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2020 Positions Recap: Running Backs

When you lead the league, the unit is probably doing something right.

NCAA Football: Fiesta Bowl-Oregon vs Iowa State Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Iowa State entered the 2020 season with a clear number one running back, Breece Hall. The sophomore from Wichita, Kansas had 897 yards rushing in his first season as a Cyclone. Jirehl Brock, returned for his redshirt freshman season along with seasoned veterans Kene Nwangwu and Johnnie Lang Jr.

Different from a year ago, the Cyclones had an established running game heading into the season.

2020 Season

Iowa State finished third in the Big 12 in rushing this season with 195.0 yards per game. Of course, Matthias will give due diligence to the offensive line because they played a huge part in that success. But like any running back success (or failure,) it all comes on the positional unit itself.

To start off the year against Louisiana, it seemed like Iowa State didn’t know what they were offensively. They had no identity. Sometimes they would try and hit the deep ball, sometimes they would run all three downs, there was no real pattern. Even though they lost to Louisana badly, it didn’t take long after that game to establish themselves as a run-first team.

Running Back Stats 2020

Player Attempts Yards Average Touchdowns Receptions Yards Average Touchdowns
Player Attempts Yards Average Touchdowns Receptions Yards Average Touchdowns
Breece Hall 279 1572 5.6 21 23 180 7.8 2
Kene Nwangwu 61 339 5.6 4 3 22 7.3 0
Jirehl Brock 13 46 3.5 0 4 32 8 0

The stats speak for themselves. Breece Hall was one of the best running backs in the entire country this year. Hall was named the first unanimous All-American in Iowa State football history, he finished sixth-place in the Heisman Trophy race, won the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year and was a finalist for the Doak Walker Award. Without a doubt, Breece Hall was the best player on Iowa State this year.

Hall was effective in all aspects of the game, becoming the offense's primary source of offense. Hall rushed for over 100 yards in the first eight games of the season, which included back-to-back 185-yard performances against Kansas and Oklahoma State. All of these key performances piled up, and at the end of the season, Hall finished with the most rushing yards in the FBS.

To add on, the star running back had game-winning touchdowns against Oklahoma and Texas. He also had three scores in a much-needed road win against TCU along with two touchdowns in a comeback win against Baylor. Throughout the season, we saw him excel with fantastic vision at the offensive line combined with elite athleticism and speed.

Alright, I could go on and on for days about Hall’s stats and accolades, but I think you get the point. Hall was the best player on Iowa State this season, and arguably had the best season in school history. Whether he was needed as the workhorse back to pick up six yards play after play or was needed for a clutch touchdown, Hall always came up big for the Cyclones.

Wanna know one more cool thing? Breece Hall is only a sophomore.

Rightfully so, Hall got a ton of recognition by the media, both nationally and locally. But redshirt senior Kene Nwangwu might’ve very well been the biggest unsung hero on the team. I’m going to talk about Nwangwu as a running back, but see our special seams recap next week for his season review as a returner.

Nwangwu saw the field this season as the clear number two back on the Cyclones and took advantage of nearly every opportunity he got. Early in the year, probably saved the entire season with his 49-yard touchdown run against TCU. He also saved the day in a 38-31 win over Oklahoma with a clutch kick return into Oklahoma territory in the 4th quarter to give the Cyclones momentum. On senior day, Nwangwu scored a 47-yard touchdown untouched en route to a career-high 77-yard performance.

The redshirt senior finished the year with over 300 yards rushing, but his stats won’t tell the story. As far as situational opportunities go, Nwangwu was one of the most valuable Cyclones this season. It’s safe to say, that without Nwangwu, Iowa State doesn’t reach the heights that it did this season.

Finally, redshirt freshman Jirehl Brock didn’t exactly light up the stat sheet in his first year but he still added value in the passing game, especially with his ability to block. Brock saw the field a lot but didn’t get as many carries as the third back in the rotation.

Overall, each back played a role in Iowa State's success throughout the season. Breece Hall was the star of the team and the most productive player in the Matt Campbell, Kene Nwangwu was clutch and performed in big situations and Jirehl Brock showed some promise as the future starting back.

Looking to 2021

2021 will be the most anticipated season in the history of Iowa State football. The Cyclones return 20 out of 22 starters, Breece Hall is one of them. Expectations are high, as Hall has opened up in the top ten for early Heisman odds nearly every sportsbook.

Jirehl Brock returns for his sophomore season as the clear number two back with the departure of Kene Nwangwu. Look for Brock to play a very big part in Iowa State’s success next season, primarily as a pass-catching back that can also be used in short-yardage situations.

The 2021 recruiting class also welcomes Dion Silas, a 5’6 athlete who could see a unique role as the third running back. Look for a scouting report on Silas in our offseason scouting report series.

We know exactly what to expect out of this group next season, the best in the Big 12 and one of the best in the entire. Hall and Brock will come out more motivated, faster, stronger and quicker. The entire offensive line retuns and they should be massively improved. As the offensive line gets better, more and more holes will open up in the run game.

Much like we saw in 2020, there will be high expectations for this group in 2021.