AMES — Iowa State appears to have most of its problems figured out.
The No. 23 Cyclones are finishing offensive drives, have found a dynamic true freshman running back in Breece Hall and in Deshaunte Jones have a reliable, go-to target for quarterback Brock Purdy when things break down.
It was a given the defense would be good and it has been.
Still one problem has proved to be a pest.
Iowa State’s kicking game hasn’t been consistent. Last week in a 34-24 win over Texas Tech, Iowa State left seven points on the board. The Cyclone kickers missed two field goals and an extra point. While it didn’t matter in the outcome, it very well could as the season progresses.
Freshman Brayden Narveson missed the field goals and junior Connor Assalley missed the extra point.
“I think the area for us that’s still left out there is just the consistency in our kicking game and I feel like we’re really close to that,” Iowa State football coach Matt Campbell said Tuesday during his weekly news conference. “I think we’ve had some really positive moments and we’ve had a couple moments where you feel like, ‘Man, we just want to be a little bit better and more consistent there (than we’ve been).’”
Narveson has played the last two weeks, the first time in his career. Since his recruitment, he’s been billed as having a strong leg and, over the last two weeks, Campbell has used him as the distance kicker.
In his first week, against West Virginia, Narveson drilled a 45-yard field goal.
Last week, he missed a 41- and a 42-yard attempts.
Assalley hasn’t attempted a field goal since the Baylor game when he missed a 49-yarder and had another one blocked.
“I don’t think it’s been an open competition, really,” Campbell said. “It’s been a situation for us where Connor’s been our guy and if it was from depth or distance, the last couple of games, we’ve went with Brayden. I think Brayden earned his right to be the distance guy because of how he practiced, so I think we’ll continue to see. But Connor’s definitely our kicker and we’ll kind of see how that situation continues to play out.”
Tarique Milton’s breakout
Last season’s Oklahoma State game was Purdy’s coming out party, but lost in all of that hoopla was receiver Tarique Milton.
The sophomore has been Iowa State’s big-play receiver this season, averaging 22.2 yards per reception. Last season, Hakeem Butler led the FBS in yards per reception with 22.0 and this season Milton ranks fourth nationally.
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Milton’s production started to take off last season against the Cowboys. He had four catches for 98 yards, including a 60-yard touchdown reception.
Milton ended the season as Iowa State’s second-leading receiver with 34 receptions for 417 yards and one touchdown.
“For him, like any young player, to finally apply that into a game setting and to be able to do that in a game setting, that’s big,” Campbell said. “It obviously started there and he was able to finish it off with a really good year a year ago. That confidence allowed him to go into this fall and this offseason and go to work with Brock. Those two have a really great connection, even in critical moments, in the early stages of this season so far.”
Milton has 23 catches for 510 yards and two touchdowns through seven games.
Slowly but surely Iowa State is getting healthy.
Safety Greg Eisworth played last week against Texas Tech after missing the West Virginia game with a shoulder injury.
Linebacker O’Rien Vance was hurt during the West Virginia game and missed the Texas Tech game. It sounds like he’s getting better.
“From a health standpoint we’re looking really good,” Campbell said. “The only guy who missed last week was O’Rien Vance and he was back out at practice yesterday. I’m really hopeful he’ll be able to play this week. He’s looked good this week.”
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