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'He'll take it 40 times a game': Managing Jaylen Warren's workload crucial for Oklahoma State

Scott Wright
Oklahoman

STILLWATER — Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy stood in the corner of the Sherman Smith Training Center last Tuesday and motioned toward a group of Cowboy players who were getting in some extra work after practice had ended.

That group included senior running back Jaylen Warren.

“He won’t rest,” Gundy said of his workhorse back. “He’s out here. He runs. I try to limit him when he gets a handoff to 15 yards. He runs 40 yards. 

He just likes to play football. He loves to play and he loves to practice.”

Gundy knows he needs to get Warren to rest, but he’s at a loss for how to do it with a player who is so determined to help his team. 

With the open week, Gundy gave the team Thursday, Friday and Saturday off from practice, with a workout scheduled for Sunday evening. That begins the work week to prepare for next Saturday’s battle at Texas.

The undefeated and 12th-ranked Cowboys are hitting the heart of their schedule with back-to-back road trips to Texas and Iowa State the next two weeks, and Warren is sure to be asked to carry a heavy load for the offense once again. 

The offensive line has mostly solved its run blocking issues that hampered the team in the first two games of the season, and the rushing attack has become a potent force to complement OSU’s stout defense. 

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Oklahoma State running back Jaylen Warren has 101 total touches over the last three games.

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While the passing game has been up and down in recent weeks, running the ball has become the answer — and Warren is the reason.

He had 32 carries in the win at Boise State, 31 total touches (27 rushes, four receptions) against Kansas State, then another 36 carries and two catches against Baylor.

It’s the type of workload Oklahoma State last saw with Chuba Hubbard during his magical 2019 season in which he led the nation with 2,094 rushing yards.

But is Warren, at 5-foot-8 and 215 pounds, built to handle that much work over an extended period of time?

“I would like to not go so far in depth that we have to find out,” Gundy said. 

Sophomore Dominic Richardson has seen his carries gradually increase, and quarterback Spencer Sanders is running effectively. Senior running back Dezmon Jackson has been out since the second week of the season with a leg injury, but could return for Texas.

“Dominic is getting better each week and getting more experience, and needs to start taking some of that load,” Gundy said. “And hopefully Dez will come back next week and get some practice, and he can take some of the load off (Warren) as well.”

Sixth-year senior LD Brown is out for at least a couple more weeks after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery. With Jackson out as well, OSU’s four-man backfield was cut in half, giving Richardson a bigger role than was expected for the youngest player in the group.

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“He’s just now maturing and getting comfortable out there,” Gundy said. “He played considerably last year in one game. This year, he’s getting in more now, because of where we’re at from an injury standpoint, so he gets comfort. 

“A guy like Dominic that now can get in a little bit of a routine, he can start to blossom and flourish a little bit because he’s in a rhythm.”

Ideally, Gundy said, if the Cowboys rush the ball 40 times at Texas, he’d like Richardson to get 10 carries to help take the load off Warren. At the same time, Warren has proven he’s the best back of the group, and arguably the team’s most valuable player through five games.

“If we have to give it to him, we’re gonna give it to him,” Gundy said of Warren. “But I would prefer — 25 carries, that’s kind of my max where I get concerned over how’s he gonna feel in Week 8 and then Week 10 with all that?”

And there is no measuring stick to judge what Warren can handle over the course of a season. Even in his sophomore year at Snow College in 2018, when he led the nation in rushing yards per game and was named NJCAA National Offensive Player of the Year, Warren only averaged 18.6 carries per game. 

He split time in his two years at Utah State, and was never asked to carry the ball more than 20 times a game. He played in only three games last year before entering the transfer portal.

This season, he’s averaging 23 carries a game, and that’s with him only getting 20 attempts in the first two before he became the team’s workhorse. 

“He’ll take it 40 times a game,” Gundy said. “But we need to do a better job of managing that.”

OSU at Texas

KICKOFF: 11 a.m. Saturday at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin (Fox)