The Iowa State football team was less than impressive against their Football Championship Subdivision opponent last year, but faced a weak enough opponent in Western Illinois that mistakes didn’t come back to haunt them.
That’s not going to happen with the Northern Iowa Panthers, who have defeated the Cyclones three times in the past and as recently as 2007. ISU should have what it takes in the running game to pound out a victory, but here are other things to keep an eye on during the Saturday night season opener.
1) Sam Richardson needs to stay cool in his season debut.
Xs and Os are hard to discuss when facing an FCS opponent, but this is no Western Illinois. Richardson will be solely under the spotlight and heavily scrutinized in his first games. Expect Northern Iowa to stay in the game until the end, and things could become incredibly dicey if Iowa State’s quarterback starts throwing interceptions early.
2) Pass rush needs to reach Sawyer Kollmorgen.
One of UNI’s problems last year was being a young team at many skill positions, including starting a freshman at quarterback. That didn’t stop Kollmorgen for reaching 245+ yards passing in both games against Wisconsin and Iowa last year.
3) Don’t let David Johnson become a dual threat.
The Panthers have been in games against FBS opponents because Johnson was more of a threat catching the ball. Iowa State needs to make the running back strictly a problem on the ground.
4) Keep the plays balanced in the pistol offense.
An advantage of being in the pistol offense is having the ability to confuse defenses on what kind of play will be run. The coaching staff hopefully will have a schedule of plays that implement the running back, passing attack, and give Richardson a chance to make plays with his feet.
5) Don’t let special teams keep UNI in the game.
The Panthers were ranked second in the nation in kickoff returns in the FCS. Don’t give up big plays that give them easy momentum.