Iowa State running back Breece Hall is the Big 12 running back that is catching everyone’s attention this season.
Hall currently leads the conference with 1,260 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns. He is second in the nation behind only UTSA’s Sincere McCormick.
Iowa State (7-2, 7-1 Big 12) has the third-highest scoring offense in the Big 12 this season (33.1 points per game) largely on the back of Hall. He has rushed for over 100 yards in eight out of his nine games this season and he has scored multiple touchdowns in all but three. The Cyclones are averaging 437.1 yards per game as a team, Hall is averaging 149.8 by himself.
Hall will be the West Virginia defense’s number-one concern when the Mountaineers (5-3, 4-3) travel to Ames, Iowa to play the Cyclones on Saturday.
“The thing that really sticks out about him is just running after contact,” WVU football coach Neal Brown said of Hall. “He’s tough to tackle.”
Brown said Hall has a “unique ability to break tackles” that has led to his success this season. Because of that, getting Hall on the ground early is WVU’s biggest focus in preparation this week.
“It’s everything,” defensive line coach Jordan Lesley said. “If you let a guy like him get going, then it’s going to be a long day.”
Lesley and co-defensive coordinator Jahmile Addae said the biggest thing to avoid with Hall is letting him get into the second and third levels and put WVU in situations where defensive backs need to tackle him.
“It’s almost impossible to do so,” Addae said with a smile. “You’d like to avoid all situations where anyone has to tackle this dude. Everybody wants to get the football onto a DB and force them to tackle. Our guys understand the issues there, they understand the challenge that presents and their job is to stand tall in the paint and get the ball down when they need to.”
One of those secondary players is safety Alonzo Addae. The senior said those kind of situations are hard to avoid and it is up to WVU’s defense as a whole to rally to the ball and make sure they get Hall to the ground.
“There’s probably going to be situations like that,” Alonzo said. “I think it’s very important that the defense as a whole, we pride ourselves on getting 11 hats on the ball so that’ll definitely be a focus this week.”
Stopping Hall before he gets into WVU’s secondary will be up to defensive linemen like Dante Stills. The junior defensive end said it is going to be important for WVU’s linemen to stay in good positions to make tackles when the opportunities arise.
“He’s definitely a good ballplayer, he’s physical, strong. That’s kind of the main goal is making sure we wrap him up and get him down to the ground,” Stills said. “Our coach preaches that the correct way to tackle is to be in a great position to make tackles. If you’re off balance it’s hard to make those tackles, especially when you’re two inches from the guy and it’s close. You’ve got to adjust yourself quick and stay in good body position.”
WVU offensive coordinator Gerad Parker said the ability to break tackles comes from a lot of different things.
“Number one is the use of your off-hand, the one not on the football,” Parker explained. “I think the use of the off-hand..contact balance, all these things that go into making people miss. It really is a multitude of many things and his style. There’s different styles of running backs, guys that make you miss and guys that force you to miss.”
As good as Hall has been this season, the Mountaineers have their own tackle-breaking running back in Leddie Brown. The junior is second in the conference with 897 rushing yards, trailing only Hall.
“We’re both physical backs, we both run with a purpose,” Leddie Brown said. “[Breaking tackles] has a lot to do with my off-hand, swiping the defenders off me. It also has to do with leg drive and knee drive and I have pretty strong legs and a pretty good knee drive so that plays a factor in it too.”
The Mountaineers and Cyclones will kick off at 3:30 p.m. EST on Saturday in Ames. The game will be broadcast on ESPN.