Sep 30, 2023; Norman, Oklahoma, USA; Iowa State Cyclones wide receiver Jayden Higgins (9) celebrates with Iowa State Cyclones tight end Benjamin Brahmer (18) after scoring a touchdown during the first half against the Oklahoma Sooners at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — Iowa State wide receiver Jayden Higgins finds it hard to suppress a smile.
That’s not just because he’s a happy-go-lucky type of guy. Higgins’ almost ever-present grin serves as a window into his identity. He smiles effortlessly because he knows something no foe seems to recognize: That he can’t be stopped when enough throws are launched into his orbit.
“It definitely comes from confidence,” said Higgins, who hopes to continue producing big plays for the Cyclones (4-3, 3-1 Big 12) in Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. matchup with Baylor (3-4, 2-2) on the road. “Having confidence in myself and my teammates, and also just my upbringing; I would say having a positive outlook just makes everything better.”
It also helped Higgins thrive amid the uncertainty he faced after transferring to ISU from Eastern Kentucky last December. When he arrived, former starting quarterback Hunter Dekkers was expected to reprise that role this season before he was caught up in the state’s investigation into sports gambling. So redshirt freshman Rocco Becht took charge behind center — and consider Higgins impressed.
“He’s just so intelligent,” Higgins said. “A lot of times he just knows exactly what the defense is gonna do. He knows where we need to be, so when we’re on the same page it just works out.”
Sounds simple, but that melding of minds between Higgins, Becht and the rest of the offense has been very much a work in progress. Higgins caught a career-high eight passes in the 20-13 loss to Iowa but totaled just three grabs for 31 yards in the ensuing 10-7 loss at Ohio. Since that unsettling setback, the Cyclones have discovered a running game and Higgins’ role in the offense has expanded. That’s helped make Becht more comfortable and efficient in an offense that’s averaging 27.8 points in Big 12 play — a marked improvement from the nonconference season.
Now ISU is well-rested after a bye week and well-positioned to make a run toward the top of the conference standings as long as its attention to detail remains keen. The Cyclones are tied for 10th nationally in turnover margin at plus-seven and that vital component of the game must remain positive if more wins are to come.
“We can’t really get ahead of ourselves,” said Becht, whose eight touchdown passes in Big 12 play is tied for the second-most among the league’s quarterbacks. “We’ve got to still go into Baylor, go into an away game, and get the job done and finish.”
Enter Higgins, who’s coming off his best game as a Cyclone in the 30-10 win at Cincinnati two weeks ago. The 6-4, 210-pound junior caught six passes for an ISU career-high 172 yards. He failed to reach the end zone in the triumph, but he’s caught three touchdown passes this season after notching 10 touchdown grabs in 2022 with Eastern Kentucky. That number tied for 15th-best nationally — and Higgins appears poised to occupy similarly high-scoring territory over the final five weeks of the regular season.
“He’s a guy that can do a lot more than just be a big outside receiver,” first-year Cyclone offensive coordinator Nate Scheelhaase said. “We’re able to put him in the slot. He’s been good in the run-blocking game. I think anytime you have a guy like that, you feel like the sky’s the limit and he can grow each week.”
And smile, too. That’s because he knows something few of his foes do: He’s not only just scratching the surface of his true potential at ISU. He’s convinced the same could be said of the Cyclones’ offense writ large.
“If everyone could see what we do in practice it would just be crazy,” Higgins said. “We’re just the best in practice, but we only get so many (given) Saturdays to prove what we can do.”
So there’s a sense of urgency behind that near-permanent grin, as well. Higgins can’t do it all, but he will do his part on each remaining Saturday — smiling broadly along the way.
“It’s fun to watch him really start to evolve into the player I think we all believe he’s gonna become,” ISU head coach Matt Campbell said. “But from a character standpoint and how he’s gone about his process, he’s been nothing short of exceptional.”