Running Game Faces Stern Test

When his team struggled to run the ball a year ago in Iowa City, head coach Dan McCarney turned to Seneca Wallace. As good as his defense was a year ago, Kirk Ferentz looks to have an even better group this season, which could present a similar scenario for the Cyclones this season. Except this season, McCarney will have a redshirt freshman under center.

How ISU rookie starter Austin Flynn carries the added pressure and workload could be a key factor in his team scoring a sixth consecutive victory over its instate rival.

McCarney makes no secret of his desire to run first and pass second, but realizes that may be a tough proposition when the two teams kick off at 11:40 Saturday morning.

"You saw last week the balance we want to try to get, and we know it's going to be a lot tougher to get yards, first downs and points this week," said McCarney during his weekly Tuesday press conference in Ames. "We want to get back to balance and be a good running team. That's every week, no matter if we're playing Iowa's defense, Oklahoma's or Kansas State's.

"We were a lot better last week against a defense that was every bit as good as Northern Iowa's, which shows that our offense, blockers and offensive line did a better job. But yards aren't going to come easy. If we think we're going into this game and hammer them in front to win the game, we're crazy. It's going to be a combination and we're going to have to protect, pick up blitzes and handle their guys. I think they have even more speed in their defensive line than they did last year."

For the second consecutive week, senior Michael Wagner will start for the Cyclones. The senior from West Covina, Calif., has done an admirable job in a backfield that was without Hiawatha Rutland in week one and has yet to get the spark it needed from redshirt freshman Stevie Hicks.

Wagner has 202 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns on 38 carries in two games, and showed the coaching staff he can be the workhorse they desire. But at the same time, Rutland has proved his worth since coming off suspension for an off-field incident this summer. He tallied 56 yards and scored twice in ISU's victory over Ohio.

"He's our starter, but Hiawatha Rutland is getting better now that he's down on our end and not on the scout team," McCarney said. "We'll use them both, and Stevie (Hicks) will probably be in the game just like he was last week. It's not a necessity, but that's just part of the gameplan.

"We like all three of those backs. But Wags is the starter and it's up to those other guys to beat him out. They're all complementing each other pretty well right now and we've got a rotation going there."

But the question begs? What if the Hawkeye defense forces ISU away from that rotation and puts the game in Flynn's hands?

"I've got to believe and trust that his maturity and preparation going into this game is going to be a positive and a plus," McCarney said. "But really we won't know until Saturday. He's handled things with a lot of maturity and class the first two games, for somebody that had never played. The pressure that's on a freshman can be great. But knowing what I've seen of him and the look in his eye on gameday, he'll be ready to play. I just have to have faith in him and trust him."


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