The Iowa State Cyclones picked up a dominant week one victory over Northern Iowa 30-9 to start off their 2023 campaign 1-0. Coach Matt Campbell has to be thrilled with the way his Cyclones played on week one of the college football season. Of course, they were not perfect, but they played exactly how they had to in order to win games this season. The Cyclones are coming off a very frustrating and disappointing year last season and with all the controversy within the program this offseason, it was really good to see the team play free from distractions.
ISU QB Rocco Becht picked up his first win of his career (AP)
Takeaways From the Game
It would be wrong of me to not start off with how good the defense was on Saturday. Cyclone fans should really take a step back this season and just enjoy how good the defense is going to be. If you thought last year’s defense was great despite the 4-8 record, this year’s defense has the ability to be the best one ever at Iowa State.
When you talk about the defense, you have to start with the secondary. Everyone knows about TJ Tampa and Myles Purchase and how good they are, but I thought the three safeties were ELITE on Saturday. Jeremiah Cooper, Malik Verdon, and Beau Freyler were all phenomenal on Saturday. We really dropped the ball this offseason because those three guys were not talked about enough. Even the backups like Trevon Howard, Darien Porter, Ben Nikkel, Jontez Williams, and Blake Thompson, all played really well. This defense is deep at all positions maybe other than linebacker and that's okay because of how good ISU is on the defensive line and secondary.
One of the few questions on defense this off-season was the depth and talent on the defensive line. But they really showed how dominant they can be across the board. Now I understand that the Cyclones played UNI and not Alabama on Saturday, but the defensive line played lights out. Domonique Orange and Tyler Onyedim were dominant up front against an inexperienced UNI offensive line. Those two guys have the potential to be game wreckers up front this season.
The second takeaway I had was how well the special teams played. It is very clear that Jordan Langs has made an instant impact on the program already in the special team’s department. Iowa State had a near-flawless day on special teams other than a botched snap on a PAT late in the 2nd quarter. Tyler Perkins had a great freshman year at punter last season and looks poised to have an even better sophomore year. Perkins averaged 53 yards per punt on Saturday and that included a 70-yarder downed at the two and a 56-yarder downed inside the 20. If Iowa State has a guy who can flip the field on you like Tory Taylor, ISU will be hard to beat. But the highlight of the day on special teams was Chase Contreraz. Contreraz made a 56-yard field goal as time expired in the first half. It was set up by Jeremiah Cooper’s second interception of the game. Contreraz’s 56-yard field goal had plenty of leg and probably would have been good from 60. If Contreraz can consistently make 45-yard field goals and in, the Cyclones will be in great shape. With the way Iowa State likes to play, it is essential for them to have a good kicker and special team's unit in general.
The last takeaway I had was on the offense as a whole. Coach Campbell played both Rocco Becht and JJ Kohl. It is pretty clear that the game is much slower for Becht than Kohl. Becht looked like the guy that has a whole year under his belt whereas JJ looked like he was a true freshman. But I was really impressed with both guys and what they did.
The offensive line played a meh game and still averaged five yards a carry. After seeing that group play in person, the talent is there. The challenge now is just getting it all to come together. But the potential is there. Abu Sama and Cartevious Norton are the clear one-and-two punch this season. Both are totally different in the way they run. Norton is more of your bruiser and between-the-tackles guy whereas Sama is the get to the sideline runner. Both of those guys were great on Saturday.
The tight end room is better than I thought, and I was very high on them coming into the season. The group combined for seven catches for 81 yards and two touchdowns. Ben Brahmer, Tyler Moore, Easton Dean, and Gabe Burkle all recorded a catch on Saturday but Stevo Klotz and Andrew Keller both played. This group is the key to the offense this season.
Jayden Higgins made his first catch as a Cyclone Saturday against UNI (AP)
Looking Ahead to Iowa
The Iowa Hawkeyes also picked up a week one victory over Utah State 24-14. The score could look deceiving to some if you didn’t the whole game as Utah State scored a late 4th quarter touchdown against Iowa’s nonstarters. Cade McNamara made his Hawkeye debut and is as advertised. Even at 70% health, McNamara is a huge upgrade from Spencer Petras. The Hawks scored on their first two possessions and really didn’t do much after that. The statistic that stands out during that game is 88 total yards rushing on 36 carries and 2.4 yards per rush. This means that Iowa’s offense is still not able to run the ball. And with McNamara not at full strength, the Cyclones are going to make him beat them down the field. Utah State gave up almost 200 yards a game on the ground last season!
Listen to the Cyclone Central Hour where we talk about the keys to a Cyclone win this weekend:
This is the most wide-open I’ve seen a Cy-Hawk game in quite some time. Both teams have terrific defenses and will play the field position game. This game comes down to who can get to 17 points first and who doesn’t turn the ball over. I think Iowa’s offense is a little farther along than Iowa State’s and the Hawkeye defense stands tall. This pains me to do but I have Iowa beating Iowa State 17-10.
Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK