Iowa State junior running back Breece Hall is caught by Iowa senior defensive back Jack Koerner in the first quarter at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. © Bryon Houlgrave/The Register via Imagn Content Services, LLC
AMES — Opportunities are there. One cut or read could make all the difference. But through Iowa State’s first two games of the 2021 season, star tailback Breece Hall hasn’t been able to produce any of the huge runs he’s accustomed to unleashing on a routine basis.
His self-prescribed remedy for the rare solution?
Forget about it — and go back to basics.
“Just play better overall football,” said Hall, who led the nation in rushing last season but has totaled just 138 yards on 39 carries in the 1-1 Cyclones’ two games against Northern Iowa and Iowa. “Like I’ve always said, Coach (Matt) Campbell always tells me just to focus on the little things and my natural ability will take over. So just honing in on and trying to focus on those little things. Trying not to do too much, trying not to worry about always making the big plays. Chip away at it and everything will just happen from there.”
Hall will likely have a good chance to compile impressive numbers Saturday at 9 p.m. when he and the rest of the No. 14 Cyclones square off against winless UNLV in Los Vegas.
The Runnin’ Rebels rank 104th nationally in rushing yards allowed per game (188.5) after losses to FCS Eastern Washington and 19th-ranked Arizona State.
Still, Hall is turning his focus inward. He’s shined against poor, average and very good defenses in the past — and he’s still scored at least one rushing touchdown for 14 straight games, a streak no other back in the country can match. So Hall will most definitely start stuffing the stat sheet again — but first he must clean up mistakes such as Saturday’s fumble that turned into an Iowa touchdown in ISU’s 27-17 loss.
“When you’re an ‘A’ player, you need to play ‘A’ football,” Campbell said. “There has to be a sense of urgency to play that way. Breece is also a byproduct of the fact that the other 10 players have to do their job. But taking care of the football is singular. That’s your responsibility. From that standpoint, he’s disappointed. Nobody wants to make mistakes. Breece is a perfectionist and he knows what he wants to be and become. But I saw a sense of urgency and a demeanor about him in terms of how he responded to the fumble. Hopefully that same sense of urgency continues, not only for him, but for our entire football team.”
Hall, as Campbell indicated, knows what to do. He’s done it at an elite level since his freshman season. He — like other ‘A’ players on the offense such as quarterback Brock Purdy and wide receiver Xavier Hutchinson just need to relax, take a breath then once again settle into steely resolve mode.
“Last year, it took us to get smacked in the mouth once for us to figure it out and get going,” Hall said. “We didn’t want it to happen this year, but sometimes that’s for the best. Sometimes those teams need to get that loss or get smacked in the mouth a little bit before they really reach their stride, so I’m excited to see how we bounce back.”
INJURY UPDATES (WITH COMMENTARY)
Campbell said the health of standout tight end Charlie Kolar is steadily imporving, which buoys hopes he can have a great impact on Saturday’s game and beyond.
“I would say probably today he’s a lot closer than he was last Tuesday,” Campbell said. “I think right now part of our lack of rhythm would be kind of some of these tweaks and injuries that we had for the last two weeks of camp and going into the early part of the season. So the reality is it is all hands on deck. You’ve got a really young and up-and-coming football team that you’re gonna go to their place in a marquee evening football game. You’re a football team that’s looking to become the best version of yourself and you only get 12 opportunities to guarantee yourself to do it. There’s got to be a sense of urgency for all of us. I would expect Charlie to only improve from where he was even on Saturday to hopefully where he is this coming Saturday.”
As for linebacker O’Rien Vance and receiver Sean Shaw …
“I would tell you that Sean probably would go from doubtful right now to day-to-day,” Campbell said. “Probably highly optimistic that there’s a chance he plays in the football game and I think we feel the same way right now about O’Rien Vance. So I think that was one of the bright spots on Sunday. Our injury report of where we’re at and where we’re going into this part of the game was a lot better than I thought we would be at this point of the season, so I think that’s a huge positive.”
PURDY “AWESOME” IN BOUNCING BACK FROM OFF-GAME
Purdy suffered through the fourth three-interception game of his illustrative career last Saturday, but Campbell reiterated that he’s convinced his quarterback will bounce back strong as he ever. After all, Purdy — the owner of 25 school records — has a glowing track record in terms of overcoming adversity.
“Brock is a product of what the other 10 guys do,” Campbell said. “That’s how it is as a quarterback, right? When you look at Brock after the first few games, you don’t see the ball is going where it’s not supposed to, you don’t see him mishandling the football — I don’t think those things are happening. But I do think you see that with some of the other players that are around him. When you see him playing really well, you see him spread the ball where it’s supposed to be and he’s making really great decisions and the offense is flowing with great execution.”
So why was Purdy pulled in the fourth quarter against Iowa? Campbell said it was for his benefit. Nothing was breaking his way and sometimes being able to sit back, reflect and observe is the best course of action.
“Nobody wants to win and nobody’s given Iowa State football, really, in the history of this school, more of an opportunity to win — and has won — more than Brock Purdy,” Campbell said. “So I think anybody that would say anything different is foolish.”
“I wish I could play. I wish I was playing. But I can’t. So my job is to help guide the leaders. And my job is to help make sure we continue — and I don’t feel like we missed the boat on this at all, is continue to demand a standard in terms of cultural (aspects). Whether you win or you lose, it’s always hard to deal with either one of those things. I think anytime you’re starting to go through the flow of the football season, that cultural, residual — whatever just happened — that’s a challenge. So my job every day that I walk in (here), whether it’s our coaches, our players, or anybody that’s involved, is I’m gonna fight for the standard and I’m gonna fight for our culture. I don’t think that’s gonna be missing. I think I’m coming swinging for everything that I can in terms of what I saw Sunday, what I see Monday and what I see today. I don’t think I’m changing very much other than, man, we’re gonna continue to demand it and we’re gonna find the guys that will do it the way we expect it to be done. You know what? I you don’t have it, the nice thing about our program now is we’ve got a lot of guys that are ready to go. We’ll play the guys that we trust and I’ve always said in our program. Trust is a word that’s used in the present tense, right? It’s always evolving. I think that’s something that’s really, really (important) for us right now, is continuing to make sure we’re doing everything that’s in the best interest of our culture and our program, and that’s my responsibility.” — Campbell on how he can better instill a sense of urgency in his team.