When Greg Eisworth looks back on Iowa State's narrow win over Northern Iowa in 2019, one vision plays on a loop in his head.
“Literally all I think about is the quarterback scrambling around the whole time, just running around and making plays,” the Cyclones' safety said. “It was frustrating. They give us a good challenge every time we play them.”
Iowa State, ranked 21st at the time, finally subdued Will McElvain and escaped with a 29-26 win in three overtimes.
The Panthers return to Ames on Saturday to face the No. 7 Cyclones and try again to become the first FCS team to beat a top-10 FBS opponent since Appalachian State knocked off Michigan in 2007.
UNI has won three of eight meetings since 2007, including Matt Campbell's Iowa State coaching debut in 2016. Pulling an upset this time will be a tall task. The Cyclones are coming off their best season in program history and picked to return to the Big 12 championship game.
The Panthers went 3-4 in their spring season — they didn't play last fall because of the pandemic — and they return all 22 starters. Only 147 days will have passed since their last game April 10.
“They have really good players that have something to prove,” Cyclones tight end Chase Allen said. “They’re not sneaking up on us, that's for sure. We remember what happened in that (2019) game and we don’t want to let it happen again.”
UNI regularly plays the state's FBS schools, and Panthers coach Mark Farley said it's always a red-letter game. This year is even more special, he said, because the Panthers didn't get to play last fall and the game at 61,500-seat Jack Trice Stadium is sold out.
“From my understanding, knowing coach Campbell, these games are important to him, too, because, this is his background,” Farley said. “He came from Division III and came up the ranks and didn’t get a job just because of his last name or maybe the shirt that he wore as a player. This is a huge game to us, whether it’s Iowa or Iowa State.”
Farley did not announce his starting quarterback at his weekly news conference, only that it will be either McElvain or Theo Day. McElvain, who set a school freshman passing record in 2019, struggled during the spring season and missed two games with COVID-19.
The game pits brothers in Iowa State's Allen and fellow tight end Alex Allen of UNI.
“I was lucky enough to get to watch every one of their games in the spring season,” Chase said. “I was always over there in the UNI Dome cheering on my brother. I was even scouting them back then.”
Chase goes into his sixth year with 48 catches and four touchdowns in his career. Alex has appeared in six games over two seasons at UNI and has one catch for 17 yards.
GOING FOR .500
Iowa State is in the Top 25 for a program-record 14th straight week and can improve to .500 when playing as a ranked team. The Cyclones are 25-26-2 while ranked, with Campbell owning 12 of those wins.
Iowa State will be playing its 21st game as a ranked team since 2017. The Cyclones played nine such games from 1982-2016.
CYCLONES CLAMP DOWN
Iowa State's defense has allowed fewer than 10 points in second halves in six straight games, the second-best streak in the nation. The Cyclones have been in the top three in the Big 12 in scoring defense four straight years.
QUIET TO LOUD
Both teams will have to re-acclimate themselves to playing in front of a big crowd after playing before limited crowds as part of COVID-19 safeguards.
Campbell said taking the crowd atmosphere out of the mix made his players realize they have to create their own energy.
“There’ll be a heightened sense of emotion that will be created from a fan base,” he said, “and I think adapting to that and not letting that overtake your performance is a big thing.”
Quarterback Brock Purdy said Campbell has addressed the topic with the team.
“If you get wrapped up in what’s going on in the environment,” he said, “you're not going to be able to do your job when the team needs you most.”
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