Iowa State finds its running game
By LUKE MEREDITH
AP Sports Writer
AMES — Establishing the run has been something Iowa State has wanted to accomplish all season.
The Cyclones finally found their ground game in last week’s win at Kansas and they’re hoping that blueprint can help them finish yet another lost season on a high note.
Iowa State (2-8, 1-6 Big 12) rushed for 238 yards on 46 carries in a 31-24 victory over the Jayhawks that snapped a five-game losing skid. True freshman David Montgomery led the way with a career-high, 169-yard effort that earned him Big 12 newcomer of the week honors.
Montgomery and the Cyclones host Texas Tech (4-6, 2-5) Saturday as part of a two-game home stand to close out 2016.
“A lot of what David has done is a credit to his process and his work ethic. I really appreciate his detail and maturity,” Iowa State coach Matt Campbell said. “He’s really worked hard at studying the game on film and being locked in.”
Despite a makeshift offensive line, Iowa State thought it had a chance to be a decent running team because it had Mike Warren, the nation’s leading freshman running back in 2015.
But with Warren struggling with an ankle injury, Montgomery stepped in and gave the Cyclones a welcome boost.
Montgomery, a Cincinnati native who rushed for 41 touchdowns on 10.1 yards per carry as a high school senior a year ago, was one of the most promising players in Campbell’s first recruiting class. Campbell immediately saw Montgomery’s speed as an asset for a program with needs across the board.
Montgomery averaged at least four yards per carry in each of his first seven Big 12 games. He is at 5.1 yards per carry overall, despite not getting much of a chance to develop the rhythm that comes with extended playing time.
The promise Montgomery showed in a 34-24 loss to No. 8 Oklahoma two weeks ago came to fruition against the Jayhawks. He averaged seven yards a carry as Iowa State scored 28 of the game’s final 38 points.
“At some point you go with the hot hand too. And he had the hot hand,” Campbell said. The “tenacity that he was running with on Saturday led us to say that we really (keep) giving the ball to the guy who’s really running well.”
But the most surprising development in Iowa State’s rushing attack has been the rise of walk-on Mitchell Harger.
Harger, a redshirt senior from Alburnett, Iowa, a town of less than 1,000 people, spent his first three years with the Cyclones as a special teams player. His only notable moment came last year at West Virginia, when he converted a fake punt.
But with Iowa State trailing Kansas 24-16, Campbell gave Harger a chance as a lead back for one series.
Harger ran the ball eight times out of nine plays, driving Iowa State down the field before scoring from six yards out on third-and-goal.
Harger might not play much more this season as Warren gets healthier and Montgomery continues to improve. But Harger’s work ethic and attitude have rubbed off on a team still learning what it takes to win consistently.
“He comes in here every single day and he hasn’t complained once,” wide receiver Allen Lazard said. “He’s always worked extremely hard. He’s just happy to be here. It just makes me appreciate my life because I am a scholarship guy.”