2020 Game I: #23 Iowa State (0-0) vs. Louisiana (0-0)
Date: Saturday, September 12, 2020
Time: 11:00 A.M. CST
Location: Jack Trice Stadium, Ames, IA
Capacity: 61,500, but only family and the Band will attend
Line: ISU -11.5
Radio: Cyclone Radio Network
SB Nation Website –The Ragin’ Cajuns don’t have one…
After an offseason of politician blow-ups, university presidents and chancellors fighting like third-graders on a playground, and people who think they are right and you’re wrong – ladies and gentleman, we finally have COLLEGE FOOTBALL!
To be frank (and you’ll notice I don’t hold back my opinion), I’m just glad we are having a semblance of a season. Sure it sucks with no fans, no Cy-Hawk game and worse yet – no tailgating, but look at it this way – at least we’re NOT in the Big TEN!
Maybe we all forgot – but there is something special right in front of our nose – the 2020 Iowa State Football Team. And a Damn Good one at that. The Cyclones bring back multiple starters, FOURTEEN different players with All-Big 12 conference honors, and a quarterback who will vie for the Heisman.
There I said it.
Brock Purdy can amend the Troy Davis Massacre that was the 1996 Heisman race, and break one of the longest and most embarrassing streaks in all of College Football – by becoming a 1st Round NFL draft pick (the first at ISU in FORTY-SEVEN FREAKIN YEARS!)
When we last left off….
The Cyclones come off a disappointing 7-6 record from a season ago. One in which they competed in nearly every game, and if it wasn’t for late-minute mistakes, should have had 9+ victories.
That 2019 team was young. They were not battle tested. But they held their own against some of the best this Conference has to offer. Those scars from last year will create a new thirst of blood from this program, as they have the horses in the stable to make an epic run.
Iowa State returns nearly their entire defensive roster (8 starters), and adds defensive end Jaquan Bailey after a medical redshirt. They lose a key man on the interior in Ray Lima, and a tackling machine in Marcel Spears, Jr., but there has never been this much depth on a Cyclone roster.
The record-setting offense from 2019 returns nearly all of its big playmakers, namely QB, RB and TE, while the offensive line is the biggest question mark (yet again), with three new starters. It’s safe to say, this team goes where the offensive line takes them.
That will be the difference between a GOOD and GREAT 2020 Season.
Carrying quite possibly one of the best name for a mascot, the Ragin’ Cajuns hail from the bayou and were formerly known as Louisiana-Lafayette. They are led by 41-year old up-and-coming coach Billy Napier, who cut his teeth with Nick Saban for four years as a wide receivers coach. He led last year’s squad to its best finish in school history (11-3), and does it with a potent offensive attack.
He brings back a heavy artillery of eight starters on offense, most importantly quarterback and two running backs. The defense lost their coordinator to Baylor in the offseason, but return six starters, and their best outside edge rusher.
Napier is not afraid to take chances, and my guess is he will pull out all the tricks in a road game in Ames. The Ragin’ Cajuns were fantastic at not turning the ball over in 2019, and were an impressive 9th in the nation in point differential. They ran the ball very effectively, with a 6.3 yard-per-attempt average, behind a three-headed monster at running back, but did lose two offensive linemen to the NFL.
Louisiana was picked to win their division, but based on overall votes, were slated for second behind Appalachian State in the Sun Belt Conference.
This will be the first matchup pitting these two foes together.
ISU will don a new patch on their jersey this year, celebrating the life and honoring Jack Trice.
New Jack Trice Patches for 2020! pic.twitter.com/BoFcTxYX9r— Cyclone Equipment (@CycloneEQUIP) September 1, 2020
Iowa State Offense
I will be curious to see how long it takes to knock the rust off after a weird offseason with limited conditioning, practices, and even lack of time in the weight room. My guess is there will be some bonehead mistakes made by both teams, and both will need time to get their feet wet.
This offensive attack is tremendous, and it all starts with #15. Purdy is coming off the most decorated season in a Cyclone uniform, and is once again 100% healthy. It was apparent later in the 2019 season he was not himself, and it showed in our last two contests.
Look for a conservative game plan (I know you’re all shaking your heads), filled with multiple early-down running plays, and safe passes to the outside. Watching tape on LA, I noticed they give up the inside run, and I expect multiple tight-end sets (as Matt Campbell loves that more than his cotton candy bubble gum).
Charlie Kolar will begin his campaign for 2020 Mackey Award Winner by setting the tone on 3rd downs and in the red zone. Look for a steady diet of Xavier Hutchinson, as the 6-foot-3 JUCO transfer has been talked about more than Dr. Fauci on this coaching staff.
Again, the offensive line brings in fresh faces, and at both of the bookend tackle positions. It sounds like Sean Foster has had a strong offseason, and look for him and Joey Ramos to take over those vacated spots. They will pave the way for Breece Hall, and a multitude of other running backs. I don’t expect to see everyone running hog wild, but expect to see many different faces next to Purdy in the backfield.
Also, don’t be alarmed if Breece doesn’t get 15+ carries, or Kolar doesn’t get his fair share of catches. This is the first game in one of the most complicated offseasons we have ever seen. Some other names to watch for – Joe Scates, Sean Shaw, Jr., Landen Akers, Jirehl Brock and Johnnie Lang.
First Key to Victory – Limit the Turnovers
I don’t care whether you play in the Sun Belt or the Missouri Valley Conference, any time a much more talented team turns the ball over, those less-heralded opponents can steal the momentum. If ISU wants to shut the door on an upset, then we will need to see smart football and limit the turnovers.
The Ragin’ Cajuns internally promoted Safeties Coach Patrick Toney to the new Coordinator role, and he has a cupboard full of production at his disposal. They primarily run a 4-man front, mixed in with 3-down linemen primarily on passing downs.
Watching film, I noticed speed that can compete at a high level, along with a secondary that kept all plays in front of them. Not the most opportunistic defense (they forced 19 turnovers in ’19), but one that can get to the quarterback.
They are led by outside linebacker Joe Dillon, who is two sacks away from a career school record, and led the team in both quarterback take-downs and tackles-for-loss a year ago. Their defensive line has to replace their interior, but should be supplanted easily by 6-foot-6 Tayland Humphrey, who was a 4-star recruit out of prep school, and transfers in from FIU.
The defense has three Pre-Season All-Conference selections, as they ranked 18th in the country last year in scoring defense (19.7 PPG). Cornerback Eric Garror carries with him much experience, and safety Percy Butler returns the 2nd most tackles on the team from a year ago.
All in all, an average unit with no gaping holes. It will be interesting to see how their defense can hold up after losing their stud coordinator in the offseason.
The Verdict – ISU
This will be a battle-tested unit that ISU faces, and one that is not afraid to take chances. The Cyclones running game is like a college freshman trying to get a senior at a college party. In other words, I don’t expect them to go home satisfied on Saturday. The straw that breaks the camel’s back in this matchup is #15 – Brock Purdy.
Iowa State Defense
A stout defense that brings back a ton of depth, and most importantly the mad scientist himself – Coordinator Jon Heacock. I don’t think we have seen a defensive line as talented as this one since the Nick Leaders, Brent Curvey and Jason Berryman days (and those guys were transcendent…) It all starts up front, and the multiplicity of Enyi Uwazurike (who will see time inside) gives this defense more toys to play in the sand box.
Look for Jaquan Bailey to get his career sack record out of the way, as he has been praised by the coaches for his work ethic and leadership in the offseason. Isaiah Lee is tabbed as the starter at nose guard, as he has some big shoes to fill. The best part about this unit is fresh legs – as there is no drop off with Zach Petersen, Will McDonald or heralded Latrell Bankston coming off the bench.
Mr. Consistent Jake Hummel will step right in where Spears left off, and his bash brothers Mike Rose and O’Rien Vance will see plentiful opportunities to eat on Saturday. The Ragin’ Cajun’s butter their bread in the ground game, as they ran it over 40 times per game in 2019. This GIF shows the explosiveness of their top RB in space.
The secondary loses safety Braxton Lewis, but the most important thing is a fully healthy Greg Eisworth. I’m expecting big things from both Eisworth and Mike Rose, as both are shoe-ins for 1st Team All-Big 12 in my opinion.
Second Key to Victory – Contain the Running Game
ISU will run a variation of schemes, and may even run a four-man front to offset the girth that Louisiana has up front. As stubborn as the Cajuns are at running the ball, they know what they are good at, and it will be important for the Cyclone defense to slow it down, (and make them one-dimensional).
I would love to see some turnovers forced, but you may have to wait. This LA team was one of the best in ’19 at not giving the ball away. They also allowed a league-best one sack per game, and have a slippery quarterback who is a jitterbug.
This Ragin’ Cajuns are led by their own record-breaking quarterback Levi Lewis, who passed for over 3000 yards and 26 touchdowns in ’19. He has a potent offensive line, but has to replace two starters who are now in the NFL. Larson is very poor man’s Michael Vick, with a similar body build and slings the ball out of his left hand. He can tuck it and run if he has to, and will be just another ISU opposing quarterback who scrambles out of pressure time and again on Saturday.
I noticed that coach Napier (who also calls the plays) has kept a leash on Lewis, and runs a very safe route tree. That was evident by only FOUR interceptions thrown last year, as this shotgun-oriented offense runs a lot of play-action and roll-outs for their senior star.
The wideout situation is as bad as a game of “Oregon Trail,” as already THREE different receivers are out for the season due to injury. On top of that, LA lost its top pass-catcher from a year ago, and only have two players returning with 100+ yard games. Their top wideout is Peter LeBlanc (no relation to Joey from Friends) and his 334 yards from ‘19. Don’t expect a ton of explosiveness here, as this team is already asking for campus walk-ons for depth..
The Ragin’ Cajuns return 1st team running back Elijah Mitchell and his bruising running ability. He is best described as a downhill runner, but has some wiggle. Trey Ragas will see plenty of touches, as the veteran senior returns the fifth most career rushing yards by any running back in the FBS.
The only other exciting tidbit is backup tight end Joe Lombardi, Jr. is the son of Saints Quarterbacks coach Joe Lombardi, and of course – the great grandson to the heralded Vince Lombardi.
The Verdict – EVEN
Call me crazy, but this Louisiana team can become a real problem for an ISU defense that will see its first competition. We’ve all seen athletic quarterbacks have their way with defenses of years past, and this one is no different. Another big factor is the continuity of a senior laden offense along with an intuitive mastermind of a coach, who has nothing to lose in game one of an unexpected season.
Louisiana will do everything it can to run the ball, and if ISU has trouble stopping it, look for immediate in-game adjustments.
Whatd’ya know – another good special teams! Aussie Punter Rhys Byrns is yet another all-conference performer who only had a school-record 44.2 yards per punt on his resume. Nate Snyder transfers over from Indiana, after specializing in kickoff duties, and will be most likely the field goal kicker on Saturday.
Cornerback Eric Garror is the punt returner, and showed flashes with a 72-yard return in ’19. Iowa State will most likely have Tarique Milton back again on punts, and the ever-dangerous Kene Nwangwu on kickoffs. With Nwangwu more in a specified role, hopefully he has the opportunity to show flashes of his younger years, with blazing return speed.
The kicking unit returns, with Connor Assalley now a senior, and Joe Rivera competing with Corey Dunn after his injury last season. Both are solid, but not great.
Verdict – Louisiana
Death. Taxes. And Iowa State losing the Special Teams battle.
Third Key to Victory – No Special Teams Mistakes
Pretty self-explanatory here. We can’t let Louisiana beat us too bad in this department. This has been an issue going back the last 1.5 years, and hopefully was a point of emphasis in the offseason for Coach Campbell…
Not gonna lie, we could enter the fourth quarter with ISU scratching and clawing their way through this one. This Louisiana team is scrappy, efficient, and fundamentally sound – the perfect kryptonite for Coach Campbell.
With that being said, on paper ISU is the favorite, but in the year 2020 – anything can happen. Expectations are high, and if you were to expect ISU to run away with this one, well, then you’re wrong. I would compare ISU to that playground bully, as the ball and momentum will go our way for most of the game, when all of a sudden the kid that gets picked on stands up for himself.
Hold on to your butts folks, this one might get dicey.
Iowa State needs to start strong, and pack a punch from the get-go. We can’t have any unforced errors or turnovers in this one, as Louisiana can capitalize, and have shown the toughness to stay with fierce competition.
ISU’s consistency - not only of this roster, but also the coaching staff will be the saving grace. They know NOW how to finish games, they understand the details it takes to take it to the next level, and (hate to be cliché), but “Trust the Process.”
It may not be pretty, but ISU eeks this one out.
P.S. If that line gets above two TDs I am betting heavily on the Ragin’ Cajuns. Either way, the underdog covers.
Iowa State 33
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