Stay tuned to see how much David Montgomery plays on Saturday.
Randy Peterson, firstname.lastname@example.org
AMES, Ia. — Get this: We knew David Montgomery was hurt long before he walked slowly off the TCU field Saturday night with a deep bruise somewhere in his upper arm. We knew it. We could tell.
Even though holes through which to run were a lot smaller than last season, we kind of figured something was up …
And Tuesday, coach Matt Campbell confirmed it.
Iowa State’s best running back, a preseason All-Big 12 Conference first-team pick, was injured during the game that wasn’t even a game, we were told. That’s right.
First play on that rainy Sept. 1 evening against South Dakota State. First play in the game that was cancelled 4 minutes and 5 seconds after it started.
Ouch. And now, after Saturday’s injury, the question becomes this:
How do you balance the tugging urge of playing Montgomery on Saturday at Oklahoma State as the Cyclones look for just their second win, against saving your team’s best player for the six-game stretch that will determine whether a bowl game awaits after the regular season?
“It’s a balancing act in a lot of ways, especially with some of the games that we’ve played so far — games that are really coming down to almost every possession being critical,” Campbell said during his weekly session with reporters Tuesday. “You have to be smart.”
No one’s saying Montgomery won’t play during the 6 p.m. game in Stillwater. No one’s saying he will play. No one’s saying he’ll carry the ball just a few times — or 23 times.
We won’t know until we see the game, but the guess here is that he’ll at least give it a shot on Saturday. Once an Eagle Scout, always an Eagle Scout, he once told me — so unless the pain is too excruciating, I can’t see him missing many snaps.
The struggling offense needs him. Even a less-than-healthy Montgomery is better than a lot of Big 12 running backs, so unless the pain is too unbearable, I’m guessing he takes at least some handoffs.
“If I had the perfect answer, I would tell you,” Campbell said. “When it’s critical situations, you want to put the ball in your best players’ hands. I’m not naïve to that. That’s something I really believe in.”
Sheldon Croney has done all right as the backup — but Montgomery leads the college football world at making defenses look silly. Mike Warren isn’t the 1,000-yard rusher that he was as a freshman. Kene Nwangwu runs faster than anyone on the team, but he need a sliver of a hole. Johnnie Lang has shown nice flashes.
To win, Iowa State needs as much very good Montgomery as it can get — and that’s the dilemma.
Do you play him on Saturday against Oklahoma State’s solid rush defense and a team against whom you’re a 10 ½-point underdog?
Or do you rest him as much as possible, and then hope to have a fully healthy Montgomery for the final six of Texas Tech, Kansas, Baylor, Texas, Kansas State and Incarnate Word?
Without beating 21st-ranked Oklahoma State on Saturday, and No. 8 West Virginia the following Saturday — the 1-3 Cyclones will need five wins during that six-game stretch to reach bowl eligibility.
With or without Montgomery.
“Really, he got banged up in that first carry that he had in the rainout game,” Campbell said. “Dinged up. Nothing terrible. A lot of it is deep bruising and pain that you have to fight through.
“Lots of credit to him for the way he’s playing — and not being 100 percent. As a running back, it’s not a position where you ever feel 100 percent.”
Will not providing Montgomery 20 or so opportunities to reach his third 100-yard rushing game in a row disrupt his flow?
Will giving him that many rushes further damage what’s already a moderately damaged body?
“He’s playing the best football that he’s played this season over the last two weeks,” Campbell said. “David is a tremendous football player, and we really believe in him. But if he’s not healthy enough to go and play in the football game, we have a lot of guys that we think really highly of.”
Like Croney. Like Lang. Like Nwangwu. Like Warren.
“They do a great job in that (running backs) room,” quarterback Zeb Noland said. “They’re all ready to play. I’ve got full faith in all four of them. They showed it in fall camp.
“Obviously, David is our go-to, and he’s done a tremendous job for this university, but we’ve just got to continue to keep pushing forward and trying to not let it affect us.”
This is Montgomery’s team, although he politely disagrees. He’s the player face of the Cyclones.
So back to the question . .
How much will he play on Saturday?
My hunch is:
As much as the pain in his upper arm will allow.
Iowa State columnist Randy Peterson has been with the Register for parts of five decades. Randy writes opinion and analysis of Iowa State football and basketball. You can reach Randy at email@example.com or on Twitter at @RandyPete.
Source: Des Moines Register