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Offensive Players to Watch: UNI @ ISU

Football, Tailgating, Ames Lager. ‘BOUT TIME

Photo by David K Purdy/Getty Images

Welcome to the 2023 College Football Season! This offseason has been a wild one – Matt Campbell overhauled his offensive staff, Big 12 came out swinging during what seemed like a century of realignment rumors and news, and then Iowa and Iowa State got slammed with a gambling investigation into their athletic programs. I think we can all agree that for some strange reason, this offseason felt like a century and honestly, I need this season to start and I needed it to start a month ago! So let’s go grab a cold Ames Lager, sit back, relax and jump into Week 1 of what should be an interesting (and eventful) season!

Iowa State

When I started thinking about who could I do for Week 1 a while back, I thought for way too long on it and was kind of waiting for all the gambling fallout to settle before going really deep into it, but honestly, I knew that I wanted to primarily focus on the offensive line. Now with the depth chart being posted – that is, without a doubt, the players to watch for Iowa State this weekend.

With the hiring of Ryan Clanton away from UNI, Nate Scheelhaase being promoted to OC and a return of Reidy Kagy as the Director of S&C, I think this line should improve. I don’t need the “this is the best line we’ve had in the CMC era” line, I just want a decent line at this point. With a new quarterback and skill position players, we need to be strong and give our playmakers some time. Last year hurt. It hurt a lot. Dekkers didn’t have a lot of time to throw, we barely made running lanes, and our stats between 2021 and 2022 showed that it wasn’t good. You can point fingers at whoever you want, but I want the ability for my quarterback to have more time than an elementary school kid does when they drop back for a pass (3 Mississippi) AND be able to get a first down on a 4th & 1. This is the first game of the season, but here’s my stance on this – if we can’t be dominant in the trenches versus UNI, what hope do we have against Big 12 defenses?

Bryon Houlgrave/The Register, Des Moines Register / USA TODAY NETWORK

Now I can already hear everyone saying “this is UNI, we should be more aggressive than them, why not wait for Iowa for the real test of how good they’ll be?” Simple, the unknowns on who the starters are on offense at the skill positions really take away from the player to watch. We have also heard quite a few names from Campbell and Scheelhaase that make it sound like Clanton has been making them work hard to get recognized and show improvement. Plus, who doesn’t like Clanton’s quote of “it doesn’t have to be perfect, but it has to be violent.” But enough chit chat, let’s take a peaksies at the depth chart!

A few things I noticed looking at this - Jarrod Hufford beat out Darrell Simmons Jr. for left guard. Darrell has been a staple on the line for 3 years and either is working on being a utility guy, potentially working on moving to another position on the line, or Ryan Clanton doesn’t think he’s the best lineman for a starting spot. Other eye openers is with Simmons dropping to the backup left guard, Grant Treiber has now moved from tackle to guard with now sophomore James Neal taking our left tackle and a battle for center with Jim Bonifas OR Brady Petersen.

If we are wanting to have a good season, Cyclone Nation needs to be able to walk away from this game going “wow, our offense was clicking!” Again, yes, this is UNI, Campbell has a history of not opening up the playbook too early and being conservative in our first game. Does having Nate Scheelhaase change that? Eh, probably not, but from my point of view, if this line can allow plays to develop and keep our quarterback off the ground, that’s a step in the right direction for them.

  1. Be violent,
  2. Give our backs lanes
  3. Keep our QB alive
  4. Give me hope for 1 yard pickups on 4th down
  5. Profit

Northern Iowa

When talking about UNI, the first thing that pops into my head is “how are they going to do without Ryan Clanton calling the shots?” Simple. They promoted their QB Coach Bodie Reeder to do their play calling. He has experience and to put the cherry on top for them – he’s really good at what he does in that quarterback room. The offensive player to watch for Purple Iowa is none other than 2021 Michigan State defect and their own number 12 – Senior (RS) Theo Day. Theo held offers from the likes of Michigan State, Georgia, Kentucky, Ole Miss, some team that is holding the Telephone Trophy hostage and Minnesota. April of 2021, he entered the portal wanting to leave MSU and by May 31st, he was fully enrolled at UNI.

NCAA Football: Northern Iowa at Air Force
Theo Day beating the pressure verse Air Force.
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

How good is he? Let me just say this, he could probably hold his own in FBS G5 leagues and potentially some P4 (too soon?) schools. But here are the facts on what makes him dangerous.

First, we haven’t played against him - he’s an unknown QB to our defense. Sure, we have gotten film and have studied him, and I guarantee Clanton got pulled into Heacock’s office a few times while he was game planning for this. And before I get fact checked by everyone, Will McElvain was the QB we faced verse in 2021 before Theo took over the rest of the season, so save yourself the Google Search.

In his first year (2021 post-ISU game), he played in the final 11 games and started 10, but somehow still managed to complete 56.16% of his passes (155/276), 2,316 yards, 16TD/11Int ratio, and threw an absolute DOT for a 68-yard touchdown. Those performances got him MVFC All-Newcomer Team and 6th in total offense in the conference.

Fast forward to last year and a full year’s worth of practice with the team, this man put on an absolute clinic in the MVFC leading the team to a record of 6-5 (5-3). First team All-MVFC, FCN National Performer of the Year Watch List, and multiple Player of the Week awards. behind 65% on completions (210/323), 3,121 yards, 26TD/11Int ratio and a 72-yarder for his longest play of the season.

He made the school’s all-time top ten in single-season passing yards, passing TD’s, pass completions, completion percentage, pass efficiency and total offense. He also led the MVFC in passing efficiency, passing yards, total offense and yards per attempt.

However, despite his proficiency throwing in the pocket, his impact on the running game is essentially negligible. Over 22 games, he has 115 total yards. Now sure, you can say “QB’s shouldn’t have to run a million miles” and you’re not wrong. The issue, however, is this man either goes yard or loses it hard. He was sacked 21 times for just under 160 yards. That’s 7.6 yards a sack.

Iowa State is notorious for playing with the ball in front of them and not letting a lot behind. For UNI to do well, they need their line to block, extend plays, and Theo needs to look at potentially his 3rd or even 4th option and take whatever the defense gives him. He needs to rely on his blockers, his route runners and most importantly, if he thinks he needs to tuck and run – he better tuck and run and pray he isn’t swallowed up 8 yards behind the line. Theo versus our secondary is my KEY matchup. This one is all about patience and who has more of it.