AMES, Iowa – Iowa State's running back-by-committee experiment looks to be over.
The Cyclones have found their man.
Junior Aaron Wimberly established himself as the go-to back with a breakout performance in Iowa State's 38-21 victory at Tulsa last week. Carrying 19 times for 137 yards — an impressive 7.2-yard average — the transfer from Iowa Western Community College gave the running game some much-needed juice as the Cyclones (1-2) prepare for Thursday night's visit from Texas (2-2).
"We certainly have packages that will work that will involve other backs," coach Paul Rhoads said Monday. "But yeah, he's our guy."
Wimberly shared time with James White and Shontrelle Johnson in Iowa State's first two games and was given just 10 carries. Iowa State averaged only 3.3 yards per carry in those contests and managed just 59 yards on the ground in a 27-21 loss to Iowa.
Rhoads decided in the days leading up to the Tulsa game to make Wimberly the primary ball carrier. The 5-foot-9, 173-pounder promptly produced the first 100-yard rushing game by an Iowa State tailback since Johnson did it in the 2012 season opener.
Wimberly's performance, which included a 35-yard run and a 31-yard pass reception, wasn't lost on Texas coach Mack Brown.
"In our league right now, speed is everything and he's just got tremendous speed," Brown said. "Every time he touches the ball, he's got a chance to score. He makes them a different team at tailback."
Wimberly is one of those runners who hits his top gear quickly. As teammate Jeff Woody put it, "He goes from zero to 60 in about one step."
Woody, a 6-1, 242-pound, short-yardage specialist, also marvels at how little space Wimberly needs to slip into the secondary.
"That play he ran to the goal line, the hole was about that wide at the line of scrimmage," Woody said, holding his hands 3 feet apart. "Once he got through that, it was just turn on the jets and let him run. That's the thing he does really well: He sticks that foot in the ground and he's running up and down the field like he might have track spikes on."
Wimberly said he hopes he can spark the entire offense, not just the running game, even if it means fewer yards for himself.
"I'm feeling like teams are going to adjust more to me and that's going to open up a lot of stuff — for wide receivers and running backs," he said.
Wimberly, who shared the Big 12's offensive player of the week honor, rushed for 1,125 yards and 13 touchdowns last fall in helping Iowa Western win the national junior college championship.
Iowa State's coaches got involved with him early and redoubled those efforts once they got a good look at him.
"He was one of those guys that you didn't need to spend a lot of time in evaluation," Rhoads said. "You saw the speed. You saw the ability to hit a small hole. You saw very little wasted movement and motion. We've developed a relationship with (Iowa Western) that involves trust and accuracy in the information and the feedback we get, so it was a pretty fast process in that regard."
No running back got much chance to showcase his skills during the revolving door sequence of the first two games. Johnson carried only 11 times in those games and White ran the ball just 12 times.
Wimberly was still trying to feel his way through a different level of football in those games.
"That first year of transferring with junior college players, there's a time line," Rhoads said. "You just try to get them there as fast as you can so they're really producing for your football team."
Rhoads would like to think this is just the beginning for Wimberly.
"Hopefully we haven't seen (his best) yet, we haven't hit it yet and he can keep running with that same speed and aggressiveness," Rhoads said. "As long as he keeps running with the pads down at a high rate of speed, he's going to make his yards."