Cyclones fend off upset-minded UNI, 16-10

AMES, Ia. – Saturday was the kickoff Iowa State fans have waited 651 days for, the amount of time it had been since a capacity crowd filled Jack Trice Stadium for Iowa State’s 41-31 win over Kansas to cap off the 2019 home slate. It was also the beginning of a quest that everyone in Ames hopes, will end up in a Big 12 Championship, and a possible College Football Playoff appearance.

While the expectations are high, the opening-weekend at the box office for Matt Campbell’s Cyclones didn’t necessarily live up to those expectations in a 16-10 win over in-state rival Northern Iowa. A game in which the #7 team in the preseason AP Poll didn’t settle until the final whistle blew, fans were left worried about the Iowa State’s seemingly-lackadaisical performance. Matt Campbell, on the other hand, found more positives than his fanbase seemed to find.

“You look at how we win football games here, you run the ball, you stop the run, and I thought some areas on special teams greatly improved, which is really exciting,” Campbell said of the positives. “I thought Brock’s [Purdy] downfield passing was better than I’ve seen it, which is certainly a positive.”

Iowa State’s senior signal caller did not throw a touchdown in the Cyclones season-opener, but did not turn the ball over in a 21-for-26 performance, in which he threw for 197 yards. Taking care of the football is an area that Purdy has struggled in throughout his career, but a smarter, more efficient Purdy could spell big things for Iowa State, offensively.

On the flip, some things from Iowa State didn’t look sharp. In particular, the Cyclones offensive line, which is one of the most veteran offensive lines in the country in 2021, seemingly had trouble with consistently winning the line-of-scrimmage battle with a feisty UNI defensive line. Panthers defensive linemen such as Iowa City-native Jared Brinkman and former Manson-Northwest Webster star Tim Butcher, prevented Iowa State’s Breece Hall from gathering much of a rhythm. The Cyclones All-American running back finished the day with 72 yards on 23 carries and Iowa State’s lone touchdown.

Matt Campbell did offer some compliment to the offensive line and mentioned the absence of All-American tight end Charlie Kolar, who missed Saturday’s game, but is expected to suit up against Iowa next week.

“I thought for the most part, from a protection standpoint, the offensive line was as good as I’ve seen us. A lot of pressure came our way today,” Campbell said. “I thought there were some times we had creases, where did that slip, where did we not find ways to maximize opportunity in the running game.”

Iowa State linebacker O’Rien Vance also exited the game with an injury, he is expected to be ready for the upcoming week.

After taking Iowa State to triple overtime in 2019, UNI quarterback Will McElvain got the nod over Michigan State-transfer Theo Day for the Panthers, and McElvain appeared to have brought some of that 2019 magic for UNI, at least in the first quarter. The Panthers got the first strike of the afternoon, after some McElavin Magic, where the junior quarterback was falling down and found Deion McShane for a 37-yard play. Two plays later, McElavin hit Quan Hampton on a slant route, who then proceeded to break two tackles, and bolt 52 yards for a UNI touchdown, to give the Panthers a 7-0 lead.

Jack Trice didn’t fall silent, but it was quiet. A quiet that felt like a mixture of “what’s happening here” and “here we go again”. The subject of missed tackles by the Iowa State defense was mentioned as one of the negatives by Matt Campbell.

“What wasn’t good, just little things, the touchdown comes on a 3rd down, we have the sack and he hits the slant, he breaks tackles and just made a great play,” Campbell said. “You know on a couple offensive possessions, you’re just a hair off on a couple things. All things that you really expect in a first game.”

Iowa State answered with a 35-yard Connor Assalley field goal to cut the score at 7-3 at the end of the 1st quarter. The Cyclones would make more noise in the second quarter, in their first possession, marching 59 yards in 14 plays and capping off the drive with 2-yard touchdown run by Breece Hall to put the Cyclones up 10-7. All seemed to be right at the moment, but Mark Farley’s Panthers weren’t going to go into the dark quietly.

UNI fought right back after the touchdown with a solid drive of their own, as Will McElvain, who finished with 230 yards and a touchdown, marched the Panthers into Iowa State territory before settling for 41-yard, Matthew Cook field goal, to tie the score at 10-10. The Cyclones got a chance to execute some 2 minute offense following that, and Fordham-transfer Andrew Mevis, booted a 40-yard field goal as time expired in the first half to give the #7 Cyclones a 13-10 halftime lead.

13-10 would remain the score until the 4th quarter as Iowa State and UNI continued to trade punts, and defensive stands, until Iowa State finally pieced together a 10-play, 57 yard drive that was capped off with Connor Assalley’s 2nd field goal of the night to give the Cyclones a 16-10 lead. UNI would turn it over on the ensuing possession on the 2nd of Will McElvain’s two interceptions.

The Panthers would get one final crack at it, needing to go 90 yards in 62 seconds to pull off one of the biggest upsets in recent college football memory. McElvain got the Panthers to their 42-yard line, and completed a pass to receiver Sam Schnee on the final play of the game…but ended 33 yards short of the goal line to preserve a 16-10 win for the 7th-ranked Cyclones over their in-state rival.

“That’s a team that really believes and they aren’t ever going to beat themselves, and they certainly didn’t do that,” said Matt Campbell of UNI’s performance.

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