Robinson emerges as key player in ISU's 3-1 start

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Iowa State’s new passing offense was presumed to be a pass-first, run-later attack where running backs were a kind of endangered species.

Somebody forgot to tell Alexander Robinson about that.

Robinson has thrived in Tom Herman’s new offensive philosophy, rushing for an average of 113.3 yards per game in a fast early start for the Cyclones.

After four games, Robinson ranks second in the Big 12 in rushing and is on course to become the Cyclones first 1,000-yard back since Stevie Hicks gained 1,062 yards in 2004.

“This spread offense definitely opens some lanes and my offensive line has been doing a great job,” Robinson said. “A lot of my credit goes to them. They’ve just been blocking better as the year goes and I’ve been the beneficiary of that.”

Quietly, the Cyclones have jumped to a 3-1 record in the nonconference part of their schedule. A victory in Saturday’s game against Kansas State at Arrowhead Stadium could be pointing them to their first bowl game since the 2005 season under Dan McCarney.

The biggest reason for that early success has been Robinson.

“Our success running the ball has been constant,” Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said. “Guys within the team know who the playmakers are and his success through four games has been what it is. He’s a leader by how he commands himself and how he vocalizes things to the team.”

Herman’s system utilizes a zone-blocking scheme similar to what the Denver Broncos excelled at earlier in the decade. That strategy is ideal for Robinson’s ability as a cutback runner.

“I just kind of scan the defense looking for holes,” Robinson said. “I’m just following the reads that are out there.”

His streak began with 100 yards against Iowa in the Cyclones’ only loss of the season. They rebounded the next week when Robinson rushed for 143 yards boosting the Cyclones to a victory at Kent State that halted a nation-worst 17-game road losing streak.

And he added to the streak last week by rushing for 129 yards and two touchdowns and 49 yards and another touchdown on two receptions to boost the Cyclones’ victory over Army. Their 3-1 start is the best since McCarney’s 2005 team also won three of its first four games.

ISU has already surpassed its total of victories posted during last season’s 2-10 record under Gene Chizik.

“Our start has been good,” Robinson said. “This is something we haven’t felt for awhile, but we know we still haven’t arrived. We have to keep working to get better. But coming in on Sundays after games feels good.”

His three-game streak has made him the first Cyclone since Ennis Haywood started the 2000 with 100 yards in four-straight games.

Robinson strained his groin muscle late in the Army game, but vows to be ready for the Big 12 opener for both teams on Saturday.

Rhoads said that the early perception that new Iowa State offense being heavily pass-oriented was wrong. Robinson’s fast start shows the success that the Cyclones can have both rushing and passing.

"I’ve thought that’s kind of a wrong connotation that gets thrown around -- that the ball is going to get thrown all over the yard and that’s it," said Rhoads, who became ISU’s first first-year coach to start 3-1 since George Veenker in 1931. "If you're going to be successful running this offense, you have to be able to run the ball. And so far, we’ve been able to do that.”

Robinson said he heard reports about Herman’s pass-heavy attack and wasn’t sure what would happen this season. But he’s satisfied with his quick start.

“During the spring, we wanted to prove we could run the ball,” Robinson said. “And maybe, he just grew a little faith in what we could do after getting a chance to watch us play.”