2019 Game I: Iowa State (0-0, 0-0) vs. University of Northern Iowa (0-0, 0-0 MVC)
Date: Saturday, August 31, 2019
Time: 11:00 A.M. CST
Location: MidAmerican Energy Field at Jack Trice Stadium, Ames, IA
Line: ISU -18.5
Radio: Cyclone Radio Network
SB Nation Website - They Don’t Have One
It’s finally here – the Super Bowl! That’s right – ISU versus UNI, cross-state rivals, beating the tar out of each other for a coveted trophy (to be named later) and pseudo champs of the Hawkeye State.
We’ve had an interesting offseason, to say the least. There has never been this much excitement, nor expectations for an Iowa State Football team in, well, ever. Matt Campbell made a few minor adjustments to his staff, signed the highest ranked recruiting class in school history, AND oh yeah, brought Tom Manning back from the NFL.
What has overshadowed all these successes has been one question – how long does Matt Campbell stay at ISU? Personally, that doesn’t matter to me. All that matters is what’s in the present – the here and the now, and that Iowa State has one of the brightest and best minds at its disposal. So instead of acting like high schoolers and waiting on a “kick to the junk,” let’s bask in the glory and keep that glass of kool-aid half full.
When we last left off….
In my honest opinion, Iowa State was the better team in the Alamo Bowl. It may not have shown on the scoreboard, but the Cyclones showed America they belonged, and no matter what adversity they go through – they will overcome it.
I talked a little bit about Brock Purdy in my Case for a Big 12 Championship Column, and was uber impressed after him bouncing back from two first-quarter interceptions. He has the IT FACTOR written all over him, and if this sophomore can stay healthy, he will break ALL the records at Iowa State.
Gone are two large playmakers in running back David Montgomery and wide receiver Hakeem Butler, and while they will be sorely missed, it is truly next man up for the Cyclones. The roster carries with it unproven BUT tremendous upside at both of those positions, and it will be exciting to see who will fill those shoes.
The Northern Iowa Panthers come off a tough 2018 season, where they played the strongest schedule amongst all FCS teams. They still were able to scrap together a 7-6 record and make it to the second round of the playoffs.
Death. Taxes. Mark Farley coaching UNI Football.
Farley enters his 18th year at the helm in Cedar Falls, and his next victory will be #150 at the school. He is already the winningest coach, and whether right or wrong – has shaken up his coaching staff. The majority of assistants have been at UNI for three years or less, and Farley brought in three new faces in the offseason – most importantly Offensive Coordinator Ryan Mahaffey. Now Mahaffey is no stranger to the program, serving as Co-OC in 2016.
UNI retains 16 starters from a year ago, but lose their signal-caller and top running back, as well as five of their top nine tacklers. The Panthers are ranked #18 by STATS/COACHES in the FCS poll.
ISU leads the all-time series 22-6-3, while UNI has won 2 of the last 4, including Matt Campbell’s debut in 2016. The last matchup the Cyclones dominated by a score of 42-24 in 2017, led by two pick-sixes from their defense.
Iowa State Offense
For the first time in a long time Iowa State returns all FIVE of their starting offensive linemen. Matt Campbell was asked in his press conference about the progress of the offensive line, and said, “For sure we’re the best that we’ve been to start a season. Its certainly been the greatest growth that we’ve had to make in our program.”
In my opinion, this is the largest (and most difficult) area to improve in 2019. We’ve all seen the struggles of running the ball, but hopefully the continuity and growth in an offseason - adding strength, perfecting technique and working together as one unit will come to fruition. It’s one of the areas I’ll be watching the most on Saturday, and if it comes together – can propel this team to conference-winning potential.
First Key to Victory – Run the Ball Effectively
Now, I don’t expect a 200-plus-yard day, but the Cyclones need to gain a strong push against this scrappy front-seven from UNI. The last two times these teams have played – it has been abysmal, as ISU has averaged only 95 yards and an embarrassing 2.86 yards per carry. That means more consistent play out of left tackle (and senior) Julian Good-Jones and better drive from our inside guards. If they can’t produce, then Campbell and company will most certainly find someone who can – and there are 2-3 freshmen chomping at the bit for the opportunity.
Which running back will get this season’s first carry? My money is on experienced senior Sheldon Croney, but don’t expect him to get the bulk of the touches. It appears Kene Nwangwu is nursing an injury, and my guess is he doesn’t dress. As the season wears on, I expect a battle between Johnnie Lang and true freshman Breece Hall, but for the first few games it will be running-back by-committee until Campbell finds the hot hand.
There is a plethora of receiving options for quarterback Brock Purdy to throw the ball to, but I think the most talented (and ready to become WR1) is Tarique Milton. Think a poor man’s TY Hilton, as he excels as a downfield threat and caught an astounding 95%+ of his targets a year ago. I expect a battle between Joe Scates and La’Michael Pettway as the go-to option in third downs and red zone targets. Both are 6-foot-2 and can leap for that jump ball or back-shoulder throw.
Expect the tight ends to get more usage, especially Charlie Kolar, who has the potential to be a game-breaking threat in the Big 12. I project him to be knocking on the door for Post-season All-Conference honors by the time this year ends.
Second Key to Victory – Don’t Turn the Ball Over
Easier said than done, but in ISU’s last loss to the Panthers they pissed the game down their leg by way of 4 turnovers and a safety. Now UNI does not carry two stud defensive ends (most notably NFLer Karter Schult who is on the Vikings squad at the moment), but they will have to take care of the ball if they want to put UNI away.
The Panthers play good old-fashioned fundamental defense. They’ve never had a big defensive line, but have made up for it with quickness, and this year is no different. The defense returns eight starters, but only have TWO seniors starting.
UNI used to be a traditional 4-man front, but took a page out of Jon Heacock’s book by converting to a 3-3-5 last year. It appears that Farley is most confident in his two DTs as Jared Brinkman and Tim Butcher should help solidify the front for the Panthers.
Middle linebacker Chris Kolarevic was honored on the All-Newcomer team in 2018, but has been hampered by a foot injury and will not play on Saturday. The remaining linebackers include two sophomores and the 12th leading tackler from a year ago, so experience is lacking.
I’m not worried about the pass rush as much, as UNI will play a lot of base formation with cover-2 and zone looks. They simply can not match up man-on-man against ISU’s size and speed. Cornerback Xavior Williams is a gem, and looks to have back-to-back 1st team All-Conference honors.
The Verdict – ISU
In the trenches I tend to call this a push, but athletically ISU runs away with their playmakers. Don’t expect Brock to have a 300-yard game, nor see many designed quarterback runs. I expect a lot of vanilla ice cream, mixed in with a heavy dose of chocolate fudge – by way of stubborn running plays. ISU is not going to get fancy, nor do they have to. Look for more 12 and 13 packages (multiple tight end sets), where ISU can take advantage of their strength up front, and run the ball outside the hashes.
Iowa State Defense
This is where ISU’s bread is buttered. Their claim to fame in 2019 will come from the defensive side of the ball, and if history has proven anything – the best teams in Ames have always had stout defenses. It all starts up front, and I don’t think I’m going out on a limb here to say that the Cyclones have a top-10 defensive line in the country.
Expect a mix-up of the 3- and 4-man sets, as Jamahl Johnson has earned his place on the field next to Ray Lima. I think ISU can be creative with the talent they carry, and project we will see many under-classmen get playing time on Saturday. Jaquan Bailey’s next sack will break the all-time school record, and I couldn’t be happier for the guy. His game has excelled tremendously since his freshman year, and he deserves his recognition for 1st Team All-Big 12 preseason honors.
This linebacking corps loses one of their biggest swiss army knives in Willie Harvey from graduation, but taking his place is an absolute dynamite freak in Will McDonald. The redshirt freshman will play on the strong-side, but will be most exciting to watch rushing on passing downs.
I expect a big day in the tackle column for both Marcel Spears, Jr. and Mike Rose, as both will see plenty of downhill runs, and will have to keep their head on a swivel with the running quarterback.
Gone are two of the most consistent performers ISU had last year in defensive backs D’Andre Payne and Brian Peavy. Filling that void are two sophomores who garnered much playing time and should be able to hold their own – in Datrone “Speedy” Young and Anthony “Ant” Johnson.
Safety Greg Eisworth is the best player on the roster and will take over at the STAR (nickel) position, which is asked to do a lot in Scientist Heacock’s experiments. I expect safety Braxton Lewis to lead the team in interceptions this year, and would be the best odds to get one on Saturday.
In year’s past what has killed ISU is the effectiveness of the quarterback and his running skills. This year is no different, but filling that void is a redshirt freshman who has yet to even throw a pass. Will McElvain tweeted out that he would walk-on to ISU, only weeks later deciding to do the same at UNI. The Des Moines Lincoln product is raw, and a bit under-sized (at 5-11 and 197 pounds), but he is a true dual-threat option, and can run the ball if called upon. His backup is Illinois product Jacob Keller, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he sees some snaps too.
Another central Iowa product will be the top ball-carrier this season, as Waukee native Trevor Allen supplants long-time starter Marcus Weymiller at running back. Allen started his career as a receiver, so watch the Panthers utilizing him in all facets on the field. His backup Tyler Hoosman was described as a “battering ram” by the coaching staff, and is more of a downhill runner.
The Panthers return their top six receivers from 2018, and none better than tight end Briley Moore. The senior from Missouri earned 1st Team honors last year, leading the team with 39 catches and 536 yards. Jaylin James and Isaiah Weston are both 6-foot-4 and are the possession receiving threats, while Deion McShane is a jack of all trades. He plays in the slot, but has even taken snaps out of the backfield – as he is one of the biggest gamebreakers for UNI.
The offensive line lost three seniors, but retain the majority of their starters, and are led by all-conference left guard Jackson Scott-Brown, who has 36 starts to his name. They are solid, but no top tier line of years past.
Verdict – ISU by a LANDSLIDE
Iowa State matches up well against just about every offense, and this game is no different. They will eat freshman quarterback McElvain alive, and most certainly bring pressure forcing his hand into errant throws. Tight end Moore will get his fair share of targets, but the rest of the offense doesn’t scare me in the least. I would be surprised if this team scores more than two touchdowns.
The Cyclones only injury in the offseason was punter Corey Dunn, who is out for the year with an Achilles injury. I guess if there was one position to lose – that’s it. Supplanting Dunn will be Joe Rivera, a junior walk-on from Grinnell and holder on kicks last season.
Kicker Connor Assalley will be called upon for field goals, and it has yet to be determined who will be the kickoff man. UNI’s top kicker has been hurt with a hip injury since the spring and will not play.
If there is anything that the Panthers have for a secret weapon it is their return game. They carry with them two electric return men in Xavior Williams and Deion McShane, as both averaged over 25 yards per kick return.
Again, I don’t foresee the staff pushing Nwangwu, so look for Johnnie Lang back deep on kicks, and an explosive Tarique Milton on punts.
Verdict – EVEN
Hard to say who has the upper hand here. I think both units carry with them fantastic return specialists, but ISU also has been very fundamentally sound in covering kicks and punts. I’ll be interested to see how ISU’s new punter performs under the lights.
Winning Scale from 1 to 10
It’s for all the marbles in the state of IOWA. All the PantherHAWK fans coming to Ames shouldn’t have high hopes, as ISU is a comfortable 18.5-point favorite.
This one is for all you farmers out there!
On a scale from 1 to 10, if you were to compare a 1 to the soils of Southern Iowa’s Decatur County and a 10 to Northwest Iowa’s Obrien County. I would give ISU a Sioux County shot at winning this game. PS Sioux county soils are right smack dab to Obrien’s dirt (God’s Country).
Mark Farley is one helluva coach, but the talent gap will be evident come Saturday. On paper, ISU should win this one going away, and probably should be 3+ touchdowns. Ain’t gonna happen.
Campbell will play a methodical and almost stubborn approach, and will keep his cards tight to the vest. Iowa State will come out looking for big plays early, but as the game wears on, will try to ground and pound. Iowa State’s defense should be able to swallow up McElvain, and don’t be surprised to see the backup at some point.
Third Key to Victory – Don’t F*#! Up. Take Care Of Business
Iowa State 28
Hit us up with your predictions in the comment section below!