AMES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa State’s young offensive players are growing up and it shows in the area that matters most.
The Cyclones are winning.
Iowa State, newly ensconced at No. 23 in the Top 25, takes a three-game winning streak into Saturday’s home game with Oklahoma State, helped by an offense that is running much smoother than it did early in the season.
The Cyclones (5-2, 3-1 Big 12) have averaged 40.3 points and 456 yards over the last three games. In their two losses, to Iowa and Baylor, they averaged just 19 points and scored only 13 points in regulation in a triple overtime victory over Northern Iowa in the season opener.
So what changed?
“I don’t know if there’s one specific thing,” offensive tackle Bryce Meeker said Tuesday. “I think we knew that things were going to start clicking, we just didn’t know when. I think by putting all our heads down and continuing to work, it just started to click for us.”
Coach Matt Campbell expected some early struggles because of the team’s youth at the skill positions. Quarterback Brock Purdy and starting tight end Charlie Kolar are sophomores. Two sophomores and a freshman are among the top wide receivers. Breece Hall has solidified what had been an unsettled situation at running back, but he’s a true freshman.
There was never any doubt about their talent. They just needed some experience to figure things out, Campbell said.
“As much as you say, boy, they’re ready to go in fall camp, until you step out under the lights, until you go through failures, the ebbs and flows of the game, and have the ability to respond to that — that’s part of the growing process,” he said. “I do think that’s part of the offense’s growing process a little bit, finding out who, what, how and really building from there. And I think that group’s done a really nice job of building as this season’s gone on.”
The turnaround actually started in the Cyclones’ last loss, 23-21 at Baylor. Trailing 20-0 after three quarters, Iowa State ripped off three touchdowns in an 11-minute span to take the lead, but could not stop a Baylor drive that led to the game-winning field goal.
Since then, Iowa State has put up point totals of 49, 38 and 24 in beating TCU, West Virginia and Texas Tech, all by double figures.
“Honestly, coach got on us that we’ve got to get off to a start from the get-go,” Purdy said. “It can’t be late in the second half. I felt like the first couple of games in the season we were waiting and waiting rather than, boom, attack from the beginning. I just feel like our mindset switched in the last couple of games on getting off to a good start.”
Iowa State has trailed only once in the last three games, falling behind West Virginia 7-0 before storming back to win 38-14.
“I think we had it inside of us the whole time,” Meeker said. “I just think we had to combine everything that we knew and continue to work. We knew we had to change something and we did.”
Hall’s emergence certainly has helped. After carrying only 18 times in the first four games, he ran for 132 yards and three touchdowns at West Virginia and was even better last week at Texas Tech, amassing 183 yards on just 19 carries and adding 73 yards receiving. He broke a 75-yard touchdown run in that game, the longest by an Iowa State player since 2015.
Purdy leads the Big 12 in passing yards and is second in passing efficiency, sophomore Tarique Milton is fifth in receiving yards and Kolar is tied for eighth nationally in receiving yards by a tight end.
“It will be fascinating to see where this group can be by the time the season ends,” Campbell said. “Can it make that couple of huge strides it will have to if we’re going to be the best team we can be down the stretch run?”
More AP college football: https://apnews.com/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25