AMES — Standard stats don’t do Iowa State running back David Montgomery justice.
He rushed for 1,198 yards and scored 11 touchdowns last season. His yards per carry average was 4.4 and he averaged 88 yards per game.
Those are good numbers, but they don’t tell the whole David Montgomery story.
Montgomery broke the FBS record with 109 forced missed tackles, shattering Dalvin Cook’s and Kareem Hunt’s record of 89.
He had 885 yards after contact.
His advanced stats are so good, Pro Football Focus has him ranked as the third best player in the nation.
Montgomery doesn’t break tackles at the expense of ball security. He only had one fumble last season, and even that was a controversial call at the goal line in the Liberty Bowl.
But it’s that fumble that Iowa State Coach Matt Campbell said is fueling his junior running back.
“I feel like I let my team down,” Montgomery said. “All the good stuff I did was never enough, it never amounted to what it could’ve been. I definitely don’t want to let my team go through that again.”
Keep in mind, Iowa State beat Memphis in the Liberty Bowl 21-20, and Montgomery still feels like he let his team down.
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But Campbell believes Montgomery can take a step forward — assuming the offensive line improves.
“I think the reality for David is — whether it’s fair or unfair — is he has a lot of room for growth,” Campbell said. “You’re talking about a young guy who was a high school quarterback. You look back at his video tape and I think David’s growth will come with the offensive line’s growth.
“David, a lot of it was improvised. David has phenomenal athleticism in his ability to do things in space. That natural running back talent and skill set, I don’t know if we’ve got to see that yet because there’s been a lot of improvising.”
Behind Montgomery, Iowa State has a stable of running backs — some proven, some not.
Mike Warren was a 1,000-yard rusher his freshman year in 2015, but fell by the wayside after Montgomery arrived.
Kene Nwangwu burst on the scene as a true freshman, especially on kick returns. But he also rushed 27 times for 133 yards averaging 4.9 yards per carry.
Sheldon Croney saw time last season when Montgomery went down with an injury in the Kansas State game, rushing for 63 of his 164 yards.
Johnnie Lang is the final piece to Iowa State’s backup running back puzzle.
Montgomery describes Lang best: “Very, very shifty — he can make you miss in a phone booth.”
It’s important that Iowa State’s backups are ready because Montgomery was used so much last season that he was banged up by the end of it. They’ll need to give Campbell good minutes while Montgomery rests.
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Even if one of the backups isn’t the one to go in for Montgomery for a set of downs, running backs coach Nate Scheelhaase and Campbell believe they can utilize them in the pass game.
Scheelhaase, a former Illinois quarterback, said Lang and Nwangwu have good hands. Scheelhaase said he can still throw it pretty good and sometimes at practice he’ll wind up and fire one at them to make sure their hands are ready.
Montgomery also has a pretty good set of hands. He caught 36 passes for 296 yards last season, fifth best on the team.
It’s yet another way for Campbell to use the junior from Cincinnati.
The Cyclones have a number of offensive weapons — quarterback Kyle Kempt, receivers Hakeem Butler and Matt Eaton and even tight end Chase Allen — but make no mistake, Iowa State will go how Montgomery goes.
Those guys will be able to take some of the pressure off of Montgomery, but he’ll be Iowa State’s bell cow.
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