Three Keys to Victory: Northern Iowa

Iowa State kicks off the 2003 regular season Saturday night against Northern Iowa. Here are three keys to a Cyclone victory, according to CN senior writer Bill Seals.

Take the doubt out of it

With an Iowa State team trying to find itself at a few positions, and with first- and second-year players filling out the two-deep, Dan McCarney's team must come together fast and jump on Northern Iowa. The Panthers are also a team with some question marks on offense and particularly the offensive line. If the Cyclones are able to jump on UNI, like they did with two Seneca Wallace touchdown runs of 27 and 60 yards in a 45-0 victory in 2001, it will take the wind out of a I-AA opponent. However, if early adversity strikes and they're not able to handle it, Mark Farley's team will gain confidence.

Much of the 45,000 in attendance can count on a steady dose of workhorse tailback Stevie Hicks and his complement, upperclassman Michael Wagner. Hicks became a big-play machine late in the spring, but is mostly known as a grind-it-out back. A few long scoring drives mixed in with a dominating effort up front spearheaded by Jordan Carstens, Nick Leaders and Brandon Brown could spell UNI's doom early.

Establishing defensive presence

A worn down defense struggled to contain Terry Caulley of UConn and Brock Forsey of Boise State late last season, and this group will get an early test against a tailback ISU coaches know very well. UNI first-year starter Terrence Freeney received plenty of interest from the Cyclones as he put up big numbers at Cedar Falls High School. Now, after a short stint at South Dakota, he has returned to lead a Panther backfield without the services of Adam Benge.

Being stout in the run game should make the Panthers easier to figure out, as quarterback Tom Petrie is likely to depend on Marlus Mays (54 catches for 992 yards and five scores in '02). That could lead to a long day against an ISU secondary that's better than ever.

Settling on a kicker

It appears McCarney will make a gametime decision on who will kick field goals against UNI, however, it's likely both Tony Yelk and Adam Benike will get their opportunities. Field goals aren't likely to decide the victor of Saturday's affair, but getting some semblance of success in this area would go a long way towards McCarney settling on one guy.

Yelk appears to have the edge after a superior spring and solid fall camp, but All-Big 12 kicker Adam Benike has dug in and closed the gap between he and Yelk, who will handle the punting and kickoff duties. Benike must show the consistency he did a year ago, as Yelk's talent and skill are superior.

Here's to a first-team field goal man being listed on the two-deep for Ohio, instead of the uncertainty of another gametime decision.

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