Takeaways: Iowa State gets running back production and defensive injuries

Quarterback Brock Purdy attempts to throw a pass against the West Virginia game Oct. 12, 2019 in Morgantown, West Virginia.

Noah Rohlfing

Iowa State continues to make October football look easy.

The Cyclones recovered quickly from a rough first quarter to waltz past the now-3-3 West Virginia Mountaineers on the road Saturday. Brock Purdy didn’t have a big day offensively, but the Cyclones found a recipe for success they haven’t had all season: offensive balance. 

Now 4-2 with a feisty Texas Tech team on the horizon, it’s time to take stock of what the Cyclones can glean from their win over the ‘Eers. 

Breece Hall makes his case

Iowa State’s been searching for a starting running back all season long. At times the guy has been Johnnie Lang, at times it’s been Kene Nwangwu and last weekend it was Brock Purdy. Coach Matt Campbell said the decision was “getting closer” heading into Saturday. 

But this weekend it was a break-out game for true freshman Breece Hall. 

The Wichita, Kansas, native and four-star recruit was hardly used in the prior two Big 12 games, at times sitting fifth on the depth chart with fellow freshman Jirehl Brock getting touches ahead of him. 

This was not so on Saturday, as Hall came into the game for the Cyclones’ third possession and didn’t come off the field. Hall ran with power and purpose as he became the first Cyclone not named David Montgomery to get 20-plus carries in a football game since Mike Warren in his false dawn season of 2016. 

Hall tallied 26 carries for 132 yards and three scores — and made a strong case to be the Cyclones’ starting running back moving forward. Hall showed a pure running style with power and an ability to make quick cuts the Cyclones’ other backs have missed over the season’s first five games. 

With Purdy not as effective on the ground, Hall’s production was vital to the Iowa State win. He has to show he can continue a large part of this production over the course of the season, but his emergence does spark a resemblance to the breakout freshman campaign of Montgomery in 2016. 

Watch this space.

Defensive depth tested 

This wasn’t the happiest defensive performance for Iowa State for no other reason than the players who didn’t play a big part for the Cyclones. 

Greg Eisworth — the junior safety who has been the lynchpin of the defense in the “Star” position — was in street clothes Saturday, watching from the sideline with a shoulder injury. Campbell was non-committal during the week as to whether Eisworth would in fact play, but he described him as “probable.” What changed is unknown, but Eisworth is critical to Iowa State’s defense and its effectiveness against the rest of the Big 12.

In his place, Braxton Lewis got the start, with Justin Bickham and Arnold Azunna playing snaps at the “Star” as well. In the first half, the Cyclones’ defense suffered as the safeties were a bit off the pace. West Virginia was able to move the ball effectively and scored the game-tying touchdown right before the break.

In the second half, though, Lewis recovered a fumble and picked off a pass as part of a scoreless half for the Mountaineers. 

Middle linebacker O’Rien Vance was injured early on, suffering what appeared to be an upper-body injury. Vance was in the locker room for the rest of the first half.

In his place, Jake Hummel took most of the snaps. Again, after early struggles, Iowa State held the Mountaineers scoreless in the final two quarters. 

Postgame, Campbell called Eisworth “day-to-day” while calling Vance “fine.” Whether those two will play against the Red Raiders on Oct. 12 will likely go down to the wire, but the Cyclones can take solace in their performance without three key contributors, as the ESPN broadcast crew confirmed JaQuan Bailey’s injury as a broken leg. 

Brayden Narveson breaks through

Not much here, but it was interesting to see the redshirt freshman get some run against the Mountaineers — his first action on-field since signing for the Cyclones in 2018 as a three-star recruit. 

Before Narveson’s redshirt year, the Cyclones raved about his raw ability but said he needed to get used to the college game. This has led to Connor Assalley having an extended run as the starting kicker for the past year-and-a-half. Iowa State was hesitant to take field goals Saturday, going for it twice on fourth downs inside the West Virginia 25-yard line. 

But when the Cyclones did eventually attempt a field goal in the early fourth quarter, it was Narveson — not Assalley — who took the field to line up a 45-yard try.

It was true, and while Assalley did take the extra points after the Cyclones’ last two touchdowns, it gives Campbell something to think about for the rest of the season.