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2017 Game I: Iowa State vs. University of Northern Iowa Preview

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Its the Grandaddy of Them All - The Super Bowl vs. UNI!

2017 Game I: Iowa State (0-0, 0-0) vs. University of Northern Iowa (0-0, 0-0)

Day: Saturday, September 2, 2017

Time: 7:00 PM CDT

Location: Jack Trice Stadium

Capacity: 61,500

Line: Currently off the board

Television: Cyclones.tv

Radio: Cyclone Radio Network

Game Notes/Release

University of Northern Iowa Game Notes

The biggest game of the season is upon us – The Super Bowl – as ISU takes on in-state rival UNI in the first game of the season. Now you might think that “that Team Out East” deserves credit as ISU’s biggest rival, but for those of you living under a rock, clearly that is not the situation.

Matt Campbell and his staff bring back their entire coaching staff (which was not the case with previous regime), and the majority of the Cyclone talent is back for vengeance – and a bid to six wins and a bowl game.

Why do I need to write when I have a video tell it for me – courtesy of our football columnist @MatthiasWRNL

So now that your heart beat has calmed down and you have grabbed an ice cold Natty Lite, lets jump into the preview for the first game of the season!

When we last left off….

Matt Campbell’s Cyclones ended their season with a loss to West Virginia, and an overall record of 3-9. Expectations going into the season were hyped up by the relentlessness of the coaching staff and influx of young talent, but as Campbell has said time and again “Trust In the Process.”

It takes time to build a foundation, and the majority of players on the roster are still Rhoads’ recruits. Campbell and Recruiting Coordinator Alex Golesch have molded a new type of athlete to Ames, IA – bigger, faster, and closer to home. Their goal has been to focus on the “Upper Midwest”, and it has paid dividends. Campbell LOVES competition, and for the first time in a long time, I see legitimate Big 12 bodies at every position in the 2-deeps.

In fact, the depth chart shows TWELVE high school recruits from Campbell’s first recruiting class – all either true sophomores or redshirt freshmen. And we haven’t added in the prospective true freshmen from class of 2017 – players like Johnnie Lang, Keontae Jones, Richard Bowens III and Robert Hudson who appear to be vying for playing time.

While depth was a concern last year (and it showed late in games), ISU will have more athletic and able bodies and the talent drop off will not be nearly as severe. When your margins are razor-thin – one play can make a difference, and that can affect one drive, which can lose you one game, and keep you home in the winter instead of playing in a bowl game.

The Series

ISU leads the all-time series against UNI, 21-6-3, with the Panthers winning the Super Bowl last year in a demoralizing defeat by the score of 20-25. The Cyclones shot themselves in the foot on multiple occasions, with silly penalties and last-minute turnovers breaking the camel’s back in Campbell’s first game as head coach.

UNI Tidbits

Mark Farley has come back for his 17th season in Cedar Falls, and brings with him almost an entirely new staff, adding SEVEN new assistants.

While the UNI alum is mostly known for being the most winningest coach in school history, it hardly holds a candle to being related to the late, great Chris Farley.

After googling hokies and grinders, we get back to football. Mark Farley’s son Jared returns as the leading tackler, and also an FCS Preseason All-American at the linebacker position. In fact, the Panthers return eight starters on offense and nine on defense.

UNI finished a disappointing fifth in the Missouri Valley Conference a year ago, going 5-6 overall, but lost four games by four points or less. They were led by do-everything defensive end Karter Schult, who was FCS Defensive Player of the Year, tallied 17 sacks, and is now in camp with the Cleveland Browns.

Iowa State Offense

After Jacob Park became the signal-caller, ISU notched the most points and yards per game for a Cyclone team in the Big-12 era. In comparison to the rest of the conference, they were still in the middle of the pack, and will have to continue to scale the mountaintop of crazy octane offenses if they want to compete.

One thing I love about Park is his fearlessness. There is zero shred of doubt with this guy – and if there is one player where ISU needs to have the utmost confidence – it is the quarterback position.

Here is what the former four-star recruit said about his goals for the season.

“I’m shooting for – 36 touchdowns, five interceptions for 4,000 yards,” Park said in a recent media session.

Wow. Call me crazy, but if he attains 25 touchdowns and 3,000 yards I will be happy with that. Either way – gotta love the swag from Jacob Park.

In any offense, the quarterback’s best friend is a solid rushing attack. And Iowa State carries two ultra-talented and proven runners in Mike Warren and David Montgomery. It will be interesting to see how Warren will view his role as the number two option, but it will benefit both greatly, as the 1-2 punch has been a common (and successful) trend with offensive coordinator Tom Manning. In fact, in Manning’s Toledo days, he had two runners each go over 900 yards in one season.

But the biggest question we have is the offensive line. As it was noted here in our position previews, there is still a lot of doubt about the men up front. I see an average unit, but also one that has never played together on Saturdays.

NCAA Football: Big 12 Media Day
These seniors are ready to lead
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Just one word of advice – don’t project a season outlook from the line based upon their first two games. ISU has always had trouble running the ball against both UNI and Iowa, and this year will be no different. In the first two stanzas of both 2015 and 2016 (UNI and Iowa), ISU rushers averaged an awful 79 rushing yards per game and 2.66 yards per carry.

We can only go up from here, folks, and that is the talented receiving corps. We all know what we will get from Preseason All-Big 12 Allen Lazard, as well as slippery slot receivers Trever Ryen and Deshaunte Jones. The rest of the remaining outfit is full of potential – as names like Hakeem Butler, Marchie Murdock, Matt Eaton and tight end Chase Allen will see plenty of targets. UNI’s strength is in their front seven, so look for plenty of back shoulder throws, jump balls in the red zone and bubble screens to stretch out the defense. What I see is a plethora of size and speed, and one of the best receiving units this school has had since the days of J.J. Moses.

First Key to Victory – Give Park time to Throw

One of ISU’s biggest problems a year ago was pressure from the front four, as UNI combined for three sacks and a pivotal safety that changed the momentum of the game. That can’t happen again. While I would love to see the offensive line create space for our runners, it likely isn’t going to happen. Enter Jacob Park and his cannon arm.

Park at recent media conference - “I watched film from last year and I was making throws and it wasn’t even where I was supposed to throw the ball. But the dude I should have thrown it to was farther downfield and more wide open and would have had more yards for a touchdown, so it’s going to be night and day. It really is.”

NCAA Football: Oklahoma at Iowa State
Better watch out girls and boyz
Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

#10 has a full offseason under his belt, and a gold mine for receivers who can get up and make the big play. Give the man some time to throw and he will make everyone look good.

UNI Defense

As I said before, UNI has a stout defense, and that has been their calling card for years. A season ago, they ranked in the FCS top-10 in both total defense and rushing defense, as well as top-15 in six other categories. They will not play out of position, nor will they shy away from their base 4-3 defense. Their strength is in the linebacking corps and their ability to tackle in open space. Think Kansas State – a team that wraps up at the point of attack and does not break down in coverages – that is UNI football. Well coached, and at the right place at the right time.

The Panthers are led by All-Missouri Valley selections Jared Farley (LB) and Malcolm Washington (CB). Farley is a jack-of-all-trades defender, adept at stopping the run and playing sideline to sideline in coverage. Washington is a transfer from Fresno State, who led UNI with four interceptions a year ago, and at 6-feet tall will most likely acquire the daunting task of (trying to) cover Allen Lazard.

Another returning linebacker is Rickey Neal, who moonlighted at the defensive end spot and had six tackles-for-loss a year ago. I noticed a lack of beef up front for the Panthers, but it doesn’t matter, as they are scrappy and sound in their gaps. Adam Reth will look to fill the big shoes vacated by Schult, as will sophomore Hezekiah Applegate at the defensive end positions.

The Verdict – Iowa State

In order for ISU to take that next step, the offense will need to win this head-to-head battle consistently, and they have talent to do so.

UNI will wear the Iowa State offensive line down, and Tom Manning and company may get frustrated at running for three yards and a cloud of dust. The good thing is, the Panthers don’t have the athletic ability to cover our playmakers out wide. I see a big day out of Park – to the tune of 2-3 touchdowns, and a steady dose of Deshaunte Jones and Allen Lazard.

Second Key to Victory – Explosive Plays/Red Zone Offense

Two categories I would like to see improvement in are big plays and opportunities in the red zone. For the latter, ISU excelled in putting points on the board when crossing the opponents 20, but there was a caveat – Big 12 teams averaged 56 opportunities, while the Cyclones only had 41. As for the home-run threats – the Cyclones have the heaviest hitters they’ve had in a long time; they just need execution and ample amount of time for Park to get his studs the ball.

Iowa State Defense

ISU returns eight starters from a year ago, and are led in the back end with a ferocious secondary. Kamari Cotton-Moya is once again healthy, and it will be important that #5 stays on the field, as he is the quarterback of the defense. He will see plenty of opportunities for tackles against a potent UNI rushing attack, and I project double digit stops for the Preseason All-Conference safety.

D’Andre Payne moves over to his more natural position, and joins the most underrated cornerback in the Big 12 in Brian Peavy. Both are undersized, but have the speed and awareness to turn on a dime and be in position for the ball. I see big years out of both junior corners. Their night will be not nearly as busy as most Big 12 games, as UNI is below average in their passing attack.

NCAA Football: Oklahoma at Iowa State
He is all that is man
Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

One of the weakest units a year ago got an upgrade, adding QB Joel “LANRAM” Lanning and so far the coaching staff has praised his uncanny ability to pick up the position. Lanning added 15 pounds of muscle and looks to man the middle linebacker spot. Alongside him is the Cyclones’ leading tackler from a year ago - Willie Harvey.

One way to make the linebackers better is for increased effectiveness from the defensive line. ISU has not had a stellar defensive line since the Curvey/Leaders/Berryman days, but has many talented playmakers waiting in the wings. One problem, though. Those youngsters (including 8 in the 2017 class) are a year or two away from playing. Two stalwarts who will create an impact this year are JUCO transfer Ray Lima and sophomore JaQuan Bailey. Lima has the size at 306 pounds to man the middle, and Bailey has sculpted his body into tip-top shape to be ready for a monster season on the edge.

Third Key to Victory – Stuff the UNI Rushing Attack

The UNI Panthers are similar to an Iowa high school offense – they will run, run, and run some more. While their offensive line fought the injury bug a year ago, their mantra has always been an effective rushing attack. One of those players coming back from season-ending injury is massive 6-foot-7 315-pound tackle Bryce Sweeney. Add in three returning starters and the front four for ISU will have their work cut out for them.

Cutting their teeth for playing time are defensive tackles Matt Leo and Jamahl Johnson. Johnson played sparingly a season ago, and has cut weight, while Leo has added beef to his frame and appears to play the hybrid role of DT/DE. Both will be called upon plenty in this one, and look for ISU to rotate, as line coach Eli Rasheed likes to get fresh legs on the field.

UNI Offense

Gone is dual-threat quarterback Aaron Bailey, as drop-back passer Eli Dunne is the Panther’s new starting quarterback. The 6-foot-5 junior from Grinnell started four games a year ago, and throwing for almost 1200 yards, including one performance over 400. Dunne completed 64% of his throws a year ago, but lacks the mobility as a run-threat. That role belongs to Marcus Weymiller, who will see touches in the backfield via the wildcat package.

NCAA Football: Northern Iowa at Iowa State
No more dual-threat from former QB Bailey
Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

The majority of rushing yards graduated for the Panthers, and it appears UNI’s run game will be a three-pronged attack for 2017. The most heralded one of the bunch is Trever Allen, a sophomore out of Waukee, who played a hybrid role at running back and receiver a year ago, and was voted on as a second-team all-preseason performer in the conference. The listed starter on the depth chart is J’Veyon Browning, and wildcat quarterback Weymiller is the third amigo.

The receiving corps is about as underwhelming as a vegetarian meal at a steakhouse, but still has a few playmakers on the outside. Senior Daurice Fountain leads all returnees with 82 career receptions, and is known primarily as a possession threat. The deep throws will be made to Jalen Rima, who averaged nearly 17 yards per reception, and is also a menace in the return game.

Verdict – EVEN

This is my way of asking the defense to step it up, as I’m in the prove-me-wrong camp. On talent alone, ISU should be the clear favorite, but based upon each team’s strengths this could be a stalemate. UNI’s success at running the ball plays right into the hands of a front four weakness of Iowa State, and the lack of a potent passing attack will eliminate the Cyclones talent in the secondary.

I see my main man Kamari Cotton-Moya playing in the box to stuff the run, leaving both corners on islands. Things to focus on are the ability for sound gap protection up front, and the aggressiveness of our linebackers. Too many times we saw the second line of defense play on their heels. They will need to be on their toes and up in the right spots to shred block and stop the run.

Special Teams

Coach Campbell announced the biggest secret weapon of all in the depth chart - with the kick returning spot listed as TBA. That means just about anyone can take that role - like Forrest Gump or maybe even Bobby Boucher. But don’t take my word for it, how about let an 11-minute YouTube video explain who would be better.

Northern Iowa’s return men do not scare me in the slightest. Their kicker and punter return from an average, but not great season a year ago.

ISU lost one of its most consistent performers from 2016, in all-time leading kicker Cole Netten. Those duties now belong to Oregon State transfer Garrett Owens, who needed a change of scenery, and has experience in a game time atmosphere.

Verdict - EVEN

Final Analysis

While last year’s performance was tragic, I just don’t see there is any possible way that Matt Campbell and his crew let the Panthers even come close to smelling a victory.

The offseason helped shape and mold these young men into newer and better bodies, and it has shown, going from one player bench-pressing 400 pounds a year ago, to now over 15 on the squad. This team and staff have been licking their chops, waiting for revenge on the stinkbomb they laid a year ago against UNI.

I don’t see a potent rushing attack, but I do see a solid effort out of #10 and his bevy of talented receivers on the field. The UNI Panthers will be no match for the strength of Allen Lazard and company. I see #5 reeling in at least one score, and Park completing passes all over the field. UNI will play strong in their defensive approach, and will not allow any mental lapses to happen. It will be a dink-and-dunk, and find the open receiver for Park.

The ISU defense has its work cut out for them. I really want to see how tenacious and strong the front four is going to be, and how LANRAM will man the middle in his new spot. It appears we will see more of a 4-3 approach with three linebackers on the field more often, and Willie Harvey taking the weak-side role. This will be beneficial against UNI’s rushing attack.

Final Score

Iowa State - 34

Northern Iowa - 17