Iowa State Cyclones

Iowa State football vs. Louisiana: Pregame analysis, prediction

Iowa State hosts Louisiana this Saturday at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames.
Iowa State hosts Louisiana this Saturday at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames.

AMES — A closer look at Saturday’s Louisiana-Iowa State football game at Jack Trice Stadium,

Louisiana offense

Louisiana has a potent offensive attack led by preseason Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year Levi Lewis.

Lewis is Louisiana’s lefty, dual-threat quarterback who takes care of the ball. He threw for 3,050 yards, 26 touchdowns and just four interceptions, completing 64 percent of his passes.

He also gained more than 300 yards on the ground last season as a junior and rushed for an additional three touchdowns.

“When mobility and arm strength come together and then you put in poise and vision down the field, really great things can happen,” Iowa State Coach Matt Campbell said. “Levi possesses all those traits and certainly, you’re talking about a young man, then, they’ve done a great job of tailoring an offense around him for him to be really successful.”

Iowa State cornerback Anthony Johnson said Lewis has traits that remind him of former Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray.

Lewis alone would be enough to make a defense sweat, but the Ragin’ Cajuns also boast two productive running backs.

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Elijah Mitchell rushed 198 times for 1,147 yards and 16 touchdowns last season and his backfield buddy Trey Ragas rushed 116 times for 820 yards and 11 touchdowns.

The biggest question mark for Louisiana is what kind of production it can get from its receivers. According to the Daily Advertiser, four Ragin’ Cajun receivers are out with severe injuries that range from broken hips to torn Achilles. They’ll need multiple people to step up to make sure they’re not a one-dimensional team.

Louisiana defense

Louisiana’s defense doesn’t grab the headlines like the offense does, but it is returning eight of its 11 starters from last season’s unit that allowed 19.7 points per game.

“It’s another really good challenge for us,” Campbell said. “It’s a veteran defense that had great success a year ago. It’s going to be a really good indicator for where we are and where our strengths and weaknesses lie after this football game. From their defense’s perspective, it’s multiple, it’s aggressive, it has the ability to create negative yardage plays.

“It is a great challenge for us in game one in terms of our offensive line, our tight ends, our running backs — everybody needs to be alert and ready to go.”

Louisiana’s top four sack producers return this season as well as four players who had at least one interception last season.

Iowa State offense

Iowa State has proven talent in every position group. Brock Purdy is an all-Big 12 quarterback, Breece Hall is an all-Big 12 running back, all three tight ends have made all-Big 12 teams and Tarique Milton is an all-Big 12 caliber receiver.

The question comes from the offensive line. Left guard Trevor Downing and center Colin Newell are proven pieces but the offensive line needs to be a unit — it’s not a position group that can let two guys carry them.

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Left tackle, right guard and right tackle all have the word “or” in the depth chart, meaning it could be one person, or another.

Campbell said he likes the talent along the line but until the lights come on, it’s hard to know exactly what he has.

“From summer until now, they have all collectively grown,” Purdy said. “Obviously Trevor Downing and Colin Newell have done a great job of helping out everyone else, whether they’re running with the ones or running with the twos. For me, being back there in pass protection and everything, I love what I see so far.

“The bottom line is, they’re all willing to do what it takes this year to be the best offensive line they can be. I know that and they know that. I’ll go to war with them any day of the week because they have the drive in them. I’m ready to roll with them come Saturday.”

Iowa State defense

The Cyclones’ defense is poised to be among the best in the Big 12 once again.

When Iowa State released its depth chart on Wednesday, there weren’t many surprises but one of the biggest was Enyi Uwazurike moving from defensive end to defensive tackle. The 6-foot-6 Uwazurike went from 285 pounds to 310 pounds in the offseason and should help fill the void left by Ray Lima.

“Yeah, I think if anybody’s seen Enyi, you know Enyi probably could weigh 330 with about three really good dinners,” Campbell said. “So I think my big thing for Enyi is getting him as big and strong and as powerful as he’s got the ability to be. Enyi moves like a small forward at times in basketball at that weight so I think what you say about you know position flexibility is great, but I think that’s what makes him such a productive football player. He’s been that for us during his time here and I think what he’s got is the ability to be his absolute best (in) this, his senior year, which is really, really exciting for all of us.”

On third down, in obvious passing situations, Iowa State has the ability to send JaQuan Bailey, Will McDonald, Uwazurike and a blitzing O’Rien Vance. Which is a scary thought for opposing offenses because Bailey is tied for Iowa State’s career sacks record, McDonald had five sacks in the last four games and set the freshman sack record at Iowa State with six, Uwazurike was a former defensive end with pass-rush ability and Vance led the team in sacks last season with 6.5.

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Final thoughts

Louisiana is not a typical opponent for the first game of the season for a Power Five team. Louisiana is good. It’s been to back-to-back Sun Belt Championship games, won its bowl game last year and returns most of its key players.

The key for Iowa State this game is up front along the offensive line. If the line plays well, there’s no reason Iowa State shouldn’t win this game.

Prediction — Iowa State 31, Louisiana 21

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