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Three Things We Learned: Northern Iowa

Above all, we learned that we are all thankful for a bye week.

Northern Iowa v Iowa State Photo by David K Purdy/Getty Images

1. The offense has to improve their play in the red zone and at critical moments.

Cyclone fans everywhere were hoping this team would buck the trend of slow starts on offense. In the end, replacing the production of important pieces like David Montgomery and Hakeem Butler was too tall a task for game one of the 2019 season.

That said, the offense did move the ball well for the entirety of the football game. All but one drive (the second) ended at midfield or in UNI territory. The Cyclones racked up 26 first downs, going 7-18 on 3rd down (39%), and had 463 total yards (~400 in regulation). They also had the ball for 32 minutes, and were on offense for nearly the entire 4th quarter.

Mistakes and inability to finish drive are what nearly cost the Cyclones an embarrassing opening loss. Three penalties, an illegal block, a bullshit playing without a helmet call, and an unnecessary hold on a Brock Purdy TD run, curtailed 3 promising drives short of the end zone.

There was also poor execution, including missed assignments on the offensive line (COUGH, LEFT TACKLE, COUGH COUGH) and dropped passes that could have led to easy gains. The running backs also tended to gain less than was blocked by the offensive line.

Northern Iowa v Iowa State Photo by David K Purdy/Getty Images

At the end of the day, all of these issues are easily correctable with film study and coaching, and expect Matt Campbell’s staff spend much of the bye week focusing on them.

2. The defense is as good as advertised.

Not “the defense is good”, or “this defense could be good”. The defense, specifically the front seven, were lights-out on Saturday.

Need proof? Look no further than UNI’s 31 carries for 34 yards, earning a measly 1.1 yards per carry and a long carry of 8 yards. Or take a look at the tackle statistics, where you’ll find Iowa State’s three linebackers with nearly identical stat lines (8 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack, essentially).

Standout performers from that group include Ray Lima, who is officially a problem, Eyioma Uwazurike, who cannot be blocked, O’Rien Vance, who was likely the player of the game, and Marcel Spears, who looks like an NFL linebacker.

Northern Iowa v Iowa State Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images

The back-end of the defense played a fine game as well. Greg Eisworth is one of the best players on the defense, Lawrence White is steady and is almost always in the right spot, and the two corners are Big 12 caliber. The one demerit from Saturday was the play of Justin Bickham, backing up the injured Braxton Lewis.

3. Playing UNI is not very fun.

Ever heard the line “Mark Farley always has his team ready to play”? While it may sound like a broken record, it is unequivocally true.

UNI was ready for the Cyclones, and employed a defense designed to test Brock Purdy’s patience. Offensively, Will McElvain was damn near a revelation at quarterback, and even the backup kicker was lights out.

While the outcome of this game may be concerning to Cyclone fans, there are definitely some positives worth focusing on.

The first is that instead of playing the starters for half of a cakewalk game, most of the 2-deep for both sides of the ball got to play meaningful, pressure filled snaps on Saturday. That kind of experience and adversity is impossible to replicate in practice, and is huge for the new-look offense.

Additionally, the staff has tons of film to review (even more with bonus overtime football), and has extra time to correct mistakes. Normally, a bye week this early in the season could be a negative, but it’s hard to view it as anything but a positive after watching Saturday’s contest.