AMES — Iowa State football coach Matt Campbell isn’t going to tip his hand on who will be the first running back in the game, who will get the first handoff or who will get the most handoffs Saturday when No. 24 Iowa State hosts Northern Iowa (11 a.m, FS1).
It’s a five-way competition that will last into the bye week.
So, what does Campbell look for in his running backs?
“I think the trait of the great running back is vision, in my opinion — and then the vision to be able to make one vertical cut and get north and south,” Campbell said. “The great ones that we’ve had, they’ve all had that one singular trait that was really special.
“I think David (Montgomery), we saw him do that so many times — stick his foot in the ground and get north and south.”
Vision is something that can be hard (or impossible) to coach. Coaches can watch all the film in the world with a player or pull them aside during practice to show them what cuts they should be making. But vision tends to be a natural trait, not a taught one.
“I think you either have it or you don’t,” Campbell said. “I think there’s been flashes in all these guys showing the ability to do some of that, but again, until this really gets live, until it gets under the lights — who can really do it? Who can do it when it matters? Who can do it on third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 and some of those tough situations?
“I do think there’s guys that have that capability, have shown flashes, which has got us at least excited about where that room’s got the ability to go, but until it happens and prove it, I think we’re still at a little bit of a loss to say, ‘Yeah, we’ve definitely got guys that can do that.’”
Iowa State cornerbacks Datrone Young and Anthony Johnson both played as freshmen last season, and played well.
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But they had seniors Brian Peavy and D’Andre Payne to lean on. This season, they’re the guys.
“I feel better, from my standpoint, that those guys have played in the big environment,” Campbell said. “They’ve had to play when things were tough, they’ve had to play down the stretch when games were big. It gives me the ability to have real confidence in them and not just, ‘Hey, this is what we saw in practice.’”
On top of their game maturity, Campbell said the duo has physically matured entering their sophomore seasons.
“The physical maturity that those guys have added to the playing maturity has been a real positive for me,” Campbell said. “The thing I loved about Peavy is he was physically a mature football player. It’s what allowed him to make some big plays — he was a great tackler as well as he could cover.
“Both Datrone and Anthony, they physically look the part of a corner, now. Both of those guys were playing young a year ago. They could certainly cover and run, but they were also thin — they were young puppies. I think they’ve physically matured knowing they’re going to have to anchor in. We ask those corners to do a lot both in the run game and in the pass game. I feel really confident in those two guys.”
Building on a record
Iowa State defensive end JaQuan Bailey already has tied the school record for career sacks with 18.5.
“I think, really, what caused it is his work ethic,” Campbell said. “I would compare his work ethic much and similar to what David’s work ethic was like. He was a guy and JaQuan’s a guy who’s constantly here. He’s here when nobody’s watching. He’s the guy on Friday nights, Saturday nights, Sunday mornings — he’s in here perfecting his craft. And JaQuan’s obviously got a great passion for what he does.
“Yeah, we’re going need his best and, really, that’s my expectation from JaQuan.”