Nov 23, 2019; Ames, IA, USA; Iowa State Cyclones running back Breece Hall (28) runs the ball against the Kansas Jayhawks at Jack Trice Stadium. The Cyclones beat the Jayhawks 41 to 31. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
Over the next several weeks, we will start diving into the Iowa State football team, position-by-position, leading up to the start of spring practice later this month. Next up, the running backs.
The Guy – Breece Hall
The breakout star of Iowa State’s 2019 season on the gridiron, Hall’s college career got off to a slow start as the true freshman recorded just 84 rushing yards on 18 carries during four of the team’s first five games and did not appear at all in the team’s loss to Baylor in week four.
All that would change during a road trip to Morgantown for game No. 6 as the former four-star recruit from Wichita, Kan. exploded for 132 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 26 carries, earning him Big 12 Newcomer of the Week honors. He followed that performance up by going for 183 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries the next week during the program’s win over Texas Tech in Lubbock while also adding 73 receiving yards, giving him 256 all-purpose yards, the most ever by an Iowa State freshman and ninth-most by one player in program history. That performance secured him his second-consecutive Big 12 Newcomer of the Week award and placed him squarely on the league’s radar.
Hall finished the season by earning second-team All-Big 12 honors from the league’s coaches, plus multiple freshman All-American recognitions, after recording 897 yards rushing, the second-most ever by an Iowa State freshman, and nine rushing touchdowns, a new program record for rookies.
The Cyclones’ undoubted starter at tailback entering the spring brings as much natural ability and explosiveness as any ball carrier then the program has seen in quite some time, which is saying something when you consider the man he replaced, David Montgomery, is already making a name for himself on Sundays with the Chicago Bears. Hall still has to refine some of the intricacies of the position and will continue to keep getting stronger, but is already well on his way to being the next great Cyclone running back.
Next Man Up – Jirehl Brock
Actually the highest-rated running back in Iowa State’s 2019 recruiting class, Brock arrived on campus in the summer slightly behind his classmate, Hall, who enrolled early and participated in spring practice. Still, Brock showed flashes in 2019 while recording 48 rushing yards on nine attempts before taking a redshirt year after appearing in four games.
There is still work to be done for the former four-star recruit from Quincy, Ill. to carve out a niche in the Iowa State backfield, especially considering Hall’s success and the experience of the two guys we will mention shortly, but it would not be shocking to see Brock emerge as the Cyclones’ true No. 2 tailback in 2020.
More to Watch – Johnnie Lang & Kene Nwangwu
The two elder statesmen of the Cyclones’ running backs room, Lang and Nwangwu were somewhat overshadowed by Hall’s breakout despite showing flashes of their own potential early on in the season.
That is especially the case for Lang, who played the best game of his college career against TCU, recording 72 yards and two touchdowns on the ground plus one reception for 23 yards, before be passed by Hall as the team’s primary ball-carrier the following week at West Virginia. Now a redshirt junior, Lang rarely touched the ball during the team’s final seven games, but the staff will surely work to find a role in this year’s offense for the Palmetto, Fla. native and that process starts during the spring.
Nwangwu’s career has been full of ups and downs, largely caused by injuries, but his explosiveness as a kick returner has been a constant for the program whenever he has been on the field, a position he ranked second in the league at this past season by averaging 25.4 yards per return. He tallied 54 yards on six carries during the team’s loss to Iowa in the second game of the season but failed to find much footing in the offense during the remainder of the year. It will be interesting to see how the coaching staff looks for new ways to get Nwangwu in space as he starts his redshirt senior season because he remains one of the program’s most explosive playmakers, especially when he gets the edge.
Rory Walling, R-Jr., Des Moines, Iowa, 5-foot-11, 195 pounds