AMES — Iowa State football coach Matt Campbell isn’t ready to anoint Breece Hall the Cyclones’ running back.
He indicated Johnnie Lang was establishing himself as the lead running back before last Saturday’s game at West Virginia because Lang had two productive games in a row. Then Lang played only one series while Hall ran all over the Mountaineer defense, rushing 26 times for 132 yards and three touchdowns.
It’s easy to understand Campbell’s hesitation to declare Hall “the guy,” especially given he’s a true freshman. Iowa State running backs haven’t exactly been a beacon of consistency.
When the Cyclones travel to Lubbock, Texas, to play Texas Tech at 11 a.m. Saturday, Campbell hopes to get some sense of consistency from the running back position.
“The one thing Breece does have is he’s got natural running back vision,” Campbell said. “All I mean by that is Breece was a tailback coming in. He played tailback in a very similar offense of what we run here at Iowa State. I think that’s a little bit different for some of those other guys in the room. But Breece has that, so I think that vision and understanding of the offense certainly allows him — and again we’ll use coach (Tom) Manning’s phrase — to play with ‘accelerated vision.’
“It allows him to really accelerate where he’s going to go with the ball or feel where that ball needs to go on each and every play and it’s always different for a running back because of what the defense is doing on every play.”
The coaching staff has seen flashes of Hall’s potential since the spring when Hall early enrolled at Iowa State. They could see then he was the most natural runner in the room. They just needed the rest of his game to catch up, like pass protection — which Hall did an exceptional job of against West Virginia — and have the game slow down for him.
Hall continued to work and the two weeks before the West Virginia game, he became more consistent and practiced well enough to convince the coaching staff to officially burn his redshirt.
“You’ve got to earn it in practice,” Campbell said. “I think every time you go out there and have success on Saturday and you’ve earned the right to have success on Saturday because of what you did in practice — you certainly start to put a little bit of positivity in your bank a little bit.”
Hall hasn’t completely won over the coaches yet, however, because he hasn’t shown the consistency they want.
“I thought he had great vision on Saturday,” Campbell said. “I thought he did a great job of sticking his foot in the ground and getting vertical. I thought those were certainly positives for him. As to the running back battle, I think it will be interesting to watch how he handles his success. It can be handled in the opportune way for a young player. But sometimes it can work the other way where you think you’re really good and then all of a sudden you don’t do the little things well and next thing you know you’re not playing.
“I think it’s a great challenge for any evolving player in any program and certainly our program, so we’ll see how he responds and see how that whole running back room responds this week.”
On Wednesday after practice, Manning said he was “very pleased” with Hall’s week of practice up to that point.
While the coaching staff isn’t willing to crown Hall, senior receiver La’Michael Pettway noticed the difference he made in the offense.
“Our offense played well because of the variety of guys who can make plays,” Pettway said. “And now that we have a running game, we can show teams we can run and that opens up opportunities for everybody else.”
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