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Iowa State Football Post-Mortem: Week 1 vs. UNI

Welcome back, football!

Syndication: The Ames Tribune Nirmalendu Majumdar/Ames Tribune / USA TODAY NETWORK

After what felt to many like an eternity, Iowa State Football is finally back. No more talk of gambling, no more talk of what could be, and no more talk of what was a chaotic and tumultuous offseason. We’re all about the here and now, and here and now, we have Iowa State football kicking off the season with a home game. The UNI Panthers came to Ames, Iowa hoping to sour the taste of all the Ames Lager one could hope to drink, but thankfully for those 61,500 fans in the stands, the Cyclones stepped up to the challenge.

What Went Wrong

Attacking the secondary

Now I’m not going to sit up here and suggest that the departure of the Manning/Dekkers tandem to lead the offense to make way for Scheelhaase/Becht would lead to the Cyclone offense throwing 30-yard bombs every play and burning the top off of opposing defenses would be a common occurrence. That said, I’m not sure I’d have predicted Rocco Becht to have ten completions for 113 yards and J.J. Kohl to have four completions for three yards.

The Cyclones’ passing game was virtually non-existent beyond about seven yards downfield. Maybe that has to do with the receivers, maybe it’s the playcalling, maybe it’s the scheme and we’re all just going to have to suck it up, maybe it’s just being conservative and safe (which can be a good thing), or maybe it’s respecting the Panthers’ secondary. I have no clue, but I’m personally hoping for more than one completion of over twenty yards down the field. Again, this doesn’t mean we have to throw it downfield all the time, but when you’re not forcing it deep AND you’re not incredibly skilled at racking up those yards after the catch (say, like San Francisco in the NFL) you set yourself up to have a lackluster passing attack that doesn’t open the field at all.

2nd Half Offense

Maybe I’m nitpicking a bit here, but when it’s Northern Iowa and it’s week one, I think I’m allowed to do that. Up 23-0 heading to the break, it’s hard to really criticize much in the way of the offense after that, but I’m going to. The Cyclones came out of the break firing on all cylinders with a rapid four-play eighty-seven-yard touchdown drive ending with the lone “big” completion, a thirty-six-yard dime from Becht to freshman tight end Benjamin Brahmer. After that, the Cyclones ran fifteen plays and gained thirty-four yards. Maybe it was clock-killing, maybe it was experimental playing with a 30-point lead, but I’m not entirely sure.

Even if you’re just trying to run down the clock, going three and out in back-to-back-to-back drives isn’t exactly completing that objective. Thankfully, UNI wasn’t able to muster more than 9 points in the second half as the Cyclones continued to dominate, but it’s not exactly the most encouraging thing to see the offense struggle.

What Went Right

Secondary, specifically Jeremiah Cooper

A lot of the talk coming into this game was about the Cyclones’ elite secondary trying to contain Theo Day and the Panthers’ passing attack. Safe to say the message was received by the Cyclones’ secondary. It started off with a bang as sophomore DB Jeremiah Cooper jumped a route to intercept Day on the opening drive of the afternoon and took it fifty-eight yards to the house giving the the home team an early lead that they’d not look back from.

Beyond Cooper, who would intercept Day a second time to close the first half which led to a field goal we’ll talk about later, the Cyclones also got excellent performances from Myles Purchase who tied for the team lead in tackles with seven (led the team with six solo tackles), Malik Verdon and Beau Freyler with six total tackles each (and a pass breakup from Verdon), and T.J. Tampa who had a pass breakup and (rightfully) wasn’t targeting a whole heck of a lot. By the end of the day, Theo and the Panthers, who trailed heavily the whole game, only mustered 164 yards in the air on just a 47% completion percentage. That’s a hell of a showing for a very talented group of guys.

Chase Contreraz and Tyler Perkins?

Certainly wouldn’t have pegged Iowa State to win the kicking battle in this one, but these two guys certainly proved me wrong. First, it starts with Tyler Perkins. He absolutely BOMBED his first punt of the year. The offense goes three-and-out on their opening drive and Perkins boots one from his own twenty-eight yard-line to the UNI two. Yes, a seventy yard punt from the mad lad. The defense forced a UNI punt themselves and the Cyclones took the flipped field position and turned it into points. Punting to win at its finest winky face.

And how about Chase Contreraz? I’ll forgive the botched extra point. Something wrong with the snap and hold and I don’t want to talk about it. What I DO want to talk about is the absolute CANNON of a leg this kid has. To close the half, Matty C decides that kicking a fifty-six yard field goal is better than trying to chuck it as far as Rocco or J.J. can and runs Chase out there. At the time, I hated it. I know what this special teams has done in the past, and I thought it would rear its ugly head at the worst time. Boy was I wrong. Chase gets a clean look at fifty-six yards and bangs it through the uprights. I’m not one to forget Jacksonville Jaguars legend Andrew Mevis banging one home from fifty-four in Vegas, but that was in a climate-controlled dome. Contreraz comes out here in one of the hottest games in the history of Jack Trice Stadium and drills it to close out the half. What a moment.

Caleb Bacon

If I could truly highlight one guy on this team that showed out, it would be Caleb Bacon. Cooper had the pick-six and the secondary held down the fort, but Bacon lit it up in the middle of the field on Saturday. This is a relatively young linebacker group relying on the leadership of Gerry Vaughn, and Caleb really made the most of his time on the field. His five tackles were near the top of the team, but where he really excelled was attacking the ball up the field. A pair of sacks on Theo Day (the Cyclones had 5 as a team) made sure he wasn’t comfortable at all sitting in the pocket.

Rocco Becht’s decision making

One last quick note, here. I know I poo-pooed the passing game a bit, but hopefully, that will come as the season progresses. One thing I hope doesn’t change from week one is Rocco’s decision-making. If it wasn’t there, he didn’t throw it. Ten of thirteen with a pair of touchdowns and no interceptions is about as much as you can ask from a decision-making standpoint.

Weekly Grades

Offense: B

Defense: A+

Special Teams: A-

Ames Lager: Slammable

Theo: Not his Day

Hate Week: F (the Hawks)