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Iowa State Daily

Running back room showcases major strides in 27-14 win over TCU

Tyler Coe
Abu Sama takes one to the house for a touchdown against TCU at Jack Trice Stadium on Oct. 7, 2023.

AMES — The Cyclone running back room and emerging offensive line highlighted Iowa States to its 27-14 win against TCU in the Jack Trice Legacy game.

Over the course of the first half, it was a rollercoaster for the Cyclones offense. While they had six plays go for over 10 yards, Iowa State couldn’t put together solid back-to-back plays for most of its five first-half drives.

Even with some help early on from the defense, which forced a pair of interceptions and a turnover on downs on TCU’s first three drives, the Cyclones failed to execute on their first two opportunities before scoring the first points of the game.

After opening up their third drive of the game with a 24-yard connection between quarterback Rocco Becht and tight end Stevo Klotz, the Cyclones found success on its first trip to the red zone. A sharp cut to the outside and into the endzone from running back Eli Sanders put the Cyclones on the board, his second rushing touchdown of the season.

Sanders was not the only Iowa State running back with a career game.

On his second carry of the game, Abu Sama III ran with a full head of steam and with the help of a huge hole opened up by the offensive line, he took the ball 55 yards to the endzone for the true freshman’s first career touchdown.

Offensive lineman Jim Bonifas talked about the thrill of executing his block and watching his young running back blaze his way into the endzone.

“There’s nothing better than doing your block and seeing ‘man there it goes’,” Bonifas said.

That set the tone for what would be an impactful second half for the Cyclones running back room. After rushing for 70 yards in the first half, Iowa State doubled that with 145 rushing yards in the second half highlighted by Sama’s blazing run.

Campbell talked about the adjustments he and his coaches made at halftime and commended his players for executing the mid-game switches.

“I think we knew we were really close and we were able to find some different alignments that really helped us,” Campbell said. “Both tight end and certainly backfield alignments that really helped us be able to find some creases. A lot of credit to our coaches and obviously great credit to our kids to execute.”

Iowa State benefited from big plays on their first three scoring drives of the game, which combined for 126 yards on 11 plays in just over three and a half minutes of game time.

The Cyclone’s first long scoring drive came late in the third quarter, where a couple of nice throws from Becht and solid runs by Sanders and Cartevious Norton culminated in tight end Easton Dean’s first receiving touchdown of the season.

With pressure coming on play action, Becht took his time which allowed Dean to get open and toss his tenth passing touchdown of the season.

Becht was not forced to make huge plays throughout the game thanks to the success of the Cyclone’s running back room which rushed for a total of 210 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 34 carries.

The redshirt freshman quarterback gave credit to the offensive line for stepping up for the second week in a row and was appreciative of how much easier it made his job.

“I think it’s just the offensive lines realizing that they’re dogs and they can do it,” Becht said. “It was an easy night for me and I’m proud of the team so if we can do that every week that would be awesome.”

While he had some inconsistency throughout the game, Becht turned in a game-manager performance with his 138 passing yards, the touchdown to Dean and completed 57% of his attempts.

“Rocco took care of the football again,” Campbell said. “I thought he managed the game exceptionally and made some big plays when he had to.”

The Iowa State running back room looked the best it has all season with Sama, Sanders and Cartevious Norton all bouncing off of defenses, making cuts and finding holes up the middle which they struggled to do all season.

The team’s running back by committee system was at its best against the Horned Frogs, and Bonifas gave credit to each back for their preparation in practice which allowed them to find success.

“It’s great to have stable running backs like that,” Bonifas said. “If one guy goes down you have other great options to go to which I think has been key for us. Especially with how young they are and how well they come to practice and learn the schemes and execute them in the games it’s nothing short of exceptional from those guys, and hopefully, we keep that moving.”

A run game is only as strong as its offensive line often times, which continued the development it had in the Oklahoma game after struggling to get things going all season.

Both the offensive line and the runningback room have seen their fair share of changes, including true freshmen at both levels having to step in, but it is the growth in the run game that Campbell has seen each week that makes him confident heading forward.

“I think that group has played better every week,” Campbell said. “I think there was a point where we had to draw a line in the sand, and they got to keep getting better. If we want to be a great football team we got to still run the football.”

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