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No. 21 Iowa State survives Northern Iowa in 3 OT, 29-26

Iowa State running back Breece Hall, right, runs the ball as he is tackled by Northern Iowa defensive back Christian Jegen during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019, in Ames. (AP Photo/Matthew Putney)

AMES – Iowa State’s big question on offense going into the season was, who was going to be the running back?

After No. 21 Iowa State narrowly beat UNI on Saturday 29-26 coach Matt Campbell isn’t any closer to an answer.

Sophomore Johnnie Lang and true freshman Breece Hall got all of the carries in the first half.

Lang rushed 14 times for 60 yards, averaging 4.3 yards per rush and a long of 12 yards. Hall rushed 11 times for 47 yards, averaging 4.3 yards per rush and a long of nine yards.

In the second half, junior Kene Nwangwu and senior Sheldon Croney got their opportunities.

Nwangwu started the second half rushing four times for 30 yards before leaving with an injury His longest rush was 12 yards. Croney was the running back in the fourth quarter and all three over time.

He rushed 13 times for 56 yards and the game-winning touchdown, averaging 4.3 yards per carry and a long of 14 yards. Croney also had a fumble that Brock Purdy recovered to save the game.

All three running backs who are still healthy averaged 4.3 yards per carry.

“Sheldon is like the rock in there,” Campbell said. “That’s the hot topic, who’s the tailback? That’s why you need these moments and these games and these situations, so you can figure that out. All the guys had spurts of positive things that happened. Johnnie had a couple of good runs, Breece had a couple of good runs, Kene got dinged up – we’ll see what that situation looks like. Then Sheldon stepped in and steadied the ship at the end of the game.

“All the guys can do a lot of different things. Did I think somebody separated themselves? I wouldn’t say that today, either. It’ll be a while until those guys figure it out and until somebody gets into a groove.”

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Croney likes knowing he has his coaches’ trust at the end of games.

“It’s nice for me knowing that they trust me in those situations, that my hard work is paying off and that my other teammates trust me in those situations, too,” Croney said.

Even with the fumble, Campbell trusted Croney to be the guy at the end of the game.

“Sheldon’s earned that over time,” Campbell said. “We’re ushering in some new faces and some new names and it was their first time under the lights with people out there. There are going to be growing pains. To have guys that can at least steady the ship for you while some of the other guys start to get comfortable in their roles, is huge.”

As a team, Iowa State rushed for 185 yards. If you take out sacks, Iowa State rushed for 203 yards.

The Cyclones had no problem moving the ball, and part of that credit goes to the offensive line.

“I thought we really ran the ball extremely well,” Campbell said. “Schematically, we did some things early where we didn’t know what we were going to get, and I thought we made some great changes.”

Iowa State had two of its biggest rushes called back due to penalties. Right guard Josh Knipfel kept blocking even though his helmet was ripped off, which was a 15-yard penalty on a play that gained 20, and center Colin Newell was called for a hold on a Brock Purdy touchdown run.

“To me, I think there was growth to be honest with you,” Campbell said. “When we needed those guys the most, I thought they did a really good job today. We have to continue to put them in a position, when we run the football, to have great success. That’s a Matt Campbell deal.”

Campbell and his coaching staff have a bye week to evaluate the running backs and the offense line before the Cyclones play their next game against Iowa at Jack Trice Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 14.

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