Iowa State entered the 2019 football season with a lot of questions regarding the running back position. One of the most successful running backs in school history David Montgomery, left to the NFL–following his junior season which was his second consecutive campaign gaining more than 1,300 yards from scrimmage.
Montgomery obviously left a gaping hole at the position for 2019. Behind Montgomery’s 1,216 rushing yards In 2018, the Cyclone’s second leading rusher was QB, Brock Purdy with 308 yards, and after that was sophomore RB, Kene Nwangwu with only 157 yards on the season. The only other running backs that received work from the backfield were freshman Johnnie Lang and junior Sheldon Croney Jr. with 20+ carries on the season.
The 2019 season presented a wide open competition for the leading running back role. Matt Campbell and his staff brought in two highly touted freshman for 2019. Breece Hall was ranked as 22nd running back in the country, and Jirehl Brock ranked as the 17th according to 247sports.com.
Head coach Matt Campbell spent most of the offseason saying that he wanted an all-around back to replace Montgomery. After a tumultuous fall camp, Iowa State began their season opener with a running back by committee approach that saw, redshirt sophomore Johnnie Lang lead the way with 14 carries for 60 yards against Northern Iowa. The senior, Sheldon Croney Jr. was second on the team with 13 for 56 and a TD, then true freshman Breece Hall with 11 for 47, and lastly junior, Kene Nwangwu with four carries for 30 yards.
In Iowa State’s week two matchup against Iowa, they were never really able to get the running game going. They finished the game with only nine total carries out of the running backs, with Nwangwu leading the way with six carries for 54 yards. While Breece Hall, and Johnnie Lang combined for only three carries and six yards.
Matt Campbell continued to go with a running back by committee approach for the early part of the season. Against ULM, Sheldon Croney Jr. lead the team with nine carries, but he was quite ineffective with only 20 yards. To open Big 12 play, Johnnie Lang and Croney lead the team with six carries totaling 35 and 12 yards respectively, and Lang put in the first running back touchdown since week one of the season. In week five, it began to look like Johnnie Lang would take the reigns of the position after he put together a 16 carry, 72 yard, 2 TD performance against TCU.
Breece Hall’s Coming-Out Party
After finally getting adjusted to the college life. The former Under Armour High School All-American, Breece Hall got his first start against West Virginia. Breece took full advantage of the opportunity as he ran the ball 26 times for 132 yards and three touchdowns. The only other running back to receive work in the game was Johnnie Lang who had four carries for 11 yards. This seemed to be the moment where Campbell found his “all-around” back.
Breece Hall would be the clear number one back for the rest of the season. He averaged 20.2 carries and 97.2 rushing yards a game as well as six touchdowns through the last seven games of the season. Hall developed as a receiver the whole season as well. He averaged 3.1 receptions, and 35.2 yards, while also reeling in one touchdown through the last seven games. You could argue that Johnnie Lang was the clear number-two in the second half of the season, but his role was very small, not amassing two carries ones through the last seven games of the season.
The full season rushing/receiving totals for the RBs:
Breece Hall: 186 carries, 897 yds, 9 TDs/23 catches, 252 yds, 1 TD
*(QB: Brock Purdy 93 carries, 249 yds, 8 TDs)
Johnnie Lang: 50 carries, 238 yds, 3 TDs/8 catches 54 yds, 1 TD
Kene Nwangwu: 16 carries, 115 yds/1 catch 8 yds
*(QB: Re-al Mitchell 11 carries, 100 yds, 1 TD)
Sheldon Croney Jr: 30 carries, 96 yds 1 TD/10 catches, 60 yds
Jirehl Brock: 9 carries, 48 yds
Previewing 2020 Season:
This offseason will obviously have a lot less questions regarding the running back position for the Cyclones. It will likely be the “Breece Hall show” all season next year. Matt Campbell has had only one season in his four year tenure at Iowa State where you could argue there was a clear running back by committee approach for the whole season. In 2016 Mike Warren and David Montgomery spilt carries the whole season–as they both finished with around 500 yards on the ground for the season.
I could see a scenario where Campbell would like to use more backs than just Breece Hall next season–as his production did slightly dip near the end of the season. If this is the case, I would expect Johnnie Lang to receive every opportunity to be the number two, but if there were a dark-horse for the role, I could redshirt freshman Jirehl Brock having a role in the offense. Campbell and his staff were smart enough to preserve his redshirt for last season as he only appeared in two games all season. Brock did come in as a higher recruit than Hall, so there is a chance we could see an expanded role for him next season. As Campbell has said that he has been very impressed with Brock’s practice throughout the latter part of the season.
My prediction for the 2020 RB Depth Chart:
Sheldon Croney Jr. will be graduating from Iowa State, and there are no freshman coming in from the 2020 class, so it looks like the running back production for 2020 will come from four guys.
- Breece Hall, sophomore
- Jirehl Brock, redshirt freshman
- Johnnie Lang, redshirt junior
- Kene Nwangwu, senior