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Lack of running game slows Iowa State, last in the Big 12 and 110th nationally in rushing

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AMES, Iowa — Iowa State has veterans in the offensive line, experienced running backs and a quarterback who's been around.

In other words, all the ingredients a team needs for a strong running game.

Except it's not happening.

The Cyclones are last in the Big 12 and 110th out of 125 teams nationally in rushing. They're averaging only 104 yards a game and 3.4 yards a carry. Quarterback Sam Richardson has the team's longest run (47 yards) and he's also the leading rusher, with more yards than all the running backs combined.

As coach Paul Rhoads put it: "There is no running attack."

"You've got to run the football and you've got to defend the run if you want to be successful," Rhoads said Monday "And we're not even scratching the surface at doing that."

Running backs Aaron Wimberly and DeVondrick Nealy have barely dented opposing defenses. In 65 carries between them, they've accounted for a mere 185 yards, or 2.8 per play. Their longest run has been Wimberly's 16-yard touchdown against North Dakota State on the 10th play of the season.

In Saturday night's 49-28 loss to No. 7 Baylor, Wimberly, Nealy and freshman Martinez Syria combined for a paltry 28 yards in 20 carries.

Richardson ran for 99 yards in that game and leads the team with 218. That's not by design, because most of those yards have come on scrambles.

PHOTO: Iowa State quarterback Sam B. Richardson (12) runs from Baylor defensive lineman Beau Blackshear (95) during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 27, 2014, in Ames, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Iowa State quarterback Sam B. Richardson (12) runs from Baylor defensive lineman Beau Blackshear (95) during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 27, 2014, in Ames, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

"We've got to fix it," Rhoads said. "It's certainly being addressed. It's not something we're putting our heads in the sand about."

As the Cyclones (1-3, 0-2 Big 12) began preparing for their game at No. 21 Oklahoma State next Saturday, Rhoads said there's plenty of blame to go around for the running woes.

"We need to do a better job of blocking. That's not just the interior five, that's everybody," he said. "Receivers are part of the blocking group and the tight ends. And our running backs need to do a better job of running the football. We've got to make some folks miss. In watching Oklahoma State, other people are taking care of every gap, too, and sometimes backs make folks miss. We need that added to the quotient."

Iowa State returned starters are every offensive line position, including four-year regular Tom Farniok at center. Tackle Jacob Gannon is a senior, while tackle Brock Dagel and guards Jamison Lak and Oni Omoile are juniors.

Redshirt freshman Jake Campos moved ahead of Gannon at right tackle, but Campos was a highly touted recruit coming out of high school. Another guard, Daniel Burton, is just a sophomore, but he started last year.

"I'm not going to place the blame on anybody, but I definitely would say the offensive line could play better, that's for sure," Burton said. "It's obvious and I think we know it. It's disappointing as an offensive lineman. We put a lot of work in that. It doesn't work out like it's supposed to sometimes."

Rhoads had hoped to hold Syria out this season, but the need for another back arose when junior Rob Standard left the team. Syria, who made his season debut against Baylor, also gives the team another dimension because at 6 feet and 205 pounds, he's bigger than Wimberly and Nealy.

"We've had struggles with short yardage," Rhoads said. "We don't have a back of his physical stature that's an upperclassman."

Iowa State had a big back for short yardage situations in recent years with Jeff Woody, but he finished his career last season. Rhoads hopes Syria can became that type of contributor.

"The more reps he gets at this level of competition, I think the better he'll show up," Rhoads said. "And there may be certain things that we can scheme up for him that we don't for the other guys to help us."

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