Northern Iowa found some holes in the Iowa State secondary, but when it came to the run game, the Panthers couldn’t muster anything against a staunch Cyclone defensive line.
Northern Iowa could not get anything working on the ground against No. 21 Iowa State, which allowed the Cyclones to dictate the tempo and hold the Panthers to only six offensive points in regulation in a 29-26 win that went to three overtimes.
“When you look at just the rushing statistics… you saw, from our end, the line going the opposite way,” said Iowa State coach Matt Campbell. “You saw some of those guys make some really good plays.”
The defensive line, led by interior lineman Ray Lima and pass-rusher JaQuan Bailey, held up its end of the bargain and closed any holes that the Panthers offensive line tried to open up. Iowa State’s linebacker core played well to hit the running backs hard and early as well, which allowed the secondary to focus on coverage.
The overall game was ugly, but the defense did well to limit Northern Iowa quarterback and former Iowa State recruit Will McElvain, who made some nice plays for the Panthers.
The Panthers made very few mistakes throughout the game, but the Cyclones' rush defense limited possible big plays which ultimately led to better field position for the offense.
“What I’m anxious to go [see is] what did the discipline look like,” Campbell said. “What about the discipline of what we needed to do in that football game.”
On 31 attempts, Northern Iowa ran the ball for 34 yards — and their longest run of the day was a 10-yard scramble from their quarterback Will McElvain.
The Panthers leading rusher in the game was Trevor Allen. Allen ended up with 26 yards on 15 attempts, but he was able to score a big receiving touchdown that forced a third overtime.
Despite the great defensive play, the game still came down to three overtimes and the Cyclones needed a touchdown from redshirt senior Sheldon Croney to escape with a win in a game they were heavily favored in.
In overtime, the Cyclones bottled the Panthers up in the run game. Northern Iowa was hit with negative yardage multiple times, which helped the Cyclones keep in it until they could put the game away.
“Our defense is amazing,” said sophomore quarterback Brock Purdy. “When things aren’t going so smooth for us, they’ve been like our rock.”
“I’m so blessed to have a defense like ours.”
Purdy was involved in two of the most important plays of the game. Toward the end of the third quarter, Purdy was sacked and a questionable fumble call led to a Northern Iowa touchdown.
Later, on the second to last play of the game, Purdy saw his running back Croney lose the football right at the goal line in a sudden-death situation. Purdy dove forward and fell on the football to keep Iowa State in possession so Croney could punch it in and walk it off the very next play.
The inability to capitalize on good field possession and the flurry of mistakes from the offense almost cost the Cyclones an upset loss. But the defense —specifically the defensive line — stepped up and played a huge game on Saturday.