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2023 Iowa State Football Preview: UNI

2023 season is upon us

Syndication: The Des Moines Register Nirmalendu Majumdar/Ames Tribune / USA TODAY NETWORK

Iowa State (0-0) VS Northern Iowa (0-0)

1pm CST


When we last left off…

I think we all blacked out a little bit as Iowa State attempted to play football in Fort Worth to end the 2023 football season. Iowa State was absolutely taken to the woodshed by the eventual National Runner-Ups and it wasn’t even funny. TCU handed the Cyclones one of or if not the worst loss in the Matt Campbell era dismantling Iowa State 62-14. It was the primer for a ton of changes to the coaching staff this offseason.

UNI Tidbits

Head Coach Mark Farley is back for his 23rd season as the Northern Iowa head coach and boasts a 174-98 record during that span with the Panthers. Farley has a 3-10 record vs. Iowa State and has been a notable thorn in the side for the Cyclones every time he brings the Panthers to Ames. Iowa State took the last meeting 16-10 in one of the more ugly games to have been seen. UNI was picked to finish 3rd in the Missouri Valley Preseason poll.

Iowa State Offense

Last season, Iowa State’s offense was an absolute train wreck. The offense ranked dead last in the country in scoring, was last in the conference in rushing, and total offense it was also at the bottom as well. Not to mention some key players on the offensive side of the ball decided they thought gambling was more important and will no longer be playing for Iowa State.

As previously mentioned, Iowa State made some coaching changes to the offensive side of the ball following the loss to TCU. Nate Scheelhaase and Ryan Clanton are among the most notable of the changes, taking over as offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, respectively. Sheelhaase who has been on the Iowa State staff since 2018 was promoted to offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Sheelhaase spent most of his Iowa State tenure with the running backs and wide receivers.

Ryan Clanton moved over from Northern Iowa to coach the offensive line. Clanton had been in Cedar Falls since 2018 where he was co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach for the Panthers. Clanton was a huge part in helping get Spencer Brown and Trevor Penning developed at Northern Iowa and putting themselves in positions to be high draft picks and NFL starters. Clanton brings the philosophy of violence and toughness with him and it is something Iowa State has desperately needed.

With last year's departures and the evolution of the gambling probe, there will be some new faces for Iowa State in a lot of key positions. Rocco Becht and JJ Kohl are currently in a battle for the starting job and more than likely will both take snaps against Northern Iowa. The running back room is deep with talent but unknown who will be the main guy. Cartevious Norton and Eli Sanders look to lead that room.

NCAA Football: Iowa State at Texas Christian Raymond Carlin III-USA TODAY Sports

Tight Ends will be led initially by Easton Dean who is finally healthy but don’t discount some new names like Ben Brahmner the freshman out of Nebraska who has been making a splash all camp long. Wide receivers will be led by Jaylin Noel and Eastern Kentucky transfer Jayden Higgins.

Northern Iowa Defense

Northern Iowa’s defense took a bit of a step back in 2022 and some of it had to do with the defensive front for the Panthers. UNI had the least amount of sacks in the entire Missouri Valley Conference a season ago. It just so happened to be their lowest total in 10 seasons.

The struggles upfront led to not only issues defending the pass but the run as well. Northern Iowa allowed 4.5 yards per carry and 150 yards per game. Put all this together and UNI had some work to do for the 2023 season. Which pointed them to the transfer portal.

Cartez Crook-Jones, Warren Peeples, and Malik Stewart from Kansas State, Memphis, and Butler Community College, respectively, joined UNI for this season. All three have plenty of experience and fit the mold of a Mark Farley defensive lineman. Which generally likes to give Iowa State plenty of fits. Look for this to be the key matchup on Saturday.

Verdict - Iowa State (narrowly)

The Cyclones certainly have the talent on this team, it’s just unknown at this time. Until we see the offensive line, running backs, and quarterbacks in action. It is just one big pile of, “Who The F Knows”. So for that reason give me Iowa State by a slim margin here.

Iowa State Defense

No Will McDonald? No Anothony Johnson Jr.? No problem with The Professor running this ship. Iowa State lost two studs and a supporting cast to the NFL. Isaiah Lee is no longer part of the team due to the gambling probe and yet it feels like this will be no problem for Iowa State yet again this season.

Dominque Orange will be the household name on the defensive line this season but don’t go sleeping on Tyler Onyedim. The sophomore defensive end has had flashes since he stepped on campus and now will have an expanded role on this defensive line. A freshman here to look at is Ikenna Ezeogu, who made an appearance on the depth chart this week and has had his name mentioned a lot in fall camp.

Another freshman at linebacker is Jack Sadowsky. He appears to be the starter at middle linebacker and I must same. It turned out pretty good the last time a true freshman started at linebacker for Iowa State. Gerry Vaughn is once again back at WILL linebacker and Carson Willich and Will McLaughlin are back at SAM. This should be a solid group.

Now, for the main course. The pride of this defense is the secondary. It’s a group that has the stars and will be giving the Northern Iowa passing attack fits all afternoon. T.J. Tampa, Myles Purchase, and Beau Freyler are the main cast, and they are very good at what they do. All three will be playing on Sundays very soon.

Northern Iowa Offense

This is not your typical Northern Iowa offense. Brodie Reeder who was offensive coordinator along with now Iowa State offensive line coach Ryan Clanton came in last season and turned this Panther offense into an explosive attack. Averaging over 500 yards of offense per game in 2021 and last season it was the 16th-ranked offense in all of FCS with over 440 yards per game. The philosophy for them? “Run for yards, throw for miles”.

Stop Theo Day on Saturday is the main mission at hand. It’s that plain and simple. He is the leader for UNI and is on the Walter Payton preseason watch list, a second-team All-MVFC, and a fourth-team All-American. Last season he finished in the top ten in passing yards and passing touchdowns in FCS. He may just be the best quarterback in the state of Iowa.

NCAA Football: Northern Iowa at Air Force Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

I don’t particularly view the Northern Iowa rushing attack as a threat here. There seems to be a bit of uncertainty at the running back spot with most carries from a season ago graduating. It appears TyJahree Edwards will be the main guy this season. Edwards carried the ball 14 times for 44 yards. That paired with 4 new starters on the offensive line for the Panthers, I think that gives Iowa State another edge.

Verdict - Iowa State

Iowa State will be a top defense in the Big 12 and in recent games against UNI it really has never had an issue keeping the Panthers at bay. I expect much of the same on Saturday. It will be a nice initial test to see who some of our key playmakers will be and ultimately the talent and scheme from Jon Heacock will overmatch this Northern Iowa offense.

Special Teams

I will keep this short and sweet. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD JUST BE BETTER!

Verdict - UNI

Show me you can do it Iowa State. Show me.

Winning scale of 1 to 10

This one is about as much of a lock as the amount of “Ors” on the Iowa State depth chart. Lock it up!

Final Analysis

This one is always like pulling teeth and getting your face smashed with a hammer and for some reason every couple of years we think it is fun to try again. Who makes the first big splash in this game? Does Iowa State try to control the clock and play their game from seasons past? Do they try to step on UNI’s throat and knock them down early on. I think it has to be the second one.

Iowa State has more talent across the board. Use it and put down the Panthers early on to keep them from hanging around and making everyone nervous. This is a season where there are few expectations nationally and locally for that matter. Play like you want it more and ignore the “hide it from Iowa” mentality of seasons past. If they do that. Iowa State wins pulling away in the second half.

Final Score Prediction

Iowa State - 31

UNI - 14