We are going to start this thing off a little unconventionally this season. Since we don’t know exactly who will be the main guy taking handoffs from Brock Purdy, the entire running back room is going to be our “player” to watch against Northern Iowa.
This week will be crucial in finding out what they have in the run game in terms of upcoming opponents. Northern Iowa runs some similar defensive concepts to Iowa, and should give Iowa State some feel for what the running game can look like in a few weeks against the Hawkeyes. This should be positive in many ways, especially for a team trying to replace David Montgomery.
Right now, many believe Sheldon Croney and Johnnie Lang are the front-runners to take the first hand off for the season, with Kene Nwangwu nursing a hamstring injury, and the two freshmen still learning the ropes. However, expect everyone to get a shot, especially Breece Hall, who has quickly become a fan-favorite pick to begin stealing carries after generating a ton of buzz in training camp.
Last season, Northern Iowa gave up 133 yards rushing per game, and have a lot of experience and production to replace on the defensive side, including three of its top five tacklers from 2018. This should at least give Iowa State a decent opportunity in the run game to find out which running back can take a step forward in live game action. Last season, Iowa State ran for 130 yards per game with David Montgomery creating space for himself most of the time. Following the loss of David, the offensive line will have to step up their game if the Cyclones hope to establish a running game against anybody, much less the Panthers.
This will be the most exciting battle to watch for the first game, and potentially into the Iowa game. My prediction for the week is simple. Sheldon Croney, Johnnie Lang and Breece Hall will take most of the carries against Northern Iowa. I also predict that Breece Hall will start to separate himself from the pack and begin his reign as the starting running back.