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Iowa State special teams struggle, but don't doom Cyclones

Texas Tech defensive back Thomas Leggett, right, blocks a punt by Iowa State punter Corey Dunn, left, during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018, in Ames. Leggettn ran the ball back for a touchdown. (Matthew Putney/Freelance)
Texas Tech defensive back Thomas Leggett, right, blocks a punt by Iowa State punter Corey Dunn, left, during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018, in Ames. Leggettn ran the ball back for a touchdown. (Matthew Putney/Freelance)

AMES — Iowa State special teams have left a lot to be desired over the last two weeks.

In Saturday’s 40-31 win over Texas Tech (5-3, 3-2 Big 12) every phase of the Iowa State (4-3, 3-2) special teams unit made a mistake.

The punt team let a free rusher, Thomas Leggett, right through to punter Corey Dunn. Leggett blocked the punt and easily returned it for a touchdown.

Kicker Connor Assalley missed a 37-yard field goal attempt wide left.

Punt returner Tarique Milton fair caught two balls inside Iowa State’s 10-yard line when it seemed like he should’ve let them bounce. He also fair caught the kickoff after the safety when there wasn’t a player within 20 yards of him.

Lastley, kick returner Kene Nwangwu dropped a kickoff. In fairness to Nwangwu, he did turn his flub into a 58-yard gain.

Iowa State coach Matt Campbell always preaches to his team how important special teams are, so it’s a little strange to see them perform so poorly, especially in back-to-back weeks — Iowa State had a field goal blocked and returned for a touchdown against West Virginia.

“We weren’t good,” Campbell said. “I’d love to sit here and give you a great answer, but we weren’t good. To give up a blocked punt, they schemed us and did a great job. It wasn’t our kids, we just have to do a better job and it starts with me. I thought there was some response though. We did some good things, I’m not going to sit here and say it was terrible, but this is (two) games in a row there were major malfunctions on special teams that have either cost field position or touchdowns. We just have to get it cleaned up.”

Iowa State was able to overcome the mistakes, mostly thanks to its defense.

While the special teams mistakes are clearly a negative and something Campbell wants to get cleaned up, the resolve shown from his team was something Iowa State fans are still getting used to.

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In the past, a blocked punt or kick, or a couple of missed field goals would’ve doomed the Cyclones. But Campbell seems to have weeded that out of his program.

“We’ve been overcoming mistakes since the beginning of the season and since I’ve been here,” wide receiver Hakeem Butler said. “That’s just life for me. There is always bad stuff that’s going to happen, but you can’t let that define you or bring you down.”

That last sentence of Butler’s quote is something new for Iowa State. Before Campbell, it seemed like players did let it get to them and get in their heads.

“Last year, we went into November and we struggled,” tight end Charlie Kolar said. “(Campbell) has talked about that a lot. Being a contender, you have to be able to play through adversity. Obviously, a lot of adversity came, we had a blocked punt, gave up a touchdown on offense. To (be a contender), you have to be able to respond to adversity.”

Assalley made his first seven field goals of the season, and the returners have been good for Iowa State. Dunn, after the Iowa game, has also been solid. So, the special teams gaffes don’t appear to be a long-term issue, but they do need to be addressed.

“We haven’t put a complete game together — offense, defense and special teams,” Butler said. “We’re still winning with the defense making some big plays here and there, the offense making some big plays, but when we come together and play a complete game, I think we’ll be unstoppable.”

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