. The completion from Flynn went for 35 yards.

Defensive practice notes

The day did not go without some big plays from the defense, which came up with a huge goal-line stand late in the scrimmage. Hicks tried rushing up the middle on 4th-and-1 and was stopped in his tracks by the duo of Jordan Carstens and Nick Leaders.

In team pass drills, Tyson Smith sacked Love and Stevie Paris and Korey Smith teamed up to get Flynn in the backfield. David Rahe nailed an ISU ball carrier for a 10-yard loss in the scrimmage. Brandon Brown took advantage of some lackluster center-to-quarterback exchanges to recover a fumble during scrimmage.


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