Jirehl Brock shines in start, but Iowa State's running back competition still isn't over
AMES – Jirehl Brock likes to keep things simple. For all the work, nuance and skill it takes to be a successful Big 12 running back, the fourth-year Iowa State rusher prefers to keep a narrowly-focused goal.
“Every time I go out there,” he said. “I want to run with the mentality to not get tackled.”
Brock accomplished that ultimate goal just one time – scoring a touchdown – but avoided getting tackled long enough to rack up 104 yards on 16 carries in his first career regular-season start Saturday as the Cyclones handled Southeast Missouri, 42-10.
“I said (earlier this week) he was a north and south runner,” all-Big 12 wideout Xavier Hutchinson said. "But today, I hadn’t seen some of the moves he did.
“He made plays.”
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It was an excellent start to the season for Brock, who is tasked not only with replacing All-American Breece Hall in the backfield but with staving off stiff competition from a trio of freshmen running backs, who look talented enough to push him for carries.
“That whole group is (dynamic),” Iowa State coach Matt Campbell said. “I think you saw an extra gear from Jirehl. I think, you know, whether it showed up or not, Eli Sanders has a couple of gears. Deon (Silas) - you saw flashes of that, too. Certainly (Cartevious Norton) has those things.
“It'll be really good to continue to grow forward with that running back room, but boy, I was really proud of what those guys did as well today.”
For Brock, it was a game three years in the making.
He came to Iowa State as one of the stars of the 2019 recruiting class only to see a less-heralded recruit, Hall, quickly blossom into a star as a true freshman. Brock saw just 22 carries his first two seasons at Iowa State before getting more consistent time as a third-down back last year.
Now he’s been given the chance to take over a position that has been home to two NFL draft picks over the last six seasons at Iowa State.
“From the winter to the spring to fall camp, I really feel like he has just continued to grow and get better,” Campbell said. “From his standpoint, getting off to a really great start, I don't know if you could ask for a better start to him being the starting tailback here play.”
The start, though, looked a little shaky. Or at least wasn’t as productive as the finish.
Brock had just three carries for six yards in the first half as Iowa State’s passing game led the way.
“I think tailback, sometimes it takes getting in the flow of the game a little bit," Campbell said. “And I just think it naturally came a little bit smoother as the game went on.”
In the second half, Brock had 13 carries for 98 yards.
“You go in fall camp, you might hit a few times but you’re not hitting all the time,” Brock said. "And every run seems to kind of break when you’re in practice because it’s just (not full contact).
“The rhythm is definitely different. The speed is definitely different. But after a few of them, you kind of get in a rhythm with it and you can run away with it.”
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The day helped Brock solidify his spot atop the Cyclone depth chart, but there were enough flashes of potential from the three freshmen to not completely rule the competition over. Norton was especially electric, though he carried the ball just three times before leaving the game with what Campbell said were cramps.
“I do think he's okay,” Campbell said. “We'll figure it out as we see through the week.”
Even with Sanders, Silas and Norton having their moments, the running back room continues to belong to Brock.
“He showed that all spring,” quarterback Hunter Dekkers said. “We weren’t surprised by all that, but I think it showed the world what kind of running back he truly is.”
Travis Hines covers Iowa State University sports for the Des Moines Register and Ames Tribune. Contact him at email@example.com or (515) 284-8000. Follow him at @TravisHines21.