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Defensive Player to Watch vs. UNI: Will McDonald

The redshirt will have a huge opportunity to make a big impact in his first career start.

This Saturday will be the showcase of a defense that has a bunch of experience and talent. However, it’ll also be a test for the young guys on the team that don’t have a lot of experience yet. They get to show what they are made of against Northern Iowa. This is a team that in the past, has haunted Iowa State in their run game. Hopefully that doesn’t repeat this season, and our hope is in the improvement of the defense from the last few times we’ve played the PantherHawks.

Obviously, the defense has improved since the last time we played UNI. They went from pretty mediocre to the best defense in the Big 12 thanks to a personnel overhaul, along with a genius scheme. But even though the defense has improved a lot, that doesn’t make UNI a walk in the park. This UNI team is the same fundamentally sound, run-first Panther team that we’ve come to expect when Mark Farley comes to town.

All of that is why the redshirt freshman Will McDonald is the player to watch on the defensive side of the ball for Saturday. In his first start, he will be relied on to shoot gaps and stop the senior running back, Trevor Allen. Allen is a talented back who thrives in the secondary level of the defense with his quick feet. The linebackers’ ability to make stops before the UNI advance into the second level of the defense will be crucial, and Will McDonald will be the one I’m paying attention to the most.

We all know the tremendous potential that McDonald has. This past week, he was announced as a Freshman All-American candidate along with Breece Hall.

In limited action last season, he was a freak of nature and showed an absurd amount of potential. This alone has me hyped to watch him play on Saturday.

But this all just potential, so I still need to see him perform over the course of an entire game. Saturday’s matchup with the Panthers should provide a solid test for someone with a small amount of reps.

My educated guess on the role that McDonald will be playing this Saturday will be a prevention or spy role, much like the one we saw Mike Rose in early last season. The Northern Iowa quarterback, Will McElvain, is a scrambler who will do most of his damage outside of the pocket. Iowa State has the advantage with the three man rush because Iowa State will have five back, more than likely swarming the edges of the pocket. McDonald will be in this position too, and should be able to cause havock for McElvain.