Sep 28, 2017; Ames, IA, USA; Iowa State Cyclones wide receiver Deshaunte Jones (8) carries the ball as Texas Longhorns linebacker Malik Jefferson (46) chases during the first quarter at Jack Trice Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — Deshaunte Jones turned heads last season by posting impressive receiving numbers as a true freshman.
This season, the speedy, but somewhat bulked-up Iowa State wideout’s made a noteworthy mark by showing significant improvement as a blocker.
“I’ve tremendously gotten better at blocking and that’s one thing that I wanted to (do) — coming from my freshman to my sophomore year —is get better at blocking and put a little weight on,” said Jones, who scored six touchdowns last season, but has yet to cross the end zone in 2017. “So I’ve definitely gotten better in that and I emphasize it more and more every day.”
That’s a very good thing entering Saturday’s big 2:30 p.m. (ABC) matchup between the No. 25 Cyclones and No. 4 TCU at Jack Trice Stadium.
Sure Jones caught five passes of 40 yards or more last season while flashing electric skills from the slot.
But broadening his game while picking his spots among what’s ISU’s deepest and potentially most productive receiving corps in recent memory will pay dividends down the road.
Maybe even now.
Jones has caught a pass in every game this season.
He jetted 46 yards on one catch and run in the 41-14 week three win at Akron and caught a season-high four passes in last week’s 31-13 triumph at Texas Tech.
In other words, the best is likely yet to come for the 5-10, 179-pounder (up from 175 last season) from Cincinnati.
“I think Deshaunte really in the last three weeks, we’ve really seen him come on,” offensive coordinator Tom Manning said. “With Trever (Ryen) having so many roles on special teams, Deshaunte’s really, really — we’ve counted on him a lot more maybe i the passing game and on the offensive side of it than maybe early on in the year. And he’s done a great job. He’s been really dialed in. He’s done a great job with the ball in his hands. He’s a difficult tackle sometimes. He’s stronger than maybe you would assume. And I’ve been really proud of how much he’s worked on his blocking. He’s done a really good job there.”
Jones learned from one of ISU’s best, Allen Lazard.
“Allen has helped me tremendously,” Jones said. “Being an older guy, when I first got here, he was the one that brought me in and taught me how to do all these things and blocking is one of them.”
Lazard’s not only an “older guy.” He’s obviously much bigger at 6-5, 222 pounds.
No matter. Blocking is blocking — and Lazard has noticed Jones’s improvement in that less celebrated, but vitally important area as well.
“Deshaunte’s not nearly as good as me,” Lazard joked. “I’m kidding. But, yeah, just that one year in the weight room being able to get with the food program, understand the game — because he played quarterback in high school, so he’s never really blocked, really, until he came here. So getting a year underneath his belt helped him a lot.”
Several weeks ago, ISU punter Colin Downing took note of who he’d be contending with when he may punt to TCU. That’s Kavontae Turpin, who leads the Big 12 and ranks seventh in the FBS by averaging 16.3 yards per punt return. Oh, and he’s also scored a 90-yard touchdown.
“I’ve had this game circled on my calendar,” Downing said. “Probably one of the best returners in college football this week so it’s an exciting week for me, because I love a good challenge.”
Turpin delivers — if he has a chance to field a returnable boot. Downing said some modifications have been made this week in an effort to defuse that threat.
“Hang time, distance, it’s the same old stuff every week,” said Downing, who leads the conference in punts downed inside the 20 with 15. “This week, I think, you know, it’s going to take a little more effort. A little more precise detail land stuff like that.”
When Kyle Kempt leapt from third-string to starter at quarterback for Iowa State before the Oklahoma win, that left a void on the scout team.
Fortunately for the Cyclones, Jake Waters, a former bitter foe at Kansas State and current graduate assistant, ably stepped in to test the defense in practices.
“He’s a dog,” senior defensive end J.D. Waggoner said. “He gives us a great look. He still has it. I think he throws a great ball and he’s able to give us an awesome look in practice.”
Waggoner likes the challenge. He only wishes he could exact revenge of sorts for past setbacks.
“It’s no contact,” he said jokingly. “Unfortunately, no contact.”