116 3rd St SE
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AMES — Breaking down Saturday’s season-opening college football game between No. 7 Iowa State and Northern Iowa at Jack Trice Stadium.
Iowa State offense
Iowa State’s offense is pretty much set, as expected.
Brock Purdy will be behind center and Breece Hall will be next to him. Purdy has pass-catching weapons in Xavier Hutchinson, Tarique Milton, Charlie Kolar and Chase Allen.
The only thing that wasn’t nailed down by the end of fall camp was the offensive line.
The Cyclones return seven players who have started at least five games and all played at a high level.
“I’d say there’s a lot of fluidity on the entire offensive line,” Campbell said. “There’s a lot of competition. The left side isn’t nailed down and the right side isn’t nailed down. You better come to practice on Tuesday and Wednesday if you expect to play on Saturday.”
Campbell may have said the left side isn’t nailed down, but Sean Foster returns at left tackle and his backup is listed as freshman Tyler Miller. Left guard Trevor Downing returns from injury and is widely regarded as Iowa State’s best lineman, so his spot should be safe.
Now the right side of the line is completely up in the air. Right guard is listed as Derek Schweiger or Darrel Simmons and right tackle is listed as Jake Remsburg or Derek Schweiger. Schweiger moved to left tackle last season after Downing’s injury, but has moved back to the right side this season. No matter who starts where on Saturday, Iowa State is confident in whoever they put out there because all of them had success.
Two seasons ago, Campbell was very complimentary of UNI quarterback Will McElvain. That hasn’t changed.
“I’m a huge Will McElvain fan because I love guys that have competitive excellence.” Campbell said. “When I watch Will play, he’s an elite competitor. When you go back to the 2019 season and watch the run that they make through the playoffs where he’s leading that football team. Against South Dakota State, he makes two critical plays at the end of that game that keeps them alive in those playoffs.”
McElvain’s stats fell off last season, completing just 50 percent of his passes, but there are all sorts of legitimate justifications for that — offensive coordinator Ryan Mahaffey leaving just before the season, injuries, COVID, etc.
Still, even with a dip in production, Campbell saw the same McElvain.
“What he brings to the table is he’s an elite competitor every play,” Campbell said. “When you watch how he competes, he’s trying to win every single play. To me, that’s impressive. When your quarterback has that dynamic, your team feeds off of that and he’s shown that.”
Iowa State defense
If Iowa State’s offense is almost set, the defense is set.
The only real question is who starts at Iowa State’s third safety spot — Jaquan Amos or Kym-Mani King? But even defensive coordinator Jon Heacock is confident in both and both likely will play since Heacock is a firm believer in keeping players fresh.
The notable change in the defense, however, is Greg Eisworth moving from the field-side safety to the boundary-side safety.
Heacock made the change because in years past, Eisworth and Mike Rose were both on the field side, so teams would just avoid that side of the field and run plays consistently to the boundary.
“Greg gives a great presence into the boundary,” Heacock said. “He plays opposite of Mike now and with his veteraness and experience, he’ll help that other side of the field. The game is faster on the boundary side because everything is on you so quick. Law-rence White did a great job for us in years past and I think moving Greg over there will benefit us.”
As an FCS team, UNI doesn’t always get the highly-touted high school recruits, but what it makes of those players is to be commended.
“The thing that impresses me the most is how well they’re coached,” Campbell said. “They do so many different things, defensively. Even the evolution from 2019 to now, they’ve played so many different defenses. And the thing that’s so impressive is they’re always in the right place at the right time. That to me is as important as the ‘who.’
“They’re really talented along the defensive line, they have long, athletic corners, the safety position, they can go with a two-high or three-high safety look. There are really talented players there but the impressive thing is they’re always in the right spot. To be so multiple — and you’ve heard me talk about multiplicity being the key because it creates confusion — that’s the thing that impresses me as much as anything.”
UNI has given Iowa State fits over the years but I think this is one the Cyclones can handle with relative ease.
Iowa State 38, UNI 10