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“I think Breece is the best running back in America.” A Q&A with Wide Right & Natty Lite

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We chatted with our friend Levi Stevenson to find out what makes Breece Hall the best, how the Iowa State defense bothers opponents, and what Matt Campbell’s future is.

Iowa State v Texas Tech Photo by John E. Moore III/Getty Images

Any time is a good time to check in with our sister site Wide Right & Natty Lite, and if I can chat with my friend Levi, even better.

Though both Cyclone and Frog fans have been disappointed more than expected this season, both teams have something to play for this Black Friday. How much emotion will ISU play with behind their senior QB’s last appearance on his home field? Where will Matt Campbell coach in 2022? Why don’t more people love Breece Hall? We checked in with managing editor Levi Stevenson to find out!

Frogs O’ War: There was a time where this Black Friday game was looked at by both fan bases as a potential play-in game for the Big 12 Championship. Well, TCU’s season has fallen apart and Iowa State is 6-5 and dealing with disappointment in their fanbase. What went wrong, if anything, for the Cyclones?

Levi Stevenson: Basically everything. Special teams blew unholy ass at the beginning of the season, especially against Iowa and Baylor, where long returns and boneheaded special teams decisions led to horrible, painful losses. Seriously, it was really bad. You ever feel like you’ve been emotionally abused by punting? That’s what it’s like playing Iowa when your special teams looks like a coked up fourth grader was given a copy of Madden 96 and a broken SEGA Genesis controller and told to design a special teams playbook. Then, against West Virginia, the Cyclones were missing our beloved Mike Rose, and the defense looked more lost than an Iowa fan in a book store. Then, Mike Rose played at full speed against Texas Tech, and kicker #46 decided to send Iowa State to the nether world with kick from literal outer space that probably landed on some poor armadillo that was just trying to live its best life behind the goal posts. What a dick. Then we went to Norman and the offensive decided their job was extremely optional and everybody had a bad time until Brock Purdy decided we should stop having a bad time before Oklahoma was like “hey guys you need to start having a bad time again.”

Frogs O’ War: Despite (maybe) underachieving in 2021, Matt Campbell’s name still comes up every time a good job opens. Do you think there is a job he would leave for or are you still pretty confident that he wants to see his goals for ISU through?

Levi Stevenson: Ohio State and Notre Dame are the only names thrown around with any consistency as places he would go, and I still think those are really the only two. Michigan isn’t opening for awhile, but I don’t think he’d go there even if it was open. Penn State would probably be cause for some concern, but that one is far less of a sure thing than the others. Other than that, he’s not a great culture fit down in the SEC or on the west coast in the Pac-12, so nothing in either of those conferences is a big concern.

Frogs O’ War: Brock Purdy is going to finish the season holding nearly every QB record for Iowa State, but the fanbase still seems a little mixed on him. How do you evaluate him as the Cyclones’ QB relative to expectation?

Levi Stevenson: I explained a lot of my thoughts on this here -> https://www.widerightnattylite.com/2021/11/23/22796288/thank-you-brock-purdy. Basically, Brock’s still the greatest QB in Iowa State history by a long shot, and his 73% completion rate (which shatters his career high), is an indication that he’s been the veteran leader he’s needed to be. Sometime he makes a dumb mistake, but so does everybody else. For some reason, people seem to hold Brock to higher standard than they would virtually any other quarterback, but I still believe he’s a great player.

Frogs O’ War: No one questions Breece Hall’s value, but he seems to be a bit under the radar once again this season. Where does he rank among conference and national running backs in your mind and why?

Levi Stevenson: I think Breece is the best running back in America. Both his stats and film bear that out. When he carries the ball, he just looks like a different level of player than everyone else, and he almost makes it look easy. He’s a finalist for the Doak Walker Award again this season, so the national media seems to largely be on the same page as most Cyclone fans.

Frogs O’ War: Jon Heacock has built a nasty defense over the last few seasons, but his unit has struggled against a few foes this year — especially in the first half of games. You’re always telling me that he makes incredible second half adjustments, and more often than not, you’re absolutely right. What’s the secret to his success and how can that side of the ball muck up the TCU O, which is shockingly one of the best in the Big 12 this year?

Levi Stevenson: The Iowa State defense relies on solid tackling and disciplined, smart playmakers taking away space. Where Iowa State has struggled on defense this season is defensing the deep ball. Typically, this defense does a great job eliminating big plays and forcing offenses to be patient, but teams that are willing to take a few shots downfield and have the players to do so have been finding success. However, if Iowa State is able to do what they want to, which is stifle the run and force the passing game to grind out short completions, life can get very difficult for the offense. Oklahoma found that out last week when Caleb Williams and Spencer Rattler completed just nine passes between the two of them, with only being over 20 yards, and the running game being relatively ineffective outside of a long Caleb Williams TD run at the beginning of the game.

Frogs O’ War: If Matt Campbell stays, what is the 2022 ceiling for Iowa State Football? If he leaves, who would you like to see replace him?

Levi Stevenson: I am about 90% sure he stays, with LSU being the only school that gives me pause should they decide to back a Brinks truck up to his house. Iowa State is going to be replacing somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 starters after this season, including half a dozen players that are probably the best to ever play their position at Iowa State. You can’t lose that and expect to maintain the same level. That said, the talent level on the roster has increased substantially in recent seasons (for example, Charlie Kolar would be the lowest rated recruit in Iowa State’s 2022 class), and Campbell rotates a ton of guys, so these young guys are far from green. We should expect a regression while this group goes through some growing pains, but they have talent and athletic ability to be a really exciting team by the end of the season. I think getting back to another bowl game is a totally reasonable expectation, and would be considered a solid season given the roster turnover. Should Matt Campbell leave, Jamie Pollard will have the most important hire of his career at hand. Make the right hire, and you can sustain and build on what Campbell has done, make the wrong hire and it all goes to shit. I don’t know I have specific names at this moment, but finding someone that understands what Campbell has done to be successful will be a huge factor. For that reason, an internal hire wouldn’t be shocking at all.

Frogs O’ War: BASKETBALL BONUS QUESTION: After a couple of really down seasons, the Cyclones seem fun again. What are you most excited about as hoops tips off?

Levi Stevenson: This team gives a shit! Like, they play defense and hustle! They may not be able to shoot the basketball with any remote consistency, but they’re the best defensive team Iowa State has seen since well before even Fred Hoiberg was here, and they play hard for TJ Otzelberger. After watching a team last year that clearly had lost faith in Steve Prohm and essentially mailed it in from the get-go, this team is a sight for sore eyes. Give TJ another year or two, and I think you’ll see Iowa State basketball back competing at the top of the conference.

Frogs O’ War: BONUS QUESTION: I know you will have the whole Thanksgiving spread Friday. What’s the best dish you’re bringing and what’s your top rated Thanksgiving dish overall?

Levi Stevenson: Best Thanksgiving dish is green bean casserole. I know some people don’t like it, but it’s a dish I legitimately look forward to all year. My personal best dish I will be bringing to our tailgate is cornbread. I’ve tinkered my way to a fabulous cornbread recipe, and am bringing a bunch with me. But really, all Thanksgiving dishes are great. I’ve never had one I didn’t like.

Frogs O’ War: BONUS BONUS QUESTION: Will you hit another deer to secure an Iowa State win Friday?

Levi Stevenson: The last one cost me a $1,000 deductible that I really don’t want to pay again, so I’m hoping the Clones can deal with TCU without me scattering Bambi all over Highway 30 again.