2011 Game 1: Iowa State vs Northern Iowa (UNI)
6:00 PM, Saturday, September 3rd
The shackles of summer are finally off and football is right around the corner (ignore the hooker in the way). There’s plenty to get to so let’s jump right in.
When We Last Left Off…
Iowa State lost to Missouri 14-0 to close out their 2010 season at 5-7 and miss a bowl game. The Cyclones dropped their last three contests to Nebraska, Colorado and Missouri.
UNI lost to Lehigh 14-7 in the Division I-AA playoffs. The Panthers finished the season by going 7-3 after losing to Iowa State earlier in the year.
On a quick side note, there are two things you will see these previews do from time to time. One, I will never use FBS and FCS and two, I prefer to use Big XII instead of Big 12. It just looks classier and is probably the real reason Texas A&M is leaving.
Iowa State vs Northern Iowa: A History
Iowa State beat UNI last season 27-0 behind two defensive touchdowns and boring, but mostly capable, play from Jerome Tiller. Thankfully we should not see a repeat of that offensive performance with him having been ruled academically ineligible two weeks ago.
Last 5 Games
2010: Iowa State 27, UNI 0
2007: UNI 24, Iowa State 13*
2006: Iowa State 28, UNI 27
2004: Iowa State 23, UNI 0
2003: Iowa State 17, UNI 10
*Denotes a Gene Chizik Debacle/Production
What Happens When… Iowa State is on Offense
For the first time since 2004 Iowa State will be starting with both an unproven quarterback and running back in the backfield. If this season turns out to be anything like that one then you’ll see both Steele Jantz and Shontrelle Johnson going down in Cyclone record books.
Much media attention has been devoted to Offensive Coordinator Tom Herman mentioning the use of the Jet tempo from the offense more this year than in the past. While I believe we will certainly see the tempo pick up I doubt you will see an Oregon style offense that averages 10 seconds between plays for the whole game. While the defense should be improved the depth is still not where it should be athletically and a possession style game will be favored at certain points, including against UNI.
However, you should expect to see the offensive come out firing at Jet tempo as Herman likes to script his first 10 to 15 plays of each game. If past games are an indicator Iowa State will be testing UNI’s depth on defense very quickly. The field probably won’t be stretched until the second drive but the run game will be a factor early and often in the play calling.
Where Iowa State Excels: The running backs and the depth there will be a test for UNI. The speed of Johnson and James White are perfect complements to Jeff Woody’s bruising ability (this author isn’t a big fan of Duran Hollis, but he will likely play as well).
Where Iowa State Falters: Believe it or not, the offensive line, who will have two new starters at left guard and center, and is facing a front seven that is all seniors. This includes I-AA All-American Ben Boothby at defensive tackle. Experience benefits teams at all levels and if Iowa State does not perform well on the offensive line early then UNI will hang around most of the game.
X-Factor: Steele Jantz. How will he react in his first game in front of 50,000+? Is the arm as advertised and does he know the offense well enough to win the game with his arm if it’s necessary? Based on all the insights from those close to the program he may not be the second coming of Seneca Wallace but he may be the perfect fit for this offense.
What Happens When… Iowa State is on Defense
Let’s get something out of the way, the Cyclones were opportunistic last season against UNI and by no means dominated the game. UNI gained 320 yards on a balanced attack but committed five turnovers; two of which were interceptions returned for touchdowns.
Both squads will be better and both return eight starters on their respective side of the ball. Like above, the key to the match up will be the front seven against the offensive line. Much noise has been made about the improvements that Iowa State has made on the defensive line and how Stephen Ruempolhamer and Jake McDonough are becoming forces up the middle. If this holds true, expect them to do more than hold their gaps and start to put a strain on UNI’s run game.
The biggest concern for Iowa State’s defense will be the new starting tandem of Ter’ran Benton and Jacques Washington at safety. They replace the combo of David Sims and Michael O’Connell and while Washington should be an athletic upgrade over O’Connell you worry about Benton’s match up skills whenever he’s in a one on one situation. More concerning is what happens when/if Benton slides to Nickel and true freshman Jared Brackens slides into the strong safety spot.
Where Iowa State Excels: Linebacker. Hands down. A.J. Klein and Jake Knott shined against Tirrell Rennie and Zach Davis last year and there is no reason not to think they will not do the same this year. If the defensive line steps up like everyone says, then letting these two roam in the open field spells danger for UNI and probably multiple sightings/sayings of this:
Where Iowa State Falters: Safety until otherwise seen. It’s hard to start two guys who have never played the position before and not expect mistakes to happen. If UNI gets the run game going early then play action could be troublesome for Washington, Benton and the whole Iowa State defense.
X-Factor: Tirrell Rinne. He has made his mark rushing the ball more than passing and if Iowa State can keep him bottled up (see: Knott and Klein and the open field) then the game has the chance to turn south very quickly for the Panthers. If Rinne gets going early he will be tough to stop and will open the balanced attack even more for UNI.
Meh. Kiby Van Der Kamp will hopefully continue excelling at punting the ball and Grant Mahoney could make a field goal for once. The biggest improvement I want to see is on kick coverage. Iowa State ranked in the bottom ¼ of all teams in the country when it came to kick coverage in 2010.
WRNL Lead Pipe Action Prediction: Shontrelle Johnson and Jeff Woody both score touchdowns. Johnson scores with the ladies at Sips after the game.
50/50 Prediction: Steele Jantz breaks Iowa State’s 12-game streak of no pass plays over 40 yards with a touchdown to Josh Lenz; Lenz shotguns Busch Light (official drink of Dubuque, IA) immediately after. WRNL disowns Josh Lenz.
Unlikely to Happen but We’ll Light a Dumpster on Fire if it Does: Grant Mahoney makes a field goal.
UNI is a good I-AA program and an easy program to cheer for. However these games usually come down to depth, especially in the 2nd half. While Iowa State is by no means a Big XII powerhouse Paul Rhoads has done a great job of developing depth and at some point the experienced players on UNI’s defense have to take a rest.
While Iowa State may not impose their will on UNI each and every play the combination of a physical run game and an up tempo pace will eventually take its toll on the Panthers.
Game stays close, Panthers make some good plays offensively, but this one is a classic Paul Rhoads early season opening win.
Iowa State 27
PS – Iowa State is a 14.5 point favorite in this. I have a good feeling UNI gets a backdoor cover and scores a late touchdown to do it.
PPS – You probably assume Iowa State gets to 27 points with two field goals. Not quite. My prediction calls for a safety on a bad punt snap, a safety on a blocked punt, and a safety where Jake Knott bursts through the line, rips of Tirrell Renne’s arms and the ball falls into the end zone and is recovered by a Panther offensive lineman for a safety.
After, Paul Rhoads can be seen saying this (fast forward to 29 seconds):[YouTube]w9rLLXTXfb8[/YouTube]