AMES – On Saturday night, Chris Young provided a dose of caffeine.
The receiver gave the Cyclones (3-0) a jolt nearly every time he touched the ball, helping Iowa State rout Western Illinois, 37-3.
Nearly forgotten before the season, Young has emerged to become one of Steele Jantz’ favorite targets. On Saturday that meant seven catches for 86 yards and two touchdowns.
So what clicked for Young this season? The easy answer is preparation and hard work.
“I wanted to have a game like this,” Young said. “To have a game like this, I’m very satisfied.”
Before the season, Young worked extensively on catching the football. He entered camp buried on the depth chart, but has risen to the top with his playmaking ability.
“Chris Young was a young man that in the last two years would hardly catch anything without using his entire body,” Rhoads said. “He’s grown confidence catching the ball with his eyes and his fingers and making plays afterwards with the ball in his hands.”
When Iowa State’s offense fell into a lull in the second quarter, Young took over. With one minute, 45 seconds left before the half and the Cyclones leading 14-0, Jantz turned to Young. The quarterback hit Young on two quick passes for gains of 32 and 12.
After another completion to Young and an incompletion, Jantz threw a strike to the senior in the back of the end zone for a 5-yard touchdown.
All Young did on the scoring march was catch four passes for 55 yards and the score, pushing Iowa State’s advantage to 21-0.
“It was very important that we went into halftime with that momentum, that kind of juice,” Rhoads said.
That type of production is becoming the norm for Young. So far this season, he leads the Cyclones with 14 catches and two receiving touchdowns.
More importantly, it appears he may have become Jantz’ favorite target.
Is it possible for a punter to dominate? Yes, just ask Kirby Van Der Kamp.
Through three games, the junior may be the Cyclones’ best player.
“Field position matters,” Rhoads said. “He continues to put our defensive football out there with long fields to defend. That’s important. He has become very skilled in his pooch-punting and pinning the ball down inside the 20 and the 10.”
During an easy Iowa State victory, Van Der Kamp punted just four times but he made the most of those chances. All four punts pinned Western Illinois inside the 20-yard line, including one that took a perfect bounce and was downed at the one.
Van Der Kamp boomed his third punt of the night 59 yards to back the Fighting Leathernecks up before halftime and eliminate any chance of a late score.
On 19 punts this season, 14 have been downed inside the 20. None of those 19 punts have been returned.
The key for Van Der Kamp has quieting his mind.
“You have to be focused on the task at hand,” he said.
For Van Der Kamp, that’s impacting the game with one brilliant punt after another.
Defensive line depth
Please forgive Wally Burnham if he can’t stop pinching himself. The veteran defensive coordinator has been dreaming of defensive line depth like this since he arrived in Ames.
The Cyclones legitimately go 10 deep up front. That’s huge in a Big 12 conference that’s loaded with offense.
A week after dominating Iowa, the big boys up front held Western Illinois to 103 yards rushing on 2.7 yards per carry.
“We are really controlling things thus far, limiting big plays, and we’re tackling well and we’re playing good team defense,” Rhoads said. “When I say that, when I use that phrase, I’m talking about 11 guys working to do their job and not more than that.”
As early as the second quarter, Burnham was using entirely different defensive lines each series. In a game where the outcome was never in doubt, it allowed Burnham to toy with different combinations and find four guys who can consistently play well together.
So far, the defensive line has been making it easy on Burnham. Just about every combination he’s sent out there has done the job.
– Official attendance on Saturday was 55,783. The fourth largest crowd in Iowa State history.
– Saturday marked the first game between Western Illinois and Iowa State.
– With the victory, Paul Rhoads (21-20) now has a winning record as the Cyclones’ head coach.
– Iowa State improved to 18-1 under Rhoads in games where they hold their opponents to 24 points or less.