Iowa State poised to avoid another upset loss to Northern Iowa

Iowa State defensive back Brian Peavy attempts to tackle West Virginia wide receiver Marcus Simms as he falls into the end zone for a touchdown on Nov. 26 at Jack Trice Stadium. West Virginia led Iowa State 21-16 at halftime.

Jack Macdonald

If last year’s 25-20 loss to Northern Iowa gave any insight on what the season was going to be like for the Iowa State football team, then a win this Saturday could give a glimpse of hope to Cyclone fans that has been nonexistent in recent years.

Coach Matt Campbell described that loss as a learning process that revealed what the true problems were, and they had nothing to do with football.

“It was part of the lesson in growth process that our football team had,” Campbell said. “I say this a lot, guys were saying ‘how do you clean your locker at night and make sure your locker looks the right way and how do you do these things?’

“We weren’t even talking about what’s our scheme and what are we trying to do and how do you make the right reads. We just weren’t at that point.”

Iowa State comes back a year later with experience under its belt and a quarterback poised to wreak havoc on a defense that held the Cyclones to 307 total yards, only 51 of which were rushing.

“Everything was new, so we had to get all that gathered in,” said defensive back Brian Peavy.

However, while the Cyclones might be slim on defense, the Panthers return nine starters that shut down the offense last season. This year the Cyclones have Jacob Park at the helm, not newly-named starting linebacker Joel Lanning.

“I think [Park’s] done a really good job of staying in the details and trying to stay in the game plan and really understand what we want to do,” said offensive coordinator Tom Manning. “He’s been good for a while here. His study habits have dramatically improved from last season, as the time has gone on, his experience has grown; he’s been fun to have around.”

Lanning switched to a defensive core that has been one of the few units that still has a big question mark looming over them, specifically the front seven that has yet to prove themselves in any way.

Most of that front seven has limited starting experience, which could pose a problem for a defense that allowed 367 yards of total offense in last season’s game. However, highly touted recruit Kamilo Tongamoa has finally arrived in Ames to add depth to a group that is extremely thin. Campbell said that Tongamoa will be dressed, but that does not mean he will see the field.  

“In reality we’ve got some new faces up there and they haven’t been in Jack Trice before,” defensive coordinator Jon Heacock said. “That’s why you always try to focus really on what we’re doing and give them some of the looks we’ve seen and that kind of deal and hope you’re right.”

The Cyclones will need the few veterans they have on the front seven to step up and help the inexperienced guys get acclimated to college football quickly. If not, Heacock could be dealing with another defense that could allow 367 total yards to an FCS school again.

“I think the big challenge for guys like J.D. [Waggoner] who’s been in the fire and Vernell Trent, those two seniors got to help those guys get through the first part of this game,” Heacock said. “Once they get in there it’s football.”