Blum: Breece vs. Troy

Oct 10, 2020; Ames, Iowa, USA; Iowa State Cyclones running back Breece Hall (28) runs the ball against the Texas Tech Red Raiders at Jack Trice Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Powers-USA TODAY Sports.

It’s mid-November, Iowa State is atop the Big 12 conference, ranked 17th in the nation and has the nation’s leading rusher in yards per game in Breece Hall.

Two of those three things have never happened in mid-November since the 1970s. That’s right, Iowa State has never been atop the Big 12 conference standings in November and hasn’t been ranked in the top seventeen past November 10th since 1975.

However, Iowa State has had the nation’s leading rusher on November 10th  in years past. You might remember his name, he led the nation in rushing in 1995 and 1996 wearing No. 28 — Troy Davis.

This isn’t meant to be a Michael Jordan vs. LeBron GREATEST OF ALL TIME debate. It is to illustrate the special season and career Breece Hall is putting together in comparison to the best player I have ever seen wear the Cardinal and Gold.

To adequately compare the two, I asked my friend, wizard and keeper-of all-things-Cyclone-data, Chris Andringa, for some help. Andringa has a spread-sheet compiled of all of Davis’ games at Iowa State down to the quarter.

But first let’s first set the table with the incredible Breece Hall.

Hall stepped on campus as a true freshman in 2019 and ironically caused a slight controversy when he requested to wear No. 28, which was sacrilegious in some Cyclone circles as no player had worn that number since Darren Davis (Troy’s brother and also one of the greats) used up his eligibility in 1999. That controversy over No. 28 seems like a century ago.

Hall emerged as the featured back last season in the fifth game at West Virginia. He ran for 132 yards and three touchdowns in Morgantown and hasn’t slowed down since.  In eight games as the feature back, Hall churned for 813 yards on 168 carries. He averaged 4.83 yards per carry and found the end-zone 10 times in those eight games.

This season he has taken the leap towards stardom.

Through seven games, Hall has 1,034 yards on 165 carries and has scored 13 rushing touchdowns. He is first in the NATION in yards, yards per game and is third in the country in rushing touchdowns. He has run for 100 yards or more and scored at least a touchdown in every single game.

So, in a total of 15 games as the featured back, Hall has put up 1,847 yards on 333 carries and has scored 24 touchdowns. He has averaged 5.54 yards per carry in those games.

This year, Hall broke the 1,000 yards rushing barrier in 157 carries, which is the second-fastest Cyclone to get to 1,000 yards behind only… Troy Davis in 1995.

Looking back, what Troy Davis did is an absolute tall-tale. The man ran for 2,000 yards in back to back seasons (which has still not been equaled) on teams that played only eleven games (!!) and with a passing attack that was essentially non-existent.

Davis burst on the scene as a sophomore in 1995 after being lightly used by the previous regime under Jim Walden. He ran for 291 yards in his first game as the featured back against Ohio and never slowed down. Davis broke the 1,000 barrier in the fifth game of the season on his 153rd carry, or four carries quicker than Hall. He finished that campaign with 2,010 yards rushing on 333 carries and fifteen touchdowns.

1996 was even more remarkable. Davis ran for 100 or more yards in every single game of the season, finishing with 2,185 yards and a school-record 21 touchdowns on 402 carries (!!!!) in eleven games. This effort got Davis to New York, where he promptly won the Heisman (err…got jobbed by the SEC media in favor of Danny Wuerffel).

So to directly compare, in their respective first 15 games as the featured back:

Hall-1,847 yards on 333 carries. 5.54 yards per carry and 24 rushing touchdowns. An average of 123 yards per game

Davis-2,927 yards on 495 carries. 5.91 yards per carry and 27 rushing touchdowns. An average of 195 yards per game.

There are several caveats to mention.

It was a different-looking game in the mid-1990s. Davis had 53 carries in one game in 1996 against UNI for goodness sakes! But there is one notion your favorite tavern-Hawk friend always likes to bring up in regards to Davis that I’d like to dispel. The notion is that Davis racked up yards in blow-outs when Iowa State was going against second-teamers. Not remotely true.

In fact (thanks to Chris Andringa), Davis ran for more first-half yards than second-half yards in his career, which crushes the idea that it was only the 4th quarter when he put up meaningless yards. Davis was dominant at all times for a team that went 5-17 in those two seasons.

Never in my lifetime did I think we’d see a back in the Cardinal and Gold that would be in the same conversation as Troy was, leading the country in rushing. What Troy did was incomparable and still is. Troy and Breece may both wear #28, but the way they run and the Iowa State they played for are completely different.

Hall isn’t Troy Davis, but this isn’t 1996. This is 2020 and Iowa State is alone in first in the Big 12.  

Hall is worthy of all of the accolades he is going to receive. He doesn’t need to be compared to Davis or any other former Cyclone in order to get his proper respect.

The nation may be slow to pick up on the greatness of running backs in Ames (again), but Hall will let the numbers and the wins his Cyclones keep racking up do his talking.

Troy already wrote his tall-tale, Breece is just getting started.

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