Back breakdown: A half without David Montgomery

Quarterback Brock Purdy hands the ball off to running back David Montgomery during the 2nd half of the ISU vs WV Game Oct. 13. Iowa State Defeated West Virginia 14-30

Trevor Holbrook

Heading to Austin, Texas for a night game against the Longhorns without a star running back for half the game is a daunting task for freshman quarterback Brock Purdy.

Luckily for him, he’s already thrived in a similar situation.

When the Cyclones traveled to Stillwater, Oklahoma in October, coach Matt Campbell mixed it up. After a Zeb Noland drive, Iowa State swapped in Purdy. It wasn’t the only new face in the game with junior running back David Montgomery out due to injury.

It’s likely the running back usage will vary from the Oklahoma State game considering Purdy has more snaps than two under his belt; the matchup also provides a different look, but some of the same tendencies may stay in the second go-around.

The Cyclones are stuck with 30 minutes of Montgomery-less football against Texas. Here’s a breakdown of the running backs in Iowa State’s 48-42 win over Oklahoma State.


Iowa State doesn’t have a traditional system at backup running back. Behind Montgomery, the Cyclones list redshirt junior Sheldon Croney Jr., redshirt freshman Johnnie Lang, redshirt sophomore Kene Nwangwu and redshirt senior Mike Warren.

The jumble of backup running backs all saw action against Oklahoma State. Nwangwu carried the largest workload with 10 carries and 49 yards. Lang found his way on the field quite a bit, but he was limited to three carries. The redshirt freshman started the game and contributed on downs with passing situations or when Purdy rushed.

Croney Jr. played a lot and received four carries for 20 yards and a score. He also added two catches for six yards. Croney Jr. saw the most red zone action of the four running backs.

The Cyclones also used Croney Jr. paired with Nwangwu. A couple times, Iowa State kept Purdy in the shotgun with the two running backs next to him. Nwangwu received the handoff twice with Croney Jr. lead blocking. 

Warren unofficially played one snap for the Cyclones against Oklahoma State, where he provided pass protection for Purdy. Warren tacked on more playing time in the following week against West Virginia — again, in pass protection.


Iowa State tends to leave Montgomery in the back field next to Purdy. Against the Cowboys, Iowa State shifted its running backs around. The Cyclones frequently left Purdy in an empty back field with a running back split out (usually Nwangwu or Croney Jr.), then Purdy would bring them back in motion and into the back field.

A couple times, the running back stayed split out with Purdy alone in the shotgun. 

Some of the motion plays consisted of a running back motioning past Purdy, as a fake jet sweep look. The Cyclones also replicated this look with wide receiver Deshaunte Jones.

Purdy options

Purdy rushed for his highest total yardage without Montgomery next to him. The freshman carried the ball 19 times for 84 yards and a score. The score was one of Purdy’s early rushes.

Purdy faked a handoff to Croney Jr. with freshman Tarique Milton motioning past before the snap. One defender bit on Croney Jr., and Purdy freed himself of the other defender with a pump fake to Milton. 

Purdy incorporates rushing abilities other Iowa State quarterbacks (outside of maybe Re-al Mitchell) don’t have. Iowa State used more read options against Oklahoma State than it has in games since. 

Without Montgomery, keep an eye on the volume of Purdy’s rushes.