Breece Hall’s preparation — plus elite skills — key to the Cyclones’ success Saturday and beyond

Oct 10, 2020; Ames, Iowa, USA; Iowa State running back Breece Hall (28) goes up and over the line for a touchdown to make the score 20-7 during their football game against Texas Tech at Jack Trice Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Powers-USA TODAY Sports

The nation’s most productive running back pummels defenders with power, pure skill and elite agility.

 But Iowa State sophomore Breece Hall is not defined so much but what he does, but how he does it.

 Hall, who is averaging a nation’s best 143.2 yards rushing per game for the No. 23 Cyclones (3-2, 3-1 Big 12), is a complete back. He’s also the prime reason ISU’s inconsistent offense can largely lean on the running game from week-to-week — and this Saturday, it lands at winless Kansas (0-4, 0-3) in an 11 a.m. kickoff (FS1) in Lawrence.

 “His preparation and detail,” ISU head coach Matt Campbell said in reference to Hall’s growth from year one to year two. “I think maybe that’s the greatest growth that Breece has made from a freshman to a sophomore. (It’s) how he’s prepared, how he takes care of his body, how he goes to practice and really (starting) to see what his full potential can look like.”

 Hall, who is tied for third nationally with nine rushing touchdowns this season, seems poised to have a field day against the forlorn and woebegone Jayhawks, who allow a Big 12-worst 207.6 yards per game on the ground — more than 30 yards more than ninth-place TCU does.

 But it’s likely that Kansas will stack the box to force the Cyclones to beat them in the passing game — and outside of the league’s best tight end trio of Charlie Kolar, Chase Allen and Dylan Soehner, along with star JUCO transfer wideout Xavier Hutchinson, ISU has been erratic through the air.

 The Jayhawks rank fifth in the Big 12 in pass defense, but it’s unclear if that’s simply because opponents have so much success against them on the ground that there’s little reason to take risks through the air.

 Big 12 opponents have outscored Kansas 187-52 this season — and 93-17 since the Jayhawks took a flukey 14-0 lead against West Virginia in a game they lost, ahem, 38-17 two weeks ago.

 Vegas pegs the Cyclones as a robust 28.5-point favorite, but Campbell and his players cautioned against taking the outmanned Jayhawks too lightly.

 “I think when you look at this team you see a really impressive young football team that’s coming,” Campbell said. “So it will be a great challenge for not only (us), but everybody. Really impressed with what I’ve seen on the video so far.”

 But Kansas lacks depth, which makes the plays that shine on game video few and far between.

 Teams have been grinding the Jayhawks down — and obviously with great success.

 Enter Hall, who has rushed for 100-plus yards in each game this season. Sprinkle in Kene Nwangwu and a bit of RPO from quarterback Brock Purdy and ISU should be able to run roughshod over the Jayhawks on Saturday.

 But if Kansas chooses wisely to put eight or even nine guys in the box and force the Cyclones to win through the air, speedsters such as Joe Scates, Darren Wilson and Landen Akers could stretch the field for big plays in the passing game.

 In short, it’s hard to imagine a scenario — barring a barrage of Cyclone turnovers — in which the Jayhawks can avoid another lopsided loss. And thanks to Hall’s well-blended mix of skill and savvy, it’s unlikely Kansas can avoid getting gassed on defense and prevent the inevitable.

 Hall will carve out some dynamic runs. He can also help the passing game get on track. The latter, in fact, may even be his bigger focus as ISU seeks to remain in the running in terms of potentially reaching the Big 12 title game. 

 “I just try to improve within all aspects of my game,” Hall said. “Coach Campbell’s challenge for me is he knows what I can do with the ball in my hands, but his focus for me is when the ball isn’t in my hand as far as pass protection, helping out the offensive linemen and communicating with Brock running my checkdowns out of the backfield. I’m trying to be one of the leaders on offense.”

 He’s succeeding. Now it’s time to take care of business in a game that shouldn’t be close, but could be if some of the detail-oriented mistakes that cropped up in the first five games continue to be an issue.

 “They’re young and it’s the Big 12 so there could be a surprise in any given Saturday,” Hall said. “At the end of the day, we still have to come out and play our best game. They’re still in the Big 12 and their players are still on scholarship. You can’t take them as a joke or anything like that.”