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Defensive Players to Watch: UNI @ ISU

A Cyclone is about to hit that Panther offense.

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

Iowa State has a mixed bag of experience and new faces to the starting lineup in a secondary unit that figures to be one of the best in the Big 12. Iowa State also has quite a few new faces in our linebacker and d-line room that didn’t get a lot of starting time due to our depth last year. As for UNI? They’re bringing in a roster full of experience including a very strong defensive line with a familiar name at defensive end in Cordarrius Bailey. Both teams will need to rely on their strengths on defense to get the win this weekend, so let’s jump into who I think will be the players to get that going.

Iowa State

I could chicken out like I did Iowa State’s offensive player to watch and just pick this entire secondary because let’s face it, but that’s no fun just picking an entire group of players so let’s just focus on the one - T.J. Tampa. T.J. was originally recruited at receiver until Iowa weather struck and stranded him in town an extra day, but he’s developed into one of the most highly-regarded cornerbacks in college football.

Iowa State v Oklahoma State Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images

Tampa started his Cyclone career in 2020 playing on special teams for nine games, totaling five tackles with one for a loss. In 2021, he transitioned from a rotation guy to a starter, playing in all thirteen games with five starts mixed in. He jumped up to 18 tackles and 3 pass deflections that season.

2022 saw him fully blossom as a high-end defensive back, starting all twelve games and earning Second Team All-Big 12 honors. He finished sixth on the team with 40 tackles, 5 TFL, 1 INT and 13 pass deflections. The 2022 performance has made him the highest-graded returning CB in the Big 12 according to Pro Football Focus with a score of 83.1.

Tampa’s preseason honors include First Team All Big-12, and appearances on watchlists for the Jim Thorpe Award (best DB), Bronko Nagurski Trophy (most outstanding defensive player), and Bednarik Award (Defensive POY).

With a QB like Theo Day that loves throwing the ball and averages double-digit yards per pass completion, T.J. will more than likely see the ball thrown his way somewhat frequently on Saturday, especially when Day has a WR like Sergio Morancy on the end of those throws.

Depending on the play, we could even see T.J. get a pass deflection off Chase Allen’s younger brother - Alex. It’s really hard to quantify how many tackles, deflections and interceptions a single player might get in a singular game, especially the opening game, but I think T.J. could be on course for a few deflections, 1 INT (pick-six is bonus points) and five total tackles with one for a loss. Even if he gets nowhere near these numbers, you could wager your mortgage (sorry, not sorry) that Theo Day and OC Bodie Reeder will know exactly where he is at all times on the field.

Northern Iowa

Honestly, UNI is tough. They’re bringing two First Team All-MVFC preseason players in DT Khristian Boyd and CB Woo (Demarcus) Governor (CFB All-Name Team too IMO), along with Second Team All-MVFC and former Iowa State grad transfer DE Cordarrius Bailey and CB Edwin Dearman. With all of the players to choose from, I’m just going to pick to focus on Woo Governor.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 10 Northern Iowa at North Dakota Photo by Jacob Kish/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Woo Governor originally started his career at Central Michigan where he appeared in 11 games on special teams and only recorded one return before transferring to UNI on at the end of the 2020 season. Spring ball 2021 (COVID season for FCS) and fall 2021 saw him appear in a total of 12 games with just a single pass deflection, 3 tackles and 3 punt returns for 6 yards.

Now, looking at those stats, he doesn’t look like a player to watch, but this man turned it on in 2022. Last season, Woo put up 61 tackles, four interceptions (including two pick-sixes in a single game totaling for 92 yards) and 3 PD’s. He comes into this season on the Bluebloods FCS Preseason Second Team All-America, Preseason First Team All-MVFC, Phil Steele Preseason Second Team All-MVFC and the Bluebloods Preseason First Team All-MVFC.

Woo has something good going for him with his defensive line being strong and hopefully able to pressure the opposing QB’s to hurry throws his way. He’s going to be trying to bank on that against Iowa State’s multiple quarterbacks and new offensive coordinator. The big what if for me is - what if last year was just a fluke instead of being a breakout year? Either way, the offense will certainly know where the Governor is at all times.