LIGER'S DEN: Report cards for Iowa, ISU, UNI football


Iowa State redshirt senior defensive back Amechie Walker fights to bring down Iowa junior running back Ivory Kelly-Martin during the second half of the annual Iowa Corn Cy-Hawk Series, held on Sept. 14 at MidAmerican Energy Field at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames. [Tyler Anderson/The Graphic-Advocate]
By: 
Tyler Anderson
The Graphic-Advocate Editor

Football is in that proverbial home stretch, isn’t it?

The Iowa high school football scene is in its second week of the playoffs, the college football teams are in the thick of their conference respective schedules and the National Football League is midway through its 100th season.

In a week’s time, we’ll have found out who’s going to the UNI-Dome, who’s a contender and who’s a pretender. I love this time of the year.

To show my love for autumn, with its falling leaves and temperatures that I’m still not used to just yet, I want to hand out some report cards to our local Division I college football teams.

I’d include the South Central Calhoun football team in this report card, just for fun, but you and I both know that they’d get an A for the season. No matter what, the Titans are a team to be proud of.

So…why am I doing this?

First, I’ve seen all three teams up close and personal this season. It’ll be a mission of mine from here on out. While Iowa State and Northern Iowa are very friendly toward small town media outlets, Iowa is not.

Don’t get me wrong: the University of Iowa’s Athletic Communications department is made up of fantastic people. Especially Steven Roe, the Assistant Athletics Director of Athletic Communications.

Roe is a class act.

If you’re not a consistent presence, you’re only allowed to cover and shoot pictures of one non-conference game. Spoiler alert, it won’t be the Cy-Hawk Game, either.

It’s just because Iowa is in the Big Ten Conference, gets nationally ranked on a consistent basis and already has a slew of folks cranking out content about the Hawks. Which is a wonderful thing.

While I’m on a kick about sports information folks, Mike Green of Iowa State and Jerek Wolcott of UNI are pretty awesome, too.

These report cards are a reflection of in-person impressions of our Iowan “Big Three,” along with the times that I’ve watched them on television. I don’t regularly check other websites or media outlets, just because I want you to have my first-hand opinion.

That, and I’m doing other things while the talking heads of ESPN and FOX are analyzing games and teams.

The following is the Liger’s Den report cards for the Iowa Hawkeyes, Iowa State Cyclones and the Northern Iowa Panthers. I also plan to give end of the season report cards on the Jan. 1, 2020 edition of The Graphic-Advocate.

 

Iowa Hawkeyes: B-

Right now, the No. 18-ranked Hawkeyes are receiving a B- grade.

When I saw the Hawks in person at the Cy-Hawk game, I wasn’t really high on the black and gold. Instead, I saw Iowa as an above average team, and overrated.

Don’t get me wrong, though, when Iowa’s offense is clicking – it fires on all cylinders. The offense flows through senior quarterback Nate Stanley, but relying on a pass-heavy offense is dangerous.

There needs to be balance with the running game, as the Hawkeyes need to put their big guys up front to good use. You can ask any lineman, they prefer to run block and maul defenders.

However, someone in the backfield – either freshman Tyler Goodson or Mekhi Sargent – need to step up. The Hawkeye ground game is ranked 86th in the nation. That’s not good for a program that prides itself on a balanced offense and nasty offensive lineman.

Saving Iowa is a great defense, which is ranked sixth in the country.

The anchor for the Hawkeye defense has been junior defensive end A.J. Epenesa, who leads the team in sacks with 3.5 sacks and eight quarterback hits. Yes, that last one is a stat.

Senior linebacker Kristian Welch leads the teams in tackles with 47 tackles, while fellow classmate Michael Ojemudia has snagged two interceptions and leads Iowa in pass breakups with six pass breakups.

To finish with a higher grade, the Hawkeyes need to finish strong. To do so, they will have to beat No. 13 Wisconsin at Camp Randall, give No. 17 Minnesota their (possibly) their second loss of the season and knock out a pesky Illinois team.

For the Hy-Vee Heroes Game, Iowa’s season finale, the Hawkeyes will have to defeat Nebraska in Memorial Stadium. While the Hawks have won the past four meetings, I wouldn’t underestimate the “Sea of Red” and the abilities of Nebraska’s head football coach – the inspirational Scott Frost.

While I can see Iowa climb to 10-2 overall and represent the Big Ten West in Indianapolis, I can also see them come out with an 8-4 record.

My best guess is a 9-3 record and perhaps another Outback Bowl invite. Prove me wrong, Hawkeyes.

 

Iowa State Cyclones: B-

The Cyclones show signs of greatness, and the Cyclones also show signs of being same ole Iowa State. For that, they’re also receiving a B- grade.

We can all agree that the 2019 Cyclones are just as talented, if not more than last year’s Alamo Bowl squad. Furthermore, we can all agree that Iowa State is extremely potent, possessing the 16th best offense in the country by averaging 480 yards per game.

In my mind, the Cyclones have their best quarterback since Seneca Wallace in sophomore signal caller Brock Purdy. The Gilbert, Arizona native is the dynamo who makes the ‘Clones go, going 202-of-295 with 2,567 yards and 15 touchdowns so far this season.

The Cyclones had some trouble finding the successor to David Montgomery, but they’ve found their workhorse in freshman running back Breece Hall. Hall was amazing against Texas Tech, lighting up the Red Raiders with 183 rushing yards and two touchdowns, including a 75-yard run to the house.

If they can balance out the pass and run games, and find ways to sling the ball to senior Deshaunte Jones, redshirt sophomore Charlie Kolar and redshirt senior La’Michael Pettway, Iowa State will continue to be dangerous.

What’s crazy is that Iowa State’s defense is no slouch, either. The Cyclones are 32nd in the nation, but are tied for 91st in turnover margins with negative three. To win football games, you have to win the turnover battle.

ISU head football coach Matt Campbell knows that just as well as anyone.

Lastly, the Cyclones have to figure out how to close out games in their favor. This season, a special teams gaffe doomed Iowa State in the Cy-Hawk Game, while not giving up the last score, like they have done against Baylor on Sept. 28 and Oklahoma State on Oct. 26.

Of the Big Three, Iowa State has the most daunting schedule ahead of them. The cardinal and gold visit ninth-ranked Oklahoma on Saturday in Norman, followed by a home date against Texas on the following weekend at MidAmerican Energy Field at Jack Trice Stadium.

The Cyclones will have their hands full, taking on Jalen Hurts and Sam Ehlinger in back-to-back weeks.

Kansas – guided by The Mad Hatter himself, Les Miles – will visit Ames on Nov. 23, followed by the regular season finale against stingy Kansas State team in Manhattan.

While the task is steep, ISU could potentially go 8-4. I can see them beating Texas, Kansas and Kansas State. Maybe they pull off the upset against OU, drop a close one at home against UT and be the best team in Kansas.

Or, the Cyclones could finish 6-6. The only win I can see out of this scenario, is fending off the Jayhawks on Senior Day.

The one thing above all that a Cyclone fan must live with is the unpredictability of the program. Either way, Iowa State will go bowling once more. They have too good of a team to miss the postseason.

 

UNI Panthers: A-

Out of the Big Three that I’ve been most impressed with, it has to be the Panthers. Therefore, they get an A-.

Save for a lopsided 46-14 loss against top-ranked North Dakota State on Oct. 12 and a setback at the hands of No. 3 Weber State earlier in the season, the Panthers are scary.

I repeat, the Panthers are scary, even at 6-3 overall and 4-1 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.

The purple, gold and black provided a triple-overtime thriller against Iowa State on opening week, defeated Youngstown State and came out with a 27-10 victory over then No. 7-ranked Illinois State last weekend in Normal.

In their matchup against the Redbirds, the Panthers racked up four turnovers – including two picks from true freshman defensive back Omar Brown. This is a testament to how good their defense can be, as they are just outside of the top 11 in the Football Championship Subdivision in sacks (11th) and total defense (11th).

UNI’s signal caller, redshirt freshman Will McElvian is pretty proficient. So far this season, the Des Moines Lincoln grad has tossed for nearly 2,000 yards and 17 touchdowns compared to just throwing three interceptions.

UNI’s final test to prove they can make a playoff run is on Nov. 16, where the Panthers face off against No. 4 South Dakota State in Brookings, S.D.

I’d say that the Panthers go 8-4 (beating Indiana State and Western Illinois, but falling to the Bunnies – I mean, the Jackrabbits) and wiggle their way into the FCS Playoffs.

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