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2023 Iowa State Football Preview: Cincinnati

Can Iowa State make it two in a row and keep the mojo?

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

Last Time Out...

The Iowa State Cyclones took care of business at home last Saturday evening, beating TCU by a final score of 27-14 in Jack Trice Stadium.

Jack Trice was honored appropriately, as the Cyclones played physical football all game long, salting the football game away early in the second half. Lots of players contributed to the winning effort.

Two consecutive Horned Frog drives would end in interceptions before the Cyclones took a 7-0 lead keyed by a big Stevo Klotz reception.

TCU would counter with a touchdown drive, but the Cyclones blocked a punt with less than a minute before halftime, and tacked on a field goal to lead 10-7 at the break.

Somehow, the ISU running game would blow the match wide open, with Abu Sama III taking the rock 55 yards to the house to put Iowa State up 17-7, a lead they would not relinquish.

Methodical drives paired with interceptions by the Cyclone defense would lead to a continued offensive attack, which resulted in a 27-14 win.

Rocco Becht was fine, going 16/28 for 138 and a touchdown. He handled pressure and moved in the pocket well, and turned in a fine effort.

Eli Sanders and Abu Sama both had solid games, each scoring a touchdown while racking up yards thanks to a spirited effort by the offensive line. It was nice to see the running game get established, something we have been waiting to see all season long.

The defense was lights-out, recording 4 interceptions (Freyler x2, McLaughlin, Verdon), 2 sacks, and 5 TFL.

Cincy Tidbits

The Bearcats are 2-3 on the season and are currently on a 3-game losing skid. Cincinnati is 0-2 with losses to Oklahoma and BYU. Andy Satterfield is in his first season as the Bearcats head man after 25-24 run at Louisville.

Iowa State Offense

Guess who’s back, back again. Iowa State ran the ball for 215 yards on 5.8 yards per carry. Those are Breece Hall season-type numbers. What has been pivotal for Iowa State in the blocking department has been the return of Steve Klotz two weeks ago along with the contributions of both Easton Dean and Ben Brahmer. If the Cyclones can find a way to nail down their interior run game with the guards and center this thing could take off.

With the success of the run game last Saturday, we saw a more prototypical Matt Campbell game offensively. Control the clock and suck the life out of the other team. My fear is that we will revert back to forcing that when it may not necessarily be there, and there’s a good chance we’ll find out this weekend, given the Bearcats’ stout defensive line.

Iowa State is going to have to utilize the passing game more than they did against TCU to open up the run. Rocco Becht threw for 138 yards and one touchdown and really wasn’t forced to make too many plays against TCU. He is going to be vital for a victory on Saturday.

Cincinnati Defense

Cincinnati is allowing just under 27 points per game coming into the game on Saturday. BYU scored 35 in their last game and Oklahoma was held to 20 just before that, so it’s been a bit of a roller coaster ride for this defense.

The Bearcat defense comes into this game without a stout run defense, allowing 3.1 yards per rush which sits at 21st best in the country, and total per game they are allowing 94 yards which is 16th best in the country. Where they tend to get beat up is through the air, where they allow over eight yards per completion, good for 104th in the country. This one is setting up to be another game where Iowa State is going to have to utilize the passing attack to open up the run lanes.

While Cincinnati has been beaten up a little bit in the passing game they do have a stud safety in Bryon Threats who has 2 interceptions on the season to go along with 3 pass deflections. Rocco Becht has turned the ball over on the road this season, which could be something to keep an eye on for Saturday.

Dontay Corleone leads the vaunted Cincinnati defensive line. At 318 pounds, this man is a tank and will give the Iowa State offensive line fits, no question about it. Corleone has two sacks on the season and 14 total tackles, and his high motor will most certainly be a problem for Ryan Clanton and the rest of the offensive line.

Verdict - Toss Up

I really think Iowa State is going to want to run the ball like they did on Saturday against TCU, and I just don’t believe it will work against the Cincinnati defensive line. , Thus, I am putting this down as a toss-up. If Iowa State comes out guns blazing like they did against Oklahoma State and Oklahoma, they should have no problem here.

Iowa State Defense

I can’t believe I’m typing this sentence right now, but the Cyclone defense is actually looking somewhat vulnerable this season. The secondary has totally lived up to the hype and has turned into quite the ball-hawking unit, but tackling in the front six, especially when defending the run, has been a significant issue. Those missed tackles have given teams extra life on long drives and have resulted in a handful of big plays.

The youth up front for the defensive front is almost certainly a factor in this, but we’ve also seen sixth-year senior Gerry Vaughn miss his share of tackles as well, so it’s an element the entire group needs to focus on if they’re going to slow down a Cincinnati offense that tends to move the ball well between the 20s.

As mentioned, the Cyclone secondary has been as-advertised, exceeding their 2022 interception already this season, with Jeremiah Cooper leading the country in interceptions with four (and could have had one or two more last weekend). Beau Freyler has three of his own interceptions, and Malik Verdon picked up his first career pick last week against TCU.

Speaking of Malik Verdon, his return from injury has been a tremendous boon to a secondary that had seen a few big plays over the past few games. He’s quietly become maybe the single most important player in that group, and he made multiple big play-saving tackles last weekend.

Cincinnati Offense

The Bearcat offense is almost entirely new across the board this season, and the results have been....fine. They’ve had quite a bit of success moving the ball between the 20s in Scott Satterfield’s first season, but tend to encounter some significant issues in the redzone, much like Iowa State’s opponent last week, TCU.

Cincinnati currently sits 37th in the country in offensive yards per play (and 11th in total yards per game, if you’re into that), but is 106th in the country in red zone scoring efficiency, converting just 76.2% of their chances. For reference, Iowa State sits at 64th with an 83.3% conversion rate.

One of the big culprits here is the propensity of quarterback Emory Jones to turn the ball over, especially in the redzone. The former Florida transfer has thrown six interceptions in the last four games. Jones is an effective runner of the football, averaging 4.1 yards per rush on a healthy sample size of 69 carries through five games. I would expect to see Zach Lovett deployed as a spy early and often to force Jones to beat them with his arm.

When Jones does throw, he loves to find his fellow Florida transfer, Xzavier Henderson, who’s averaging six receptions per game and is by far Jones’ favorite target. Braden Smith and Dee Wiggins are the only other receivers on the roster who average more than two catches per game. All three receivers boast a yards per reception number between 13 and 15, so you can expect to find Jones looking for all three in the intermediate passing game on a regular basis.

Corey Kiner is the lead back for this team, averaging 5.3 yards per rush with two touchdowns so far, but his yards per carry number is somewhat inflated from the first two games of the season against Eastern Kentucky and Pittsburgh, where he combined to rush for almost eight yards per carry on 33 carries. Since then, Kiner averaged just 3.1 yards per carry over the last three games, and struggled mightily against Miami (OH) and Oklahoma.


Despite Iowa State’s struggles with wrapping up tackles in the last few weeks, I really like this matchup for the Cyclones. Zach Lovett was fabulous last week against TCU spying Chandler Morris, and I think it’s safe to assume he’ll be asked to do the same against Emory Jones. If Iowa State is able to bottle up Jones’ running game and force him to throw, the turnover-hungry Iowa State secondary could have a few opportunities to pick off the turnover-prone Cincinnati quarterback.

Per usual, I would expect the Bearcats to have some success moving the ball between the 20s early in the game, especially if Emory Jones is able to break free for a few scrambles, but Jon Heacock is inevitable, and I expect him to clamp down on a Cincinnati offense that can be very sloppy at times.

Special Teams

Iowa State missed another field goal, but we are not going to let that bring us down. Darien Porter blocked a punt to set up a field goal right before halftime and the game was changed from that point forward. Clones take the cake here.

Winning Scale 1 to 10

On a scale of coolest jersey numbers a wide receiver can wear from #86 to #13, I’m giving this game a #1’s chance of winning.

Final Analysis

This is a winnable game for Iowa State and can set them up nicely for a potential run to a postseason berth. Iowa State will need to jump on them early, tackle well and stop the run. If they can do that, they should have no problem getting out of this one with a victory. It’s homecoming for Cincinnati and the crowd will be into it, but Iowa State looks like the stronger team right now.

Final Score Prediction

Iowa State- 21

Cincinnati - 17

Editor’s note: Saying Iowa State should have no problem with this one, then predicting a four-point game is both hilarious and accurate.