Iowa State will begin Big 12 play with a road matchup at Baylor on Saturday, with the Cyclones hoping to see continued growth from specific players and units as the race for the top of the Big 12 begins.
Offense keeping momentum after big performance against ULM
Coming off a performance against the Warhawks where the offense for the Cyclones put up 65 points (the other seven points coming off a pick-six by Lawerence White), expectations about the offense are high heading into Big 12 play.
Head coach Matt Campbell wants the hype-machine to pump the breaks on the offense, as the unit is still young and has work to do during Big 12 play.
Campbell said that big numbers and record breaking performances are not something he particularly cares about.
"The numbers are whatever in my opinion," Campbell said. "The ability to keep growing and getting better is more important because you have to remember, this is a young offense."
Campbell said the loss of Hakeem Butler and David Montgomery forced Iowa State to create a "new identity" to what the offense can be.
With a young group led by a sophomore quarterback, Campbell said Iowa State expected to see the offense perform the way they did in the first two games. Last Saturday against the Warhawks, Campbell said he saw growth in the offense but still pointed to mistakes which kept the offense from being even better.
"You can't start the game with two turnovers and there are still little things that we have to continue to clean up," Campbell said. "Now, you are going against a veteran defense that is playing really confident and they will be a unique challenge to a young offense."
Wide receiver La'Michael Pettway has been a piece in the offense's success, with the transfer from Arkansas already catching four touchdowns for Iowa State.
Pettway expects the offense to keep the momentum going, but like his coach, he said it comes about from finding areas they aren't 100 percent solid at.
Those areas include attacking on the scoreboard and playing with intensity while on offense.
Pettway said he's ready for the offense to break out in Big 12 play this week against Baylor, even with some details to still clean up.
"This team is very special and I feel like we are capable of a lot of things," Pettway said. "For us to know that we can be on top of teams like that and putting the ball in the end zone is huge."
Tight end Charlie Kolar said with the offense putting up 72 against the Warhawks, the score was not close to what the Cyclones were able to do in the first two weeks of play — which won't get it done in Big 12 play.
"We scored 17 points and 72 points in regulation; that isn't good enough to win games, especially in the Big 12," Kolar said.
Kolar said the difference between scoring 72 and 17 points comes about by how a team finishes drives. Kolar said against Iowa, the Cyclones were on their own side of the field multiple times but walked away with one touchdown.
Kolar said teams focus on redzone drills so much because of how important it is to get down to the redzone and finish there, not just walking down the filed but gaining nothing on the scoreboard.
Tight ends prove themselves early in the season
In the first three games of Iowa State's season, question marks were raised from most of the Cyclones' offense when it came to who would step up in big situations and make big plays.
The wide receiver room has provided some answers with Tarique Milton and La' Michael Pettway contributing in big ways early on this season.
Outside of questions regarding the receivers and running back, tight ends were next in line.
Tight end has been a focal point of Iowa State football and with the return of Tom Manning, tight end was a position with less than certain answers going into the season for the Cyclones.
So far, the questions have been answered for Campbell.
In the first three games this season, Brock Purdy has thrown to his tight ends for a combined 197 yards, but with no touchdowns.
Despite the lack of scoring at the tight end position, Campbell said he's already seen the tight end group show their ability to step up for the Cyclones when they need them most.
"They are proving in critical moments they can make big plays for this team," Campbell said. "Their intent and intensity only continue to grow."
Campbell pointed to last week's game against Louisiana-Monroe for an example of the tight ends coming through for the Cyclones. Campbell reflected on the catch by Kolar right before halftime when Purdy scrambled and found an open Kolar for a 20-yard gain and kick a field goal because of it.
"The neat thing about it is that none of them are finished products either," Campbell said. "They are only going to continue to get better and they are really highly intelligent people."
Kolar says the tight end room felt their role was going to increase in the passing and run game with the return of Tom Manning to the offense.
"I get asked questions a lot about tight ends and it's the same — [the] answer I give is genuinely true with the guys on this team: we do not care about what each of us does personally, it's all about the team," Kolar said. "Even if I have a great game this week and I catch 12 touchdowns and we lost, I still wouldn't care because we lost the game."
All three of Iowa State's tight ends were wide receivers in high school, which Campbell said is a big reason why each of the tight ends for the Cyclones have shown the ability to go up and get balls near defenders and be able to bring them down consistently.
Tarique Milton shows explosiveness
Out of the many big contributors to the growth of the Cyclones' offense, Tarique Milton has made his presence felt.
In his last two games, Milton has hauled in 286 yards and two touchdowns for the Cyclones, including two straight games with 73-yard touchdowns.
Milton said after his big game against the Warhawks he wanted to prove to his teammates and coaches that he had the ability to be the explosive weapon for the Cyclones after losing Butler to the NFL.
Campbell said Milton showed his ability to make big plays last season for Iowa State, including matchups with Kansas State and Oklahoma State.
"He knows how to make the big plays," Campbell said. "I think what has been really fun for us as coaches is to see Tarique be a consistently dynamic football player."
Campbell said he has seen Milton's playmaking shine early on this season and believes that Milton will only get better.
"I'm a big fan of Tarique," Campbell said. "He has all the tools to be that consistent football player that we need him to be for us to be successful."