ISU punter Tyler Perkins’ field-flipping abilities will be key in Saturday’s Big 12 opener

Iowa State punter Tyler Perkins punts the ball in the third quarter against Texas Tech during a NCAA football game on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022, at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames.© Bryon Houlgrave/The Register / USA TODAY NETWORK

 AMES — Darien Porter. Ben Nikkel. Drake Knoblauch.

Those are the names that sprang from strong-legged Iowa State sophomore Tyler Perkins’ lips when he was asked about being honored recently as the Ray Guy Award Punter of the Week.

“They’re awesome,” Perkins said in praise of his two main gunners on punt coverage as well as his long-snapper. “(Cyclone head coach Matt) Campbell talks about trust all the time. And not only do I trust myself, I trust in all my teammates, everyone, all the coaches, all the support staff. That’s huge.”

 That word aptly describes Perkins’ ability to flip the field — and  ISU (1-2) desperately needs him to continue to unleash potentially game-changing punts in Saturday’s 3 p.m. Big 12 season-opener against Oklahoma State (2-1) at Jack Trice Stadium. 

 “Tyler is one of those guys who’s just got elite work ethic,” Campbell said. “And fundamentally who he is, what he’s about — we saw it last year when he was a freshman. What he did for us was really special and (he gained) 15 or 16 pounds this offseason, and physically you just see his confidence continue to grow. I think he’s got a chance to be really, really special. He’s been huge for our football team.”

 He’s been busy, too. Nine of Perkins’ 19 points this season have been downed inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. Ten of those kicks have spanned 50-plus yards. Perkins’ average of 50.5 yards per punt ranks second nationally and he’s one of three punters in the FBS to have booted the football 70 or more yards this season.

 So, yeah, that’s “huge.” And Oklahoma State’s offense wilted when faced with long fields in last week’s stunning 33-7 home loss to South Alabama. All but one of the Cowboys’ 11 drives started inside their 26-yard line — and only one could be sustained well enough to end in a touchdown. Eight of Oklahoma State’s possessions spanned six plays or fewer, so if Perkins can pin the visitors deep early and often on Saturday, and the defense can be as stifling as usual, the Cyclones’ languid offense could suddenly spring to life.

 “Could,” of course, is the operative term here but Perkins will continue to hone his game accordingly, setting the stage, at least, for potentially improved outcomes on the horizon.

 “He’s the best punter in the nation,” said Nikkel, a former walk-on who recorded a career-best eight tackles in last week’s 10-7 loss at Ohio. “He’s got great hang time and he kicks the ball a mile, so he makes my job a lot easier covering down on those punts. I’ve got a lot of trust in him and I’ve got a lot of trust in DP (Porter) and even (redshirt freshman defensive back) Terrell Crosby when he’s out there at the other gunner (spot). There’s a lot of confidence in that punt team when we go out there.”

 It’s up to ISU’s currently floundering offense to ensure the punt unit is deployed on a less frequent basis. The Cyclones’ total of 19 punts is third for the third-most nationally among FBS teams that have played three games. But guess which Big 12 rival is tied with ISU in that statistic? Oklahoma State. So the Cowboys’ offense has been similarly erratic, which means Saturday could be a punt-fest — or one of the two struggling offenses will finally churn up at least some measure of success.

 “The difference (between) winning the inch and losing the inch, is football,” Campbell said. “I know that’s cliche and the old coach speak but that’s also the reality. I think that’s why there’s (no) panic because you’ve seen a lot of real positives but at the end of the day, we’ve got to do it. And the only way I know how to do it is to practice and continue to find the right guys to do it for us.”

 Perkins plans to continue to do his part while working to become an even more potent driver of field position. He’s also hoping to drive change off the field by partnering with RAYGUN on a T-shirt that bears his name. The proceeds from the NIL deal benefit the Ames schools’ efforts to provide free lunches to all who need them.

“It makes me happy that I can use my God-given talent to help others,” Perkins said.