Landen Akers Baylor

Iowa State wide receiver Landen Akers runs down the sideline against Baylor on Saturday in Ames. 

Kene Nwangwu brought the hammer. Landen Akers delivered the dagger.

When No. 17 Iowa State needed big plays to get itself back into Saturday night's game against Baylor, Nwangwu took matters into his own hands.

And when the Cyclones had to have one final play to cease all hope they wouldn't blow a lead, Akers was in the right place at the right time.

Those two fifth-year seniors who have been through thick and thin as members of this football program came up on special teams to aid Iowa State to a 38-31 come-from-behind triumph over Baylor at Jack Trice Stadium.

"These are guys that are refusing to lose," Cyclones Head Coach Matt Campbell said. "It's all 16 (seniors) pulling into one direction. We can have five-star culture and five-star leadership.

"It's never just one guy."

When quarterback Brock Purdy threw his third and final interception in the opening half for a pick-six, then the two teams traded field goals, the deficit faced was 24-10 in the early part of the third quarter.

Then Nwangwu took the ensuing kickoff down the left sideline for 67 yards to set Iowa State up at the Bears 33-yard line. Two plays later, Purdy found Charlie Kolar in the back-right corner for the score that cut the Baylor lead to 24-17.

It was very similar to what Nwangwu did against Oklahoma. And it's not just because the setup of the uniforms and time of day was also in sync.

When the Sooners grabbed the lead back at 30-23, Nwangwu took the next kickoff 85 yards to ignite the Cyclones comeback that night.

He did the same thing again that powered Iowa State to move to 5-1 in the conference and hold the lead entering its third and final bye week.

"That kickoff return was the momentum changer," Campbell said, just as he said in the post game presser against Oklahoma.

Akers just stuck his hands out after Baylor's punter Isaac Power faced pressure, pulled the ball down then tried to punt it anyway and the native of Cedar Rapids kept momentum in Iowa State's favor.

Set up in the red zone, Breece Hall continued his incredible season that put the Cyclones up two scores.

"I'm not surprised he was that clutch in this kind of game," Purdy said. "He's such a selfless teammate and doesn't complain when he's not getting a lot of receptions. For him on special teams, to make that play, everyone was like 'Yeah, that's Landen.'

"That was the turning point in the game."

It proved to be the decisive touchdown needed to hold off the Bears.

"We've been inches away in some moments and to be honest with you, we were able to make a play in a critical moment," Campbell said.

Nwangwu and Akers coming up for a pair of huge plays are microcosms of the special teams rollercoaster Iowa State has been on in 2020.

Everyone searched to see if the Cyclones employed a special teams coach after allowing a kickoff and punt return touchdowns in the season-opening loss to Louisiana. (Side note: You can still apply).

For three straight weeks, not a single special teams touchdown or really big play was allowed, rather it was Iowa State inflicting damage instead of taking it.

Then, it had a field goal blocked and returned for a touchdown against Texas Tech. That small step back turned into a step forward after allowing just 38 yards of kickoff and punt returns against Oklahoma State.

Backwards was yet again the motion against Kansas after giving up a 100-yard kickoff return touchdown. So, naturally, the Cyclones had a week of progress.

"We just got to keep plugging away," Campbell said.

Is it consistent? Absolutely not, that's clear. Yet, is it getting better? Time will tell.

Campbell always talks about using a bye week as a chance to get better as a complete unit.

Special teams has been an inconsistent portion of this Iowa State team, one of many areas outside of Hall. With Kansas State and Texas up next and the ultimate chance to head to the Big 12 Championship game if it wins those two games.

All areas will have to improve for that to happen, including the small and steady growth of the special teams unit.

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