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2018 Game I: Iowa State vs. South Dakota State Football Preview

It’s BACK! ISU Opens up 2018 versus the Wascally Wabbits from SDSU

2018 Game I: Iowa State 0-0, 0-0) vs. South Dakota State (0-0, 0-0 MVC)

Date: Saturday, September 1, 2018

Time: 7:00 P.M. CST

Location: MidAmerican Energy Field at Jack Trice Stadium, Ames, IA

Capacity: 61,500

Line: No line.


Radio: Cyclone Radio Network

Game Notes/Release

SDSU Game Notes

SDSU SB Nation Website - Apparently the MVC couldn’t afford one...

I don’t know about you Cyclone fans, but I haven’t been this excited about an upcoming season in a LOOOONG TIME! The Matt Campbell train is rolling full steam ahead, and there’s nothing slowing it down. The Cyclones return a ton of talent from a year ago, including NINE starters on offense, and SIX on defense. This program has stockpiled the reserves, and I have never seen a roster with this much depth. Ever.

Honestly, I don’t think there is a single team on the schedule that ISU can’t beat. That is saying something, as in years past you could always cross off a few opponents with a bonafide “L.” This team is different though. As they say up in Ames, “A Storm Is Brewing,” and Matt Campbell has built a foundation from the inside-out.

Last year’s team thrived on fundamentally sound football – not turning the ball over, and playing good defense. They utilized their strength on the outside with taller receivers, and pounded the rock with stud running back David Montgomery whenever necessary. Quite possibly the most underrated piece of the program, Defensive Coordinator Jon Heacock, implemented a 3-man front with a wide array of blitz packages that stifled Big 12 opponents.

In all, I foresee a very similar outlook for this year, with a few wrinkles mixed in. Iowa State has its deepest and strongest defensive line in decades, and carries with it an All-American type talent at running back.


When we last left off….

Iowa State beat #25 ranked Memphis to capture their first bowl victory since 2009. It was one for the ages, as the fans in Cardinal and Gold flooded Memphis and won a hard-fought victory over a stellar offensive attack to bring home the Liberty Bell.

To be honest, Iowa State outplayed expectations in 2017. They won TWO games against nationally ranked Top-5 opponents, and a school-record FIVE games on the road. Albeit for a few missed calls by #Big12Refs in the Kansas State debacle, Iowa State still won eight games, and have been recognized as one of the up-and-coming programs, not only regionally, but nationally.

The schedule this year is no different, and ISU has a brutal stretch to begin the season, but after Week 7 Moses opens up the Red Sea and the Cyclones have a better-than-even shot to win their last 5 games.

SDSU Tidbits

South Dakota State is coming off a historic season, winning a school-record 11 games and making their first-ever appearance in the FCS semi-finals. Their highlight of the year was beating eventual winner NDSU in the regular season, and did it behind a stellar senior class. Gone are top two receiving threats, both who are in the NFL, and quality players lost to graduation on both the offensive and defensive lines.

The Jackrabbits biggest asset is 6-foot-2, 225-pound Quarterback Taryn Christion, who accounted for 44 total touchdowns in 2017. While the four-year starting senior’s best attribute is his arm, he is just as lethal in the running game. SDSU returns 5 starters on offense and 7 on defense, and carry with them an above-average special teams unit.

Coach John Stiegelmeier has been at the helm in Brookings, SD for 22 years, and continues to re-load with talent year after year. They are ranked #3 in the country in the FCS, and are not a team to be taken lightly.

The Series

SDSU’s first ever game as an FCS program was against Iowa State in 2008. In that game, the Cyclones (led by Austin Arnaud and Philip Bates) won 44-17. In the series, Iowa State has beaten the Jackrabbits three times.

SDSU is 1-8 against FBS programs all-time, with their lone win against a lowly program in the state of, you guessed it, Kansas.

Iowa State Offense

Kyle Kempt is back, and will be the man at the helm for the Cyclones. Kempt reportedly added 15 pounds of muscle in the offseason, eating nothing more than spinach, protein shakes, and Jack’s pizza, and his arm strength has increased tremendously.

First Key to Victory – Take Care of the Ball

All kidding aside, Kempt will do what Kempt does, which is manage the game effectively. He will make his reads accordingly, and continue upon his record-breaking 66% completion rate from a season ago. There is no one that does a better job of taking care of the football than Kempt, as the only way SDSU can make this a game is if they force turnovers.

He has a plethora of weapons at his disposal, starting with Hakeem Butler, who made the move to the outside in the X position. Look for Butler to wreak havoc as SDSU graduated three of their top defensive backs. Others in the mix for receptions are Deshaunte Jones out of the slot, Matthew Eaton and his 6-foot-4 frog-frame of a body, and bulked up tight end Chase Allen.

NCAA Football: Liberty Bowl-Iowa State vs Memphis
Hakeem Butler is ready to roll
Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Campbell utilized the tight end in the slot much of his time at Toledo, and I expect to see more of that this year. Behind Allen at TE are three competent blockers, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a three-tight end set more often in short-yardage downs or at the goal line.

A quarterback’s best friend is a solid running game, and the Cyclones have one of the nation’s best in David Montgomery. Forcing an absurd 109 broken tackles last year, Montgomery carries with him a versatility of power, speed, and tremendous elusiveness. I do see the coaching staff lightening his load a bit in the first game, especially if the Clones get out to an insurmountable lead. As a fan, I am excited to see what both Johnnie Lang and Kene Nwangwu can do, as they will be deployed in a variety of ways, and are both lightning in a bottle.

None of the offense’s success is possible without the improvement of the offensive line though. As the biggest question mark heading into this season, the Cyclones return 51 career starts, and have moved center Julian Good-Jones to left tackle. Redshirt freshman Colin Newell will get the start making the callsat center, and is flanked by two above-average guards in Josh Mueller (new starter) and Josh Knipfel (returner).

I foresee a very balanced attack out of this offense, utilizing the screen game, along with 15-20 carries for Montgomery. In the red zone Iowa State has real threats with Eaton, Allen, AND Butler. Some other names to watch for are Tarique Milton, who can flat out fly, and could provide some fireworks (along with Butler) on play-action downfield throws.

SDSU Defense

South Dakota State returns seven starters on defense and Defensive Coordinator Clint Brown runs a standard four-man front. He returns a solid defensive end in Ryan Earith, who came into his own in the latter half of the year, leading the team with five sacks. The Jackrabbits don’t have a ton of beef up front (average weight is 265 amongst starters), and are young (four of the six in two-deep are freshmen or sophomores). In 2017, they gave up a healthy 4.6 yards per rush, so that bodes well for the DM Train and company.

They are led in the second line by linebacker Christian Rozeboom, who is a Pre-Season All-American. The junior is a Sioux Center, Iowa native, and comes off back-to-back 100-plus tackle seasons. This is probably their strongest unit as they carry three other seniors and a bevy of experience.

All-American Linebacker Christian Rozeboom

The secondary is mostly decimated, losing three contributors to graduation, but returning senior standout Jordan Brown. The 6-foot-1 cornerback earned all-MVC first-team honors a year ago, and is voted to do so again in 2018. The Jackrabbits were competent in the defensive passing game, only allowing 206 yards per opponent, but that is mostly due to a run-heavy Missouri Valley Conference.

Both safeties are seniors, and includes Iowa transfer Brandon Snyder, who inadvertently left the program due to injuries and a dislike for Iowa Chitty.

In all, this defense is below average, and will be exploited with their lack of girth on the line and speed in the back end. They are not the most aggressive bunch, as only 24 turnovers were forced a year ago, and don’t have the horses to blitz and stay in 1-on-1 coverages.

The Verdict – ISU by a Sizeable Margin

Iowa State should be able to provide a balanced attack against SDSU, and the DM Train will get his. Look for Campbell to exploit mismatches with speed in the slot (Milton and Jones), and complement our size on the outside in the red zone.

Don’t expect a video-game type performance from the offense, as it is only week one, and this staff is not willing to pull out the gimmicks nor much of the playbook if they don’t have to.

Iowa State Defense

The Cyclones return six players who started at least nine games on defense in 2017, and will be a formidable matchup for any opponent this season. The biggest strength for this program is undoubtedly the defensive line. ISU has never had this much talent in the two-deep, and I am giddy just thinking about it. It all starts with underappreciated defensive tackle Ray Lima, who is the cog in the middle that makes the engine run.

Jamahl Johnson was never 100% in ’17, but look for him to create vertical penetration as Lima takes on double teams. On the outside, I’ve got my eyes on the improvement of defensive end Jaquan Bailey. The heralded junior took plays off in his first two seasons, but I am expecting a motor that is always on full-bore for #3, as he was voted as 1st Team All-Big 12.

Second Key to Victory – Stop THE RUN

The linebacking corps is stout, as ISU returns two veterans in Marcel Spears, Jr. and Willie Harvey. Both will fill up the stat sheet in this game, as SDSU likes to create their offense first with the running game. The only question mark is in the middle, as there still isn’t a starter yet named. Mike Rose and O’Rien Vance will take the majority of snaps, and look for one to stand out and make his mark for the remainder.

The Cyclones have two of the best corners in the Big 12 in D’Andre Payne and Brian Peavy. Both have tremendous ability to wrap up at the point of attack, and the speed to cover any receiver downfield.

The safeties are one to watch. All will be newly inked starters, as Ole Miss transfer Greg Eisworth mans the strong safety spot, and Lawrence White will be roaming at free safety. De’Monte Ruth will play the nickel-back (STAR) position, and has the experience. I think Eisworth will have an all-conference worthy career, but the verdict is still out for the others.

I project we will see multiple sets by DC Jon Heacock, including the vaunted 3-man front which will allow for more speed on the field, and ability to contain the Jackrabbit passing attack.

SDSU Offense

The wascally wabbits are led by four-year starting quarterback Taryn Christion. He did it all, passing for 3,515 yards and running for another 500 in 2017, accounting for 44 touchdowns. Christion has the body to take hits in the running game, as well as the touch (and arm) to make all the throws necessary.

Third Key to Victory – Contain Christion in the Running Game

Christion is focal point number one. He has the ability to break long runs, and can tuck it on broken plays. It will be important for ISU to have a spy on him at all times, and for the defensive pressure to keep their contain on the outside.

Gone for SDSU are their top two targets from a year ago, who combined for an impressive 2,076 yards and 136 receptions. That means new blood in the receiving corps, and will fall on the shoulders of Cade Johnson, Jacob Brown, and tight end Kallan Hart. The Jackrabbits implore a tremendous amount of targets in the play-action to the tight end, and while it is hard to replace All-American (and 2nd round draft pick) Dallas Goedert, look for Hart to get plenty of action. Johnson is known as the speedster of the group, and Brown more for possession grabs.

The offensive line graduated 100 starts from 2017, and have a lot of holes to fill. They will replace it with an inexperienced squad, but do carry two seniors. The Jackrabbits like to control the clock and their emphasis is on running the football.

SDSU lost their top running back from a year ago, and we will see a strong 1-2 punch from the likes of Mikey Daniel (thunder) and Isaac Wallace (lightning). The two combined for 1000 yards in 2017, and offensive coordinator Eric Eidsness likes to share the load.

Verdict – EVEN

There are a lot of pieces to replace, but with such a talented quarterback in Christion, the Jackrabbits will get theirs on the offensive side of the ball. Again, if ISU can stop the run they will make this a one-dimensional game and that is their QB’s kryptonite. In all three losses a year ago, SDSU never got the run game going, and when Christion is forced to win the game only with this arm he is turnover-prone.

Special Teams

SDSU brings back all of its specialists from a year ago, and have an X-factor in All-American place-kicker Chase Vinatieri, the nephew to All-Pro (and SDSU alum) Adam Vinatieri. He was 13-for-14 on field goals in 2017, and their punter Brady Hale returns with a 40.1 yard average.

ISU will have all new faces in the kicking game, as I project true freshman Brayden Narveson getting the nod for place-kicking duties, and Chris Francis in kickoffs. Francis was a field-position beast, pinning 38 kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks. Aussie punter Corey Dunn is new to the team, but he is part of new generation of punters from Down Under, and can kick with both legs…think about that.

Returning kicks, the Jackrabbits have a huge playmaker in Cade Johnson, who averaged 28 yards per return and brought two back to the house in 2017. On top of that, SDSU blocked an impressive SIX kicks a year ago.

Boy have I been antsy to see Kene Nwangwu back in action. Coming off an Achilles injury, this speedster will be back returning kicks and was a lethal force as a freshman. Let’s hope he didn’t lose a step. The punt return spot will most likely be freshman Tarique Milton, as he can give Nwangwu a run for his money on the track.

Verdict – SDSU

ISU has too many question marks with their kickers, and SDSU has an above-average unit returning. I give the return game a push, but don’t worry – Iowa State is fundamentally sound when it comes to kick coverage.

Winning Scale from 1 to 10

In year’s past I would have been worried about a well-run FCS program coming to Ames and giving the Cyclones a run for their money. This year is different.

On a scale from small to tall, with 1 being Mahatma Ghandi and 10 being Andre the Giant, I give ISU an Arnold Schwarzenneger chance of winning this one.

Final Analysis

The only way the pesky Jackrabbits make this a game is if the Cyclones beat themselves. Turnovers, penalties and mental errors are preached day in and day out, and the Cyclones know that in order to win they have to do the small things right.

I see this game starting out a bit slow for the Cyclones, and SDSU could even grab an early lead, but there is too much talent on the roster and too much firepower to let this one slip away. The defense will show multiple formations to bug Christion, and Kempt and company will put enough points on the board to pull away late. David Montgomery will put the hammer down in the fourth quarter, and ISU cruises to their first victory of the year.

Final Score

Iowa State 38


Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below…


What will be the Outcome of the SDSU vs. ISU Game?

This poll is closed

  • 21%
    ISU in a BLOWOUT
    (47 votes)
  • 37%
    Don’t worry Matt, We got This
    (83 votes)
  • 31%
    Meh, It’ll be Closer than it needs to be, but the Clones will pull it out
    (71 votes)
  • 9%
    Really, an FCS team from the Dakota’s again?
    (22 votes)
223 votes total Vote Now