FERGUSON: The five most impactful players & plays from Iowa State’s win over Cincy

Iowa State Cyclones place kicker Chase Contreraz completes a fake for a first down in the second quarter during a college football game between the Iowa State Cyclones and the Cincinnati Bearcats Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023, at Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati. © Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

For the first time since October of 2021, Iowa State has secured back-to-back wins over Big 12 programs, with the latest coming Saturday in a 30-10 victory over Cincinnati.

These are my five most impactful happenings from Matt Campbell’s 50th win at Iowa State.

1 — Jayden Higgins had his most complete performance as a pass catcher, and did so with a plethora of yards after catch – that was 72 of his 172-yard game.

Every time he caught a pass, Higgins found separation or did what he could to run over the defender in front of him.

That’s exactly the type of receiver Iowa State was looking to have in Jaylin Noel for this offense, and that’s not to say he hasn’t been there. No matter if its Higgins, Noel or Daniel Jackson as we’ve seen in the past, players are stepping up.

2 — Chase Contreraz might get my player of the game ball if I had to hand one out, but that’s the longtime Iowa State fan in me.

For years, kicking issues have plagued the program and it bit this team multiple times in 2022, but on Saturday, Contreraz pitched his perfect game.

The Iowa native ended the day with a 3-3 mark on field goals, the same on extra points, and he was an ankle tackle away from finding on the end zone on the perfect fake called by Jordan Langs.

You could not ask for a better game from a kicker and Contreraz continues to deliver week after week. He’s now 12-16 on field goals this year and 17-17 on extra points this season.

3 — Ikenna Ezeogu and the rest of the defensive line will be giving Cincinatti fans nightmares for the field day they had in the Bearcat backfield.

Iowa State delivered pressures to keep quarterback Emory Jones (who finished 14-26 for 96 yards) on his heels throughout the game. Trent Jones and Zach Lovett each assisted on sacks. There was nothing Cincinnati could do in protection. Hats off to Eli Rasheed’s guys there.

4 — And in those times where Jones did get passes off, he wasn’t finding success. The most impactful contributor to that was T.J. Tampa, who was tasked with limiting Cincinnati’s star wideout Xzavier Henderson.

Henderson didn’t find one reception during the game. According to his ESPN game log, that’s the first time that has happened in the entirety of his college career.

5 — The biggest takeaway I have from this game is getting the win in this unique spot going into the bye week.

There’s no tangible advantage to winning the game at 11 a.m. instead of 7 p.m. However, it has to feel sweet for the guys in that locker room to know that you’re 3-1 and there are nine conference games that will be played before they go to battle again.

And with what has gone on in Waco in recent weeks, it’s hard to not feel the extra optimism at this point of the year.

The race is on, and at the very least, Iowa State is in it.