Alabama State’s opponents were happy to see running back Isaiah Crowell move on from the Hornets to the NFL after last season.

He was named first-team All-Southwestern Athletic Conference after rushing for 1,121 yards and 15 touchdowns. Southern certainly saw enough of Crowell, who ran for 145 yards and two touchdowns against the Jaguars even though they beat ASU 31-28 last season.

But things haven’t gotten appreciably better this season for defenses trying to contain ASU’s running game. Malcolm Cyrus has stepped in for Crowell, who’s with the Cleveland Browns, and become the leading rusher in the SWAC.

Cyrus is the only SWAC rusher to gain 1,000 yards this season and he has 1,060 — seventh most in the Football Championsip Subdivision — going into the game at Southern on Saturday. He averages 6.2 yards per rush.

“He has speed and he’s elusive and powerful,” Jaguars coach Dawson Odums said of the 5-foot-10, 180-pound senior. “He can run the football. He’s definitely the horse that drives the engine for them. He’s everything that’s advertised. We have to pay a lot of attention to him.”

Cyrus, who had just seven rushes for 17 yards against Southern last season, was expected to have a big impact this season as he was a preseason all-SWAC pick. But he has had such a big impact that he is an in-season addition to the watch list for the Walter Payton Award.

Through eight games he has more yards than Crowell did at this point last season (833). Cyrus needs just 62 yards against the Jaguars to pass Crowell’s total for last season.

The only saving grace for opponents is that Cyrus hasn’t found the end zone as frequently as Crowell did. Cyrus has run for just six touchdowns, a total Crowell had doubled through eight games.

Despite playing through a toe injury, Cyrus ran for 148 yards and a touchdown in a 37-36 loss to Alabama A&M last week. He leads the SWAC in rushing yards per game (132.5) and he’s No. 2 in all-purpose yards (168.5), thanks in part to being ASU’s third-leading receiver (22 catches, 274 yards).

“I think they’re balanced, but I think it starts with Malcolm Cyrus,” Odums said. “I think they want to get him the football. They’ll throw it to him. They’ll hand it to him.

“(Daniel Duhart) is a good quarterback. He’s a scramble guy. He can run around and make some plays. You’ve got to pay attention. They stretch you from sideline to sideline. So you’re got to do a good job of really making sure you’re lined up and just make sure you’re executing your calls.”

The Jaguars rank ninth in the SWAC in total defense (459.1 yards per game) and pass defense (266.6) and seventh in run defense (192.5).

But they allowed just 106 rushing yards to Jackson State last week and an average of 115 during their current three-game win streak after allowing 149 per game in the first five games.

Follow Les East on Twitter @EastAdvocate. For more coverage, follow our blogs at blogs.theadvocate.com