Three Keys to Victory: N. Illinois

Iowa State goes on its first road trip of the season for a Saturday matchup with 20th-ranked Northern Illinois in DeKalb. Here are three keys to a Cyclone victory, according to CN senior writer Bill Seals.

Avoiding a bad start

Iowa State walks into what seems like a difficult situation, matching up against the nationally ranked Huskies who return home after beating Alabama on an emotional high. But this could also work out to be a positive for the Cyclones, as Northern Illinois could be due for a letdown after its monumental win over 21st-ranked Alabama. Also, the question begs, how do the Huskies handle their first-ever national ranking after doing so?

Therefore, avoiding an early Northern Illinois barrage in Saturday's game could provide a huge psychological boost for an ISU team coming off a loss to instate rival Iowa, and it could drop the Huskies' confidence somewhat. The Cyclones scoring on their first possession could be a key in that happening.

Special teams could also play a big role in the start, as Northern Illinois will most likely be coming after Troy Blankenship's punts after the Hawkeyes blocked two a few weeks ago. The play on special teams could also play a big role in setting the tone with field position, which turned into a big disadvantage for Dan McCarney's team Sept. 13.

Turner may be burning…but

This game could come down to what Huskie quarterback Josh Haldi does in the passing game. Taking advantage of his team's outstanding rush game, Haldi has been a very efficient 54-of-86 passing for 667 yards thus far, with a remarkable 7-to-1 touchdown to interception ratio.

ISU has contained a big-time rusher in Fred Russell one week and a run-dominated attack another week (Ohio). With a solid defensive front, keyed by inside guys Jordan Carstens, Nick Leaders and Brandon Brown, Cyclone fans could expect more of the same this weekend. However, both the Hawkeyes and Bobcats have been able to do is move the ball in other ways.

Cornerback Ellis Hobbs will need to have another monster game defending the passing battery of wide receiver P.J. Fleck (23 catches for 190 yards and one TD) and Haldi. However, second option Dan Sheldon, who averages nearly 20 yards per catch, could be the one to watch for.

Diversified attack

However offensive coordinator Steve Brickey is able to do it, passing to run or running to pass, the Cyclones must get a more balanced attack than the one they had against Iowa. This would help ISU attain an edge in time of possession and take the pressure off of Austin Flynn.

For the first time in three games, the Cyclone quarterback, although his game against the Hawkeyes shouldn't be criticized too much, started looking more like a freshman than the veteran look he demonstrated against Ohio and UNI. But using Flynn in the passing game and rolling him out more on first down could also be a nice way to set up the running game. Doing so could get more defenders out of the box on those earlier downs, and pave the way for a trio of running backs that should see action.

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