Anyone who has followed Iowa State basketball over the past four years has heard the term "mismatch" used like it was going out of style. Whether it was Hoiball's spacing or the constant isolation plays for Georges Niang, the term aptly applied to what Iowa State was running on the court.
Similar concepts apply in football as well. Despite all of this talk about Hurry Up, No Huddle, Spread, or any other type of brand one wants to put on a system, the concept remains the same: get your best players the ball in situations they can exploit.
In Iowa State's case, one of those players is wide receiver Trever Ryen. The redshirt junior is a former UNI track star and possesses some of the best speed on the team. He is one of eight FBS players to have scored via rush, catch, and punt return in 2015 and now looks to be an even bigger part in head coach Matt Campbell and offensive coordinator Tom Manning's offense.
What is the 'M' Position?
Different coaches have different vernacular for this position, but the role is the same: be the guy that can kill a team from anywhere on the field no matter how the ball reaches you. How those coaches use that player is completely up to the system they wish to implement. Campbell defines the position as "multipurpose", hence the 'M' designation.
In 2015 the man that occupied the 'M' position in Toledo's offense was junior Corey Jones. Jones fit the multipurpose role just as well as Ryen will as he was fast enough to beat you down the field but shaky enough to beat you on a bubble screen or punt return. Some of you might remember Jones from when the Cyclones played the Rockets the past two seasons as he had 14 touches for 143 yards in Ames in 2014, and 4 touches for 54 yards in 2015. As a matter of fact the Cyclones feature somewhat prominently in his 2015 highlight video.
Last year Ryen spent the majority of his time in two back sets with Mike Warren and was nearly dead even in rushes (16) as he was in receptions (18). However, unlike Jones, Ryen was prone to disappearing in Mark Mangino's offense despite having talented receivers like Allen Lazard and Quenton Bundrage on the outside. As a matter of fact, Ryen had two games (UNI, Oklahoma State) where he failed to record a catch. Jones had none, and failed to record less than three receptions in a game only once (Central Michigan).
This is contrast is even more stark when looking at the amount of offensive touches the two had last season (courtesy cfbanalytics.com).
In a 12 game season that's almost an extra two touches per game that Jones had over Ryen. While that might seem like it isn't much, remember we're talking mismatches here. Think of the times when Niang could have used a few more touches down the stretch this past season. The same principle applies. With the talent that Jones and Ryen possess, one or two touches might mean the difference between a touchdown and a punt.
How Ryen Fits the 'M' Position
As I mentioned above, Ryen has a lot of tools at his disposal to make him dangerous at this position. He's shaky, he has great straight line speed, but most importantly he has solid vision, and that was apparent in his punt return touchdown against UNI.
Whether or not Campbell chooses to use Ryen in the ground attack is still up in air, and that answer may come as early as Saturday in the Spring Game (1 PM, Jack Trice Stadium). Last year Jones only rushed the ball four times for 27 yards, all to the outside. This is in comparison to Ryen's 16 touches that yielded him 71 yards and 4.4 yards per carry.
In the past Campbell has been known to use his 'M' receiver in a jet sweep type of motion that often times amounts to nothing more than a decoy to pull a linebacker out of the box and open things up for running back Kareem Hunt. There's little doubt in my mind that this philosophy will remain intact in Ames, but Ryen may get more rushing attempts than previous 'M' position players.
Since Mike Warren is "the guy" on Iowa State's offense and is running behind an inexperienced line it makes complete sense to use Ryen's toolbox to stretch defenses horizontally so they play Warren fairly.
What Way Do the Touches Go?
We'll get the outlier in the table below out of the way immediately. Ryen's 34 yards per catch number over the middle was influenced by his 53 yard catch against Iowa last season. Aside from that Ryen only caught one more ball over the middle last year for 15 yards.
Contrast this to Jones who caught 13 balls over the middle last season and showed how a multi-faceted skill set can make this position the key to a well run offense. The highlights above exemplify how good Jones was in all areas of the game, but being able to go over the middle and beat a linebacker or split safeties is a skill unto itself.
It's my belief that Ryen possesses this skill but didn't have the staff support last year that would best help him utilize it. If Ryen is going to have success as the Swiss Army Knife of the 2016 offense it means he has to do it all, which includes doing work over the middle in the passing game. Wes Welker didn't make his name by only catching bubble screens. He did the dirty work in the middle that keeps a defense on its heels.
How it All Fits
Without a doubt it's Warren that is the focal point of this offense and Joel Lanning is his conductor. It's very much similar to the Niang-Monte Morris combo from the past two seasons, which leaves Ryen as that all important swing man who can influence a game in a variety of ways.
One of the reasons I was so high on Campbell nearly two yeas ago was because of his "Players, Formations, Plays" mantra. He's clearly identified Ryen as one of his "players", but unlike the previous staff, has a dedication to featuring those players as prominently as he can.