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2016 Game 1: Iowa State vs. Northern Iowa Preview

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It’s that time of year again! Tailgating all day, and football all night!

NCAA Football: Northern Iowa at Iowa State Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

2016 Game I: Iowa State (0-0, 0-0) vs. University of Northern Iowa (0-0, 0-0)

Time: 7:00 p.m. CDT

Location: Jack Trice Stadium

Capacity: 61,500

Line: Currently off the board, some sites have ISU -7

Television: Cyclones.tv

Radio: Cyclone Radio Network

Game Notes/Release

University of Northern Iowa Athletic Site

Football season is upon us ladies and gentlemen! Pacing the sidelines this year will be a new coach in 36-year old Matt Campbell. Campbell has won over the majority of the fan base with an electrifying persona that embodies hard work and integrity. All while heading up a staff that is completely badass at social media.

We haven’t seen this much excitement in – well, a really long time. This staff has gravitated to its fan base with videos like above, and already staked their claim as the “Big 12 destination of the upper Midwest” by traveling all over the country and stealing away recruits from the likes of Alabama, Ole Miss, Florida, Nebraska, Michigan, etc.

If Campbell can’t win here, I don’t know who can. That is the glory of this fans – enjoy the ride while you can!

And make sure to get to Ames early with your Natty Lite drinking shoes on!

When we last left off….

Paul Rhoads was getting carried off the field with his hard hat on in his last game as an ISU coach. The writing was on the wall – and with an underwhelming 3-9 season, it was finally time for Jamie Pollard and company to make a change.

But Rhoads didn’t leave the cupboard bare. Coming back for the 2016 season are a bevy of playmakers led by quite possibly the best three-headed monster of QB/RB/WR since the magical 2000 season. Joel Lanning looks to improve upon his success after starting the last 5 games, Mike Warren was a freshman All-American, and this guy named Allen Lazard will go down as one of the most decorated receivers in school history.

With experience comes attrition though. The offensive line has been decimated by injuries, forcing offseason departures and sidelining starting right tackle Jake Campos with a broken leg. The defense has also lost the majority of their quarterback hurries from Sack Mamba Dale Pierson, and tackles from Jordan Harris and Levi Peters, but return 10 starters from a year ago – most of it in a stacked secondary.

Depth will be a concern in the trenches, as the Cyclones return a total of one start on the offensive line, and (other than Demond Tucker) a big question mark for the defensive line. The starters can hold their own and are competent for Big 12 play, but should injuries happen, there will be a large drop off.

Campbell released the depth chart on Monday, and it carries with it a total of EIGHT true freshmen, mostly at the skill positions. I was morbidly surprised, as this could mean one of two things – either Campbell’s staff didn’t believe in Rhoads’s previous recruits, or these freshmen are just plain better. As the man said himself, “the best players are going to play,” and it appears the 2016 recruiting class will play a significant role this season.

The Series

ISU leads the all-time series against UNI 21-5-3, with the last meeting ISU winning by a score of 31-7. UNI coach Mark Farley is 2-7 all-time against the Cyclones.

UNI Tidbits

UNI ended the 2015 season with a 9-5 record, and come into Saturday’s game as the No. 5 ranked team in the FCS. They return 15 starters and Farley returns for his 16th season as UNI’s coach. The Panthers bowed out last season to eventual national champion North Dakota State in the quarterfinals of the FCS playoff. They bring back a talented backfield with returning signal caller Aaron Bailey and running back Tyvis Smith, as well as four returning offensive linemen.

Iowa State Offense

Offensive coordinator Tom Manning preaches offensive line play, and is the perfect coach for this unit. The starting five need to work as one, and it all starts up front with the center Brian Bobek. Bobek comes to Ames from Ohio State via Minnesota as a grad transfer, and it will be imperative that he stay healthy throughout the year.

Guard Nick Fett has proven he can play, and left tackle Jaypee Philbert will have to show a level of consistency that we have yet to see. ISU has to get the run game going, as it is the straw that stirs the drink. This offense is predicated on hard running between the tackles, and ISU will most likely take advantage of tired defenses by running the hurry-up, no-huddle approach.

I foresee a lot of handoffs to #2 as Mike Warren will serve as the bell-cow back in 2016. Warren comes off a tremendous freshman campaign, leading the Big 12 with over 130 rushing yards per game in conference play and earning Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year honors. Backing him up are two stud freshmen – David Montgomery (Slash) and Kene Nwangwu (Dash), who have proven on the practice field they belong.

Joel Lanning has trademarked his nickname LANRAM by displaying a tough-nosed running style and knack for getting yards downfield. He only completed 55% of his passes a year ago, and will need to improve upon his efficiency if this team wants to sustain drives. He will be a reckoning force in the running game, displaying both speed and power.

Boy, do we have a lot of options at wide receiver! Leading the pack is junior Allen Lazard, and his 6-foot-5 frame. Lazard has honed his body to take hits over the middle, and has the speed to beat corners down the field. He may not see as many targets as a typical spread offense per se, but will be utilized on deep throws to stretch the defense and most importantly as a red zone target.

Look for Trever Ryen to bring his bag of tricks at the “M” position, as he can line up anywhere on the field. Dondre Daley will play the other outside receiver position, and I could see a few balls thrown the direction of 6-foot-6 Hakeem Butler and tight end Justin Chandler out of the slot. Campbell loves to widen the splits with the tight end off the line of scrimmage, and Chandler will serve as a prominent blocker in the second line of defense.

First Key to Victory – Get the Run Game Going

Paul Rhoads’ teams never had an identity, but this staff will tell you they want to run the ball down your throat and chew the clock while they are at it. Manning and Campbell will come to play with a lot of different sets, mostly out of shotgun, but also under center (thank God on short downs). At Toledo they did a masterful job of converting on third downs, and that all starts with your first down play. Look for better execution in this man-blocking scheme and using the run to set up the pass.

UNI Defense

UNI runs a standard 4-3 defense, and they only bring back four starters from a season ago. Leading the Panthers is preseason All-American defensive end Karter Schult. The senior from Tripoli, IA wreaked havoc upon quarterbacks in 2015, with 23 tackles for loss and 15 sacks.

I also noticed a lack of beef on the defensive side of the ball, with the front four averaging 280 pounds, and leading returning tackler Jared Farley at just 221 pounds. That is a huge advantage to Iowa State. They need to overpower the lack of meat up front, but also be sound in gap protection with UNI’s speed.

The Panthers are always known for their fundamental defense. They were top 3 in their conference in red zone defense, rush defense, scoring defense, sacks and turnovers forced. They mix it up with some blitzes from their linebackers, but gain most of the pressure from the front four.

The linebackers are experienced, with returning starters Farley (coach’s son) and D’Shawn Dexter. Dexter is undersized at 5-foot-9, but has a knack for getting to the ball. Duncan Ferch (former ISU LB Drake’s bro) is the third linebacker in this unit, as UNI carries a top echelon of tacklers in the FCS.

The secondary is a different story, as the Panthers lose all-conference cornerback Deiondre’ Hall and safety Tim Kilroy. Both were top-5 in tackles and led the way in interceptions a year ago. UNI keeps reloading, and has experience within their roster, with two seniors and two juniors in the defensive backfield.

The Verdict – Iowa State

Iowa State just has too much talent at the skill positions. Warren will carry for over 100 yards, and I could see Lanning with a big game on the ground, as the defense will force him to keep the ball in the spread option attack. Lanning must make the right decisions, as the Panthers will play sound football and be in the right place at the right time.

Second Key to Victory (and the 2016 Season) – Quarterback Decision Making and Consistency

I really want to see if all that offseason improvement turned Lanning into an above average quarterback. He needs to be consistent throughout all four quarters, not just in a few drives. If this team wants to turn the corner, it will have to start with #7 and his decision-making abilities. That starts with improving on his short to intermediate throws. We all know Joel has a cannon for an arm, but he needs to show touch on his short throws, and take what the defense gives him. These first few games will show us if Lanning is the next good QB at ISU.

Look for more targets to the tight end, especially in play-action. We will see a few throws over the top of the defense, as Manning likes to keep them honest, and has a stud in Lazard that can stretch the field. Also there are a lot of names in the 2-deep at receiver that have made names for themselves on the news wire. It will be important to see who can step up and solidify their spot on the field in weeks to come.

Iowa State Defense

ISU switched from a 3-4 to the 4-2-5 nickel scheme in the offseason, and Jon Heacock leads the way as the new defensive coordinator. Gone is Wally Burnham, but not the bend-but-don’t-break defensive mentality. Heacock has shown that you can win this way – but it is imperative to play good fundamental defense and wrap up. He will mix up blitzes from time to time, but the main pressure will be applied from the front four.

P.S. - A few years from now, as we look back at all the absolute bosses ISU got as coaches, Heacock could be the one who makes the biggest splash. The guy has 30+ years of experience and will be a huge asset for a young staff moving forward.

Leading the defense is Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year Demond “The Dorm Fridge” Tucker, as he moves away from all the double teams at nose tackle, and is licking his chops on a four-man front. Tucker has one of the biggest ASSets on the team, and his first step and tremendous quickness will play significant roles.

Last year’s team struggled to stop the run and the pass, but when you look at what wins you games, it starts with the run defense. Looking back at my first article I wrote at WRNL, one of the highest correlations to wins in college football is rush defense. If this team wants to go bowling, they are going to have to stuff the line of scrimmage, and these next few names will have to step up big.

Vernell Trent starts alongside Tucker, and needs to prove that he belongs. Behind him is 295-pound Pierre Aka who will steal playing time, but also needs to be consistent. Campbell talked last week that he likes to rotate the defensive line – but has to have the talent available to do it.

Mitchell Meyers is quite possibly the best story in college football right now. Look for him to come back to true form, and I could see JaQuan Bailey steal some snaps on the other side. Bailey should get some quarterback hurries too. He will be fun to watch!

The linebackers are another mystery, as the starting middle linebacker is journeyman Kane Seeley. Seeley must contain his area and make sound reads, otherwise Brian Mills will take over. Willie Harvey will most likely lead the team in tackles at his weak-side spot.

The secondary is the deepest we have seen in a looooong time. Kamari Cotton-Moya is the healthiest he has ever been, and Mike Johnson has proven he can beat out Duke transfer Evrett Edwards at the other safety spot.

The corners are led by Brian Peavy, who is poised to have a breakout year At the Nickel/STAR spot is D’Andre Payne. Look for Payne to make his mark from day one, not only as a cover man, but also in the return game.

Third Key to Victory – Get Off the Field on Third Down

The Panthers have a slippery runner at quarterback in Aaron Bailey. It will be important for the defense to keep a spy on the field, and contain Bailey within the pocket, because the guy can just flat out fly. One of ISU’s biggest problems last year was third down conversion defense, and they will be tested yet again.

UNI Offense

Last year Bailey ran for over 1300 yards, mostly on designed quarterback runs out of the shotgun. He also was a huge asset in the red zone, scoring a school-record 19 rushing touchdowns a season ago, but lacks a strong arm, or an accurate one at that. If there is one knock on the UNI offense, it is their lack of a passing attack.

The man who will get the majority of the carries at RB is Tyvis Smith, and his 226-pound frame. Smith is a bruiser, but also has the wheels to break one. He also went over the 1000-yard plateau a year ago, and his backup Michael Malloy is just as good.

The Panthers return their top two receivers from last year – led by 6-foot-3 Daurice Fountain. Look for Peavy to box him in and take advantage. The speedy Charles Brown is the other one to look for, as he catches the majority of his balls in the middle of the field.

The strength of this UNI team is their offensive line, bringing back four starters and a combined 53 starts. They are led by preseason All-American Robert Rathje, and are efficient in the run game.

UNI will primarily run a shotgun offensive scheme with a lot of designed QB runs, sweeps and counters. It will be important for ISU to gain pressure (especially up the middle) if they want to disrupt the Panther running attack.

The Verdict - EVEN

I’m still a bit leery about this Cyclone defense. The secondary I can trust, but they will not be the focal point on Saturday. The game will be won in the trenches, and it will be interesting to see how the four-man front will handle the experience of UNI’s offensive line. Bailey does not scare me in the passing game, but his legs could burn us on a play or two.

I’m in the prove-me-wrong camp – I want to see the defense stack the box and make sound gap decisions. The linebacker unit needs to show speed on the outside. Look for a big day out of Cotton-Moya and Payne, who will be called upon to make a lot of tackles.

Special Teams

ISU returns both kickers from a year ago, and with the stout defense that UNI runs in the red zone, Cole Netten should get his opportunities in this one. Field position will be a battle won by the punters, and Campbell made it clear that he will play his best players in that capacity.

UNI has a good one in preseason All-Conference punter Sam Kuhter, but the Cyclones also have wildcards in Trever Ryen and Deshaunte Jones.

Field position will play a large role in this one, as both teams like to play a physical run-first approach.

The Verdict - EVEN

Final Analysis

The team that Mark Farley brought into Ames last year is very similar, but this time they have a QB who has experience, as last year Bailey was making his first start. Look for the Panthers to play a style similar to the trolls to the east – slow, methodical, and mistake-free football.

UNI will play sound defense, and they will be able to run the ball at times. A turnover may make all the difference in this one, as well as a long run in the return game.

I see Lanning and Warren pounding out the yards and tiring down the defense on their way to solid days on the ground. I really want to see if this offensive line unit can gel and communicate with the different looks that UNI will throw their way.

Now, I know you all want to see a blowout in this one – but remember that it’s this coaching staff’s first game together on the sidelines. There are a lot of new faces, and we will more than likely see a ton of true freshmen.

What makes me excited about this coaching staff compared to last is that they preach execution. If ISU can come in and accomplish their game plan, they will roll over this team. We have better talent and the playmakers to make those “explosive” plays.

Oh yeah, and it will be fun to see adjustments made at halftime too.

Overall, I see a hard-nosed victory by the home team. The defense will have their work cut out for them, but the offense will win this one behind the legs of Warren and Lanning.

Final Score

Iowa State 27, UNI 17

And, now for the discussion. Let’s hear the comments, predictions, etc.