AMES — Tarique Milton was Iowa State’s known commodity at the receiver position before the season started.
The junior played, and started, as a freshman two seasons ago and has been a reliable target for quarterback Brock Purdy throughout his time at Iowa State, averaging 16.4 yards per reception.
Unfortunately for Milton, he’s battled injuries in 2020, missing games against TCU and Texas Tech. Iowa State Coach Matt Campbell said after the Oct. 10 game against Texas Tech that he expects Milton to be out for an extended period of time.
That means the receiver room needs to step up its game and, against Texas Tech, the group showed it had the ability to mitigate Milton’s absence.
Six different receivers, not including tight ends and running backs, caught passes against the Red Raiders last Saturday, led by junior college transfer Xavier Hutchinson.
Hutchinson caught nine passes for 77 yards.
It was a far cry from his first game as a Cyclone when he struggled against Louisiana, catching just four passes for 43 yards and dropping a few passes.
“I think I’ve grown a lot,” Hutchinson said. “The first game I was very timid. I was very nervous to say the least. But as the season has kind of gone on, I realized that this is just football and I think I progressed in a lot of different ways. The game speed and just kind of getting normal, or used to everything, really helped me out.
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“The support that I get from coaches and players, that also makes it a lot easier for you when you go out onto the football field.”
It can take some time for a quarterback and receiver to build chemistry and timing in the best of times. But in the COVID-19 era, it takes even longer.
Purdy and Hutchinson did what they could in the offseason but it’s been during the season that their chemistry has grown substantially.
“When you get put with a new quarterback, it can be a fuzzy feeling, especially when you’re with a good quarterback, you’re just trying to make plays right away,” Hutchinson said. “I think Brock really calmed me down a little bit. He just told me just to play how I play. I think that really helped me and that just kind of builds chemistry from there.”
The play that proved Purdy and Hutchinson got each other figured out was Purdy’s play-action pass to Hutchinson against Oklahoma that Hutchinson took for a 65-yard touchdown — his first as a Cyclone.
“It felt really good to get in the end zone for the first time,” Hutchinson said. “Even though it wasn’t a full stadium, it felt like a full stadium. So it was a really great experience.
“On the play, when you have a running back like Breece (Hall), people are going to stack the box and give receivers one-on-one opportunities. On that play, I saw the safety come down, so I knew it was gonna come to me. Brock just does Brock — he just throws the ball in the perfect spot where the corner can’t play it and I guess from there I kind of just took over.”
As Hutchinson is coming into his own, so are the other Iowa State receivers who are asked to play a bigger role this season.
Landen Akers and Joe Scates already have more receiving yards than they did all of last season.
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“Xavier Hutchinson continues to grow into his role,” Campbell said. “His growth pattern has been exceptional. Joe Scates, the play he made against TCU was a game changer and he’s really starting to settle into what he can be. Darren Wilson got dinged up toward the end of fall camp and we were able to get him back and he’s done a really good job for us. And then Landen Akers has made plays in each game and he’s playing like a senior. Sean Shaw is continuing to grow and he’s been phenomenal in his blocking and he’s made some big plays in runs after the catch.
“It’s a group that’s developing. Guys are really starting to settle into their roles. We have a lot of guys that can do a lot of different things and each game is probably going to be a little different just based on matchups and opportunities. That keeps everyone hungry.”
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