After getting some action at tailback early in the season, Thompson's role has mainly been limited to special teams. His coming out party happened in week two against Kansas when he came on in the fourth quarter to rush for 92 yards and a pair of scores on 14 carries.
But it wasn't just Thompson's ability as a rusher that moved him up the depth chart, said ISU head coach Dan McCarney.
"(Blocking) is normally one of the toughest adjustments for any high school running back to the college level," McCarney said. "You can't dance, shield guys and kind of get in their way and give them an elbow or shoulder in this league. They'll make you look silly and knock you 15 yards off the line of scrimmage. He's gotten much better there and is going to have to. You don't get on the field unless you're a good blocker at running back for us."
Perhaps the most gifted runner of ISU's top three tailbacks, Thompson provides the offense a nice change of pace going into the final four games.
"He will definitely play and play in the first half on Saturday," McCarney said. "He's made a lot of progress. His mental errors have been few in practice. He'll be in the game in the first half on Saturday, I can promise that, whether it's two snaps or 20. My gut feeling on Tuesday would be to start Mike Wagner, get BT ready and have Hiawatha Rutland ready to go, too."
Whitaker's situation is much different than Thompson's, in that he played significantly as a true freshman and has been a solid contributor when healthy throughout his career. The fourth-year junior has recovered well from the torn ACL that ended his 2001 campaign and has 25 tackles, including two for loss, and one sack in eight games.
The emergence of Whitaker combined with the lackluster play of Word Saturday could mean a change atop the depth chart at MIKE linebacker.
"There is nothing in cement," McCarney said. "We're in our seventh week of being ranked in the top 25 in the country and every guy better come prepared to practice. We'll evaluate those two guys and make a decision. Mo missed a number of tackles in that game on Saturday, and is a very prideful guy. He wants to play and be on the field, but so does Chris Whitaker. You're only as good as your last game and performance."
Smith catching eye of Cyclones
Given the way quarterback Seneca Wallace and the offense performed against Oklahoma on Oct. 19, McCarney and his players can't help but credit Mizzou quarterback Brad Smith for his 391-yard effort against the Sooners earlier this month.
Playing in front of a national TV audience for the first time in his career, the redshirt freshman rushed for 213 yards on 26 carries and passed for 178 more to nearly lead the Tigers to an upset victory. Smith's 391 total yards ranks as the fourth-highest single-game mark in school history.
"That's a redshirt freshman doing that and here he is in the top-10 in the country in total offense," McCarney said. "He is really special. If you go in there out of control and not tackling with a good base, you'll not only miss him but he'll make you look silly. He's got a good arm and is making some NFL throws. We're going to have to be at our best and improve again this Saturday.
"Smith has some of those God-given talents. You listen to (Missouri head coach) Gary (Pinkel) and read about it, Brad's maturity level for an 18-year old is amazing. To go in and play against Oklahoma the way he did and to do the things he did against Nebraska is amazing."
Strong safety JaMaine Billups knows what type of defensive effort it will take for ISU to have success against Smith.
"From our scouting report he can get the job done," Billups said. "He can scramble and throw the ball. When we put pressure on him this Saturday, we'll see how he really reacts. We'll have to go out there and play our style of football. We're going to bring it to them and bring everything we've got."
Red zone no-show
The Cyclones have failed on first-and-goal opportunities inside the two-yard line during each of the past two weeks and that has raised the red flag in the coaching staff's preparation for Missouri.
"We've got to do a better job in goal-line defense and offense," McCarney said. "It's a very strong emphasis for us. We didn't all of a sudden emphasize it this week, but we're really putting a priority on it. That's one of the major reasons we lost that game on Saturday. If we would have done a better job down there, we'd be sitting here 7-2 instead of 6-3."
Added Jack Whitver, "That's one of the major areas of concern for us right now. We'd been moving the ball up and down the field, at least last week we did, and were in the red zone so many times and came away a lot of times with zero points. That's something we're going to have to work on a lot this week and hopefully we can improve it."