Entering fall camp, most people knew that Iowa State’s true freshmen running backs David Montgomery and Kene Nwangwu would have a chance to play right away.
Mike Warren, the nation’s leading freshman rusher a season ago, was back, but his two backups from last season had moved on from the program.
That said, most people wouldn’t have expected to see the two young backs right behind Warren on the team’s week one depth chart. Not only did they put themselves into a position to see the field, they put themselves in a position to see it often.
“I think it’s one of those things where you tell all your kids, ‘Make me play you,’” Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell said during his press conference on Monday. “I’ve said that probably five or six times through fall camp, ‘Make me play you.’ Those two guys have made me play them.”
The two have solidified their roles in different ways. Montgomery has the speed, but he also brings power and an advanced ability as a blocker, especially for a true freshman. Nwangwu brings the flat-out, pure speed that makes him a threat to score every time he touches the football.
Time and time again, their names came up during interview sessions. Everything that you heard out of the program was, “these guys are the real deal.” Even then, I’m not sure many would’ve expected to see them as the top two guys behind Warren.
“David is physical, he’s strong, he’s decisively got elite speed, in my opinion, especially if he’s one cut vertical getting through the hole. He’s a tenacious blocker. He’s got a great job of understanding protection, which is huge,” Campbell said. “Kene Nwangwu is bar none the fastest kid on our football team. He’s the got the ability to really do things with the ball in his hand and he’s really special with that.”
The question now becomes, how much they get the ball? Warren is still going to be the feature back, but it will be interesting to see what the coaches do to get the ball in these guys’ hands.
Could we see formations with three running backs? I have no idea, but I definitely wouldn’t put it past this staff if it meant getting some major playmakers on the field.
“Those guys have a lot of talent,” Cyclone starting quarterback Joel Lanning said. “They’re going to help us any way they possibly can. I’ve seen what they can do for the past three weeks and I know that they can play at this level. They just need to believe in themselves and go on the field and not have any worries and just play football.”
Other notes from Campbell’s presser
*** Campbell said finding a rotation along the defensive line is going to be important for the Cyclones during the first couple weeks of the season.
“Good defensive lines play a lot of people,” Campbell said. “That’s the reality of it. Are we there yet? Can we do those things? That’s all how we practice. You earn those reps throughout the week, in my opinion. Even if you’re a starter, you earn those reps. I do know this though, every great defensive line I’ve been apart of, especially in a conference like ours and starting out game one against a high-tempo, high-powered offense. You’ve got to play multiple people. It’s not ten years ago where you could play four guys and they’re huddling every time and those four guys are going to play 90 percent of the plays. If that’s the case, we’ll be in trouble. It’s really important for us to have rotation.”
*** Campbell talked about the growth of the offensive line group since he took over.
“I think that they’ve really come with a purpose since the summer. You know, I really felt that way towards the middle to end of spring practice,” Campbell said. “That group really started to understand what we wanted from our offensive line. What the expectation was to play offensive line here now and so I think that group has really put the time and the work ethic in that what our expectations are. Knowing what we have, knowing where we’re at, you know, I don’t know if we have any idea.”
*** Campbell had some really nice stuff to say about UNI’s program and their head coach, Mark Farley.
“I think what I do know is that the confidence and the culture of that program is right,” Campbell said. “You’re talking a team that’s had the success they had a year ago, the success they’ve had over Coach Farley’s career. They know what to expect. Their kids play hard all the time. They have great consistency about themselves. You turn on this game a year ago, shoot, it’s 10-7 early in the third quarter. The reality of it is that team got better last year as the year went on and continued to get better and continued to make great strides. I think what you know from my end of it as I look at it is I couldn’t be more impressed with the opponent we’re playing. Their culture’s right. They’ve won big football games. They’ve played deep into the postseason. Their young guys, even if they weren’t the starters, got a ton of reps and played a lot of football. That’s what good programs do. That’s what good teams do. They don’t rebuild, they reload.”