AMES | Paul Rhoads believes he has a deep and talented stable of running backs, and he hasn't backed off that statement in the past two years.
In Iowa State's 28-20 loss to Northern Iowa two weeks ago, the Cyclones saw four different backs -- James White, Shontrelle Johnson, Aaron Wimberly and Jeff Woody -- get three or more carries, in addition to the 21 times quarterback Sam Richardson ran the ball.
Saturday, when ISU hosts in-state rival Iowa at Jack Trice Field, the Cyclones will add sophomore DeVondrick Nealy, who was suspended for the first game for breaking team rules, to the mix.
Against UNI, the run numbers were solid as ISU averaged nearly 4 yards a carry, with White (4.9), Johnson (4.4) and Wimberly (4.4) all averaging better than 4 per carry.
But the Cyclones finished with just 168 yards, 32 short of the benchmark Rhoads sets for each game.
"I'd like to see bigger holes opened up and maintained," he said. "We were decent with a number of running plays in that game, but a lot of those running plays ended up in a funnel and the tackle was made easier because of that.
"I'd like to see more space for our ball carriers to give them an opportunity to make a defender miss and they didn't have many opportunities because of the position they were in on those run plays."
Several factors most likely played into the varied production by the Cyclone run game.
Center Tom Farniok injured a knee late in the first quarter and missed the final three quarters. Farniok is the Cyclones' most experienced lineman, with 27 consecutive starts.
First-time starter sophomore Jamison Lalk moved over from guard and earned a passing grade, but when UNI ramped up the pressure in the second half the unit had some breakdowns.
With Farniok out again this week, Rhoads expects Lalk to be better prepared.
"I think the open week will help him a lot," Rhoads said. "The fact (center) has been his sole focus ... it will help him put some polish on the position."
Another factor is the different line play philosophy introduced by new offensive line coach Chris Klenakis.
ISU has ditched the traditional right tackle-guard/left tackle-guard concept for one that refers to quick guards and tackles and strong guards and tackles.
"A left/right side gives you a more comfortable stance, same foot down, same foot back, so on and so forth," Rhoads said. "The strong and quick concept is something Chris brought with him and is comfortable with.
"We're now working more of the same techniques as opposed to being in the same stance, that is primarily the difference. The physical traits of those playing those positions matches up better."
Klenakis says the new alignment should help his unit establish physicality and help the Cyclones run more downhill.
"What we want here is a very physical offensive line and an offensive line that plays hard from snap to whistle," Klenakis said during training camp. "We're making steps and we've got to continue to make those steps and turn them into strides eventually."
In the end, however, Klenakis says any rushing success will be determined on the unit's cohesiveness.
"You got to be on the same page, that is how you become a good offense," he said. "It doesn't matter what system you run, it is how you work together."
Senior strong guard Ethan Tuftee said the offensive line film room was intense following a game that saw the Cyclones give up five sacks for a negative-36 yards.
"We need to execute better, myself included" Tuftee said. "Mistakes were made and we have to clean up a lot of mistakes. Nobody was perfect and nobody thinks they played perfect."
Tuftee also believes Lalk will be more comfortable at center with two weeks to focus on the position rather than being thrown into the heat of the action.
"Everybody's first start could be considered iffy and the most progression made is between the first start and the second," Tuftee said.