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AMES, Ia. — David Montgomery has had to fight for almost every yard he’s gotten this season.
The Iowa State running back has run over defenders, shed tacklers and sprinted around opposing players as he’s inched closer and closer to the 1,000-yard rushing plateau.
Montgomery could finally get there Saturday when Iowa State plays at Baylor at 1:30 p.m.
“What he does and how he does it is really special,” said Iowa State coach Matt Campbell. “He’s one of the best I’ve ever been around in terms of who he is every day, to his ability to make something out of nothing.”
It’s already been a memorable season for Montgomery, who ranks second in the Big 12 Conference in rushing yards per game (93.6) and second in rushing touchdowns (11). The sophomore also has 936 yards on the ground and needs just 64 to reach 1,000 for the year.
It’s a coveted mark that Iowa State running backs have struggled to reach in recent history. Mike Warren did it in 2015 and became the first since Alexander Robinson to achieve it in 2009. The 1,000-yard plateau is often a mark used to separate good running backs from great. And it’s a number a lot of running backs focus on reaching.
“I didn’t even know I was close,” Montgomery said. “I really don’t care about it. I just want to win.”
Montgomery is helping Iowa State do that thanks to his tough, grind it out, refuse to be brought down approach. What’s especially impressive with Montgomery’s total is how he’s achieved it. The 5-foot-11, 219-pound running back has constantly clawed for yards behind an inexperienced offensive line that will start two sophomores and a freshman Saturday.
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Iowa State’s line, which has done well at times in pass protection, has continually struggled to create running room for Montgomery. That means he’s had to make his own magic, like he did against then No. 15 Oklahoma State when Montgomery took a handoff, went to his right and couldn’t find room to run. So he cut back to his left and eluded multiple attempted tackles on his way to a 22-yard touchdown run.
Montgomery could have been brought down nearly three different times, but he kept going and dodging defenders. It’s something Campbell has seen all season long.
“At times, it’s not like there been gaping holes,” Campbell said. “He’s had to strain to get there.”
One way or another, Montgomery usually gets where he’s set out to go. He leads the nation with 88 missed tackles.
“The reality of David is the ability to have a great sense of where the defense is and his ability to stick his foot in the ground and go north and south after he makes the cut is maybe as good as anybody I’ve ever seen,” Campbell said.
It’s not just running the ball either. Montgomery has also caught 33 passes for 268 yards this season. Even in those situations, he’s found himself digging for extra yards. One of the biggest examples came against Oklahoma State.
With the Cyclones trailing by seven in their final possession and facing a fourth-and-13 from the Oklahoma State 22-yard line, quarterback Zeb Noland hit Montgomery in the middle of the field for a pass short of the first down marker. But Montgomery, like he has all season, still managed to fight his way to a first down to keep Iowa State’s drive alive.
“It’s unreal,” Noland said after the game. “I told him on the fourth and whatever it was, he’s getting the ball and he was ready for it. He said, ‘All right,’ So all I had to do was get him the ball and I know he’s going to make plays.”
While others have been quick to criticize the line for failing to help Montgomery this season, he’s quick to support the group and even credit them for his success.
“It’s never on my own,” Montgomery said. “I think people take so much from my offensive line. My offensive line is good. We’re young. That’s all it is.”
And as good as Montgomery has already been, Campbell said he may still be just scratching the surface of what he could do after spending some of his high school career as a quarterback.
“He’s still learning, in my opinion, how to be a running back,” Campbell said. “I think he would tell you that. You’re asking a guy that was a high school quarterback for three years to play running back. You see that at times. You see him still maturing. There’s a point in time, too, that you have to stick your foot in the ground and get north and south. All that is just a constant growth process for David.”
Things have quickly come together for Montgomery who began last season as Warren’s backup before eventually taking over the job for the final four games. Montgomery finished that season with 563 yards on 109 carries. That small success made Montgomery even more hungry this season. Campbell said his success and work ethic is what’s already catching the attention of teams at the next level.
“The thing that allows David to be noticed is because of how he practices,” Campbell said. “The thing that you do appreciate is the same guy he is at practice is the same guy you see on Saturdays. So when you do that, people take notice. I think they see the same thing that we get to see on Saturdays, which is awesome.”
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