Iowa State Cyclones

Iowa State football notes: Kene Nwangwu gives Cyclones game-changing special teams play

Kick return setting up game-tying TD was 'the play of the game' in win over Oklahoma

Iowa State's Kene Nwangwu (3) sets up for a kickoff return during the first half of the Camping World Bowl NCAA college
Iowa State's Kene Nwangwu (3) sets up for a kickoff return during the first half of the Camping World Bowl NCAA college football game against Notre Dame Saturday, Dec. 28, 2019, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

AMES — Oklahoma had just marched down the football field and scored a touchdown with 8:17 left in Saturday’s game against Iowa State to take a 30-23 lead.

On the ensuing kick off, Kene Nwangwu returned it 84 yards the other way to set Iowa State up from the 13-yard line. The Cyclones scored in 38 seconds on a Brock Purdy designed run, making quick work of scoring a touchdown to tie the game once again.

Iowa State tacked on another touchdown and beat Oklahoma 37-30 on Saturday in Jack Trice Stadium. Coach Matt Campbell believes Nwangwu’s kick return is the play that shifted momentum for the Cyclones.

“If you ask me, that’s the play of the game,” Campbell said. “If that doesn’t happen, I don’t know what the outcome is. I think literally, that play was the difference in the football game. That was a huge momentum swing for us and it gave us a chance to score a touchdown and gain some of that momentum and bring our crowd back into it.”

That’s back-to-back weeks now Nwuangwu has made game-defining plays for Iowa State. Against TCU last week, he rushed the ball just one time but it was a 49-yard touchdown run to give Iowa State a 23-14 lead against TCU.

“From my end of it, for Kene, man, he’s been really close all year,” Campbell said. “That’s two games in a row where he comes up huge. After the turnover they turned into a touchdown, it’s Kene’s return that literally sparks our football team.

“He’s a senior that’s really been through hell and back in terms of the injuries. He’s a guy that’s kept fighting and kept growing and he hasn’t given up. That’s what seniors do.”

Good, not great

Campbell was happy that his team won. He was not necessarily happy with how they won.

The Cyclones had nine penalties for 90 yards and many came in critical situations. They overcame them, but for a team that’s been the least penalized in the Big 12, it made life harder than it needed to be.

In the second quarter, Iowa State had the ball and it was third-and-inches in the red zone. Purdy used a hard count to draw Oklahoma offside. The Sooners bit but instead of a penalty, receiver Joe Scates was called for a false start away from the ball.

Defensively in the third quarter, Iowa State’s Aric Horne had just sacked Spencer Rattler to put Oklahoma behind the chains early in the drive. On the very next play, Gerry Vaughn hit Rattler high and was called for targeting and roughing the passer to give Oklahoma a free first down.

Those are just two examples of the larger problem Campbell saw on Saturday.

“We know how to play 60 minutes,” Campbell said. “Our problem is, we don’t know how to play 60 minutes with great precision yet. Until we can get close to that, we’re going to live in this world where it’s hard. It’s hard to win football games this way. It’s great that we won the game but like I told our kids, there has to be a demand for everybody involved in this program to continue to aim to be the best version of us. That’s fallen short at times in our program.

“Yes, it’s great to get the win, but there’s so much more out there for this team to become the best version of itself it can be. We’re going to keep fighting for it and at some point, you have to demand it across the board. I think we have the right leadership in this program to demand that.”

Injury report

Iowa State got some good news on the injury front on Saturday.

Receiver Tarique Milton was back in action after missing the TCU game and caught one pass for 42 yards. Lineman Rob Hudson started the season injured and he found his way on the field for the first time this season. He was mostly used in run packages but anytime a team can get someone who is 6-foot-7 and 360-pounds in the run game, it’s a positive.

On the other hand, Trevor Downing, who got hurt in Iowa State’s first game against Louisiana was still out. Campbell has said he’s day-to-day or week-to-week. So far, it seems he’s more week-to-week than day-to-day.

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