AMES — Iowa State football will face another tough conference opponent when Kansas State travels to Ames on Saturday and fans should expect a defensive battle.
The Cyclones have the worst offense in the Big 12 and the Wildcats aren’t far behind, with the second-worst offense conference-wide. On the other hand, Iowa State’s defense is the best in the Big 12 right now and Kansas State comes in second after five games.
But the big difference here is that Kansas State enters Saturday’s matchup on a two-game win streak, having beaten Texas Tech and Oklahoma and starting the season off 4-1. Iowa State is 3-2, dropping its last two matchups to Baylor – by one touchdown – and Kansas – by a field goal.
Saturday’s game could very well come down to defensive plays and, according to Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell, the Cyclones had plenty of those against Kansas last weekend.
“If you really watch how Trevor Downing played in that game,” Campbell said Tuesday. “You watch what O’Rien Vance does, Kendall Jack does, Anthony Johnson does, Colby Reeder does. Those guys are making big-time plays in some critical moments that, even when we drop the punt or we miss a field goal, man, our kids, they’re continuing to play and give us a chance to win the game.”
How did losing Jirehl Brock and not having Cartevious Norton factor into Saturday’s loss?
Brock, a redshirt junior running back, had one carry for eight yards against Kansas…and that was it.
It didn’t help the Cyclones that true freshman running back Cartevious Norton – who was injured in the season opener – didn't even travel to Lawrence last Saturday.
So, while Deon Silas and Eli Sanders stepped up to fill the gap left by Brock’s injury, it wasn’t enough for Iowa State to find a way past Kansas. Campbell recognized how tough it was for the Cyclones to be successful without Brock on the field.
“He’s done a phenomenal job, running the football,” Campbell said. “Not only was he dinged up, Cartevious is dinged up. …Obviously, those two guys not being in does have some effect on the game. That being said, we certainly have belief in the rest of our running backs in our football program and I thought those guys did some positive things for us in the game on Saturday.”
Campbell didn't elaborate on Brock or Norton’s conditions on Tuesday. But he did say it'd come down to seeing both players in practice this week to determine whether or not they're healthy enough to play against Kansas State.
Jaylin Noel steps up in passing game
While wideout Xavier Hutchinson is frequently the top target for quarterback Hunter Dekkers, opposing defenses know to keep him covered.
That's opened up some new opportunities for other players in Iowa State’s receiving room. The next top dog behind Hutchinson is Jaylin Noel. He has 253 receiving yards off 23 receptions, but no receiving touchdowns. Noel has reeled in a 50-yard pass, the deepest catch made by any Cyclone this season, and averages 11 yards per completion.
“He is such a dynamic playmaker, and what’s his greatest strength is when the ball is in his hands,” Campbell said. “I still feel like we’re only scratching the surface of Jaylin in every way: As the punt returner, kick returner, the ball carrier, as the receiver.”
Playmaker is a good way to describe Noel. Against Southeast Missouri, he had 28 yards after catches. In a lower-scoring game against Iowa, Noel had 17 yards after a reception, and he’s more than doubled that in the past two games. He had 58 yards after catch against Baylor and 59 against Kansas.
Noel’s stats against the Jayhawks are even more impressive considering he logged 56 total yards in that game, meaning he was catching the ball behind the line of scrimmage and turning it into a positive play.
With Brock questionable going forward, Noel might need to take on an even larger role for Iowa State.
Alyssa Hertel is the college sports recruiting reporter for the Des Moines Register. Contact Alyssa at email@example.com or on Twitter @AlyssaHertel.
This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Iowa State football's Matt Campbell gives updates before Kansas State