The 2015 version of Iowa State football got its season started on the right foot on Saturday evening, as the Cyclones defeated in-state foe Northern Iowa 31-7 to move to 1-0 overall. The win helped ISU achieve its first in-season winning record since the 2012 season.
The first half contained many emotional swings. Iowa State won the toss and elected to defer. After kneeling the opening kickoff, UNI trotted out Illinois transfer Aaron Bailey at quarterback, ending the week-long speculation of who would be the starting QB for the Panthers.
ISU pushed Northern Iowa into a 3rd and 17 situation on the opening drive, but Cyclone fans in the stadium suffered a case of deja vu when Bailey scrambled 18 yards up the sideline for a first down. 2014 was a less than stellar year for the ISU defense, as they often caved under pressure and gave up multiple runs for big gains. The good news was, Iowa State ended up forcing the Panthers to punt after the next three plays.
Tyler Brown showed flashes of his explosiveness on the first possession for ISU, dashing for runs of 34 yards and 13 yards. The UNI defense stopped the Cyclones on the Panthers' 20 yard line though, and usually-accurate kicker Cole Netten missed a 38 yard field goal wide right to keep the score at 0-0.
Northern Iowa scored the first touchdown of the game shortly into the second quarter. The Panthers marched 84 yards down the field and capped the drive with a 19 yard pass from Bailey to Savon Huggins. The record-breaking Jack Trice Stadium crowd let out a collective groan as ISU went down 7-0.
Things looked like they might get even worse for the Cyclones when wide receiver Quenton Bundrage fumbled in Iowa State territory and UNI pounced on the ball. However, two plays later, ISU defensive lineman Dale Pierson picked off Bailey and returned the ball to Northern Iowa's 38 yard line. Five plays later, true freshman Joshua Thomas ran the ball in from the one yard line for his first touchdown as a Cyclone and the score was tied up at 7-7.
It looked like the momentum was shifting when UNI return man, Darrian Miller, fumbled the ensuing kickoff and the Cyclones pounced on the ball at the Panther 20 yard line. The Iowa State offense couldn't take advantage though, as kicker Cole Netten missed his second field goal of the night on a 41 yarder.
Following the missed field goal, the ISU defense forced a three and out and Netten redeemed himself by making a 24 yard field goal at the end of the drive. The Cyclones went into the locker room at halftime with a 10-7 lead.
Iowa State extended its lead to 17-7 when fall camp standout Dondre Daley broke away for 36 yard touchdown off a wide receiver screen on ISU's second possession of the second half. The Cyclones had started with great field possession after the defense pinned UNI deep in their own territory and forced a three and out.
ISU once again held the Panthers to a short possession and got the ball back quickly. It looked as if a 22 yard screen pass to Bundrage would set Iowa State up with a first and goal, but the play was reviewed and the booth determined Bundrage lost possession of the ball before he was out of bounds at the one yard line. The ball careened into the pylon out of Bundrage's hand, and it resulted in a touchback. Panther ball.
Another Northern Iowa possession ended before it could get rolling. Bailey was taken down in the backfield on 3rd and 17 by Demond Tucker for the JUCO transfer's first sack in a Cyclone uniform. Three plays later, Sam Richardson dropped in a beautiful pass into the end zone to Allen Lazard just over the arms of a UNI defender and Iowa State took a 24-7 lead going into the fourth quarter.
Northern Iowa head coach Mark Farley elected to sub in quarterback Sawyer Kollmorgen with Bailey struggling. Kollmorgen led the Panthers to their 28-20 victory over Iowa State in 2013, but the senior couldn't get UNI's offense going any better than Bailey once he was inserted into the lineup.
Walk-on running back Trever Ryen out of Ida Grove, Iowa put the exclamation point on the game for ISU when he returned a punt 81 yards for a touchdown with a few minutes left in the game. The 31-7 score ended up being the final - sweet Iowa State victory.
Player of the game honors would probably go to Dale Pierson. His interception in the second quarter helped spark the Cyclones as they rattled off 31 unanswered points to blow out the Panthers. The senior also added three sacks and proved to be a handful for the UNI O-line all game long.
Next week's matchup will be the annual Cy-Hawk matchup against Iowa. The Hawkeyes are fresh off a 31-14 victory over Illinois State in their own season opener. This year's game is in Ames and kicks off at 3:45 p.m. CDT.