Defensive Stranglehold

<b>AMES, IA --</b> Iowa State's best defensive effort in nearly 24 years helped pave the way for a season-opening 23-0 victory against Northern Iowa Saturday at Jack Trice Stadium. The Cyclones allowed their opponent just 99 yards of total offense, the lowest figure since a 69-0 win over Colorado State on Oct. 4, 1980.

After a 10-game losing streak that brought about a season of transition in Ames, ISU's shutout of the Panthers put some of the swagger back in Dan McCarney's program.

"I didn't really pay attention to the losing streak, and how many games it was," said the Cyclone head coach. "The whole season was a nightmare and I wanted to get that behind us as soon as we could. I took full responsibility for it and we moved on a long time ago. We focused on this coaching staff, these players, and this season. There is nothing we can do to change last year, but what we've got to do is make sure it doesn't happen again."

ISU's effort to open its season was unlike many of 2003. The offense, which opened the game with a 14-play drive that spanned 71 yards, went on to own a time of possession advantage of nearly 16 minutes. Stevie Hicks rushed for 111 yards on 23 carries, and proved to be the workhorse Barney Cotton was looking for.

While not spectacular in their roles as dueling quarterbacks, Bret Meyer and Austin Flynn each managed to throw touchdown passes in the second quarter. Cotton's new-look offense could have been even more productive if not for three possessions that ended on downs, and another on a missed 35-yard field goal from Brian Jansen.

"Some of the real good seasons we had here, there were some real good drives," McCarney said. "You always want to come out of it with points, and we didn't do that all the time today, but there were some better, time-consuming drives. We wore the defense out on the other side and rested the defense on our side. Those things all add up. It's complementing both sides of the ball and helping each other."

UNI's offense, meanwhile, did not reach midfield until late in the fourth quarter with the game already decided. Veteran quarterback Tom Petrie misfired on 11 of the 19 passes he attempted and was sacked four times. Tailbacks Terrance Freeney and Richard Carter combined for just 36 yards on 20 carries.

When the final whistle sounded, the Panthers had managed just seven first downs to ISU's 27.

"We played well as a group," said Tyson Smith, who played his first game since breaking a leg against UNI in the 2003 season opener. "Everybody out there ran to the ball, hustled to the ball, and made plays. It was an overall group effort out there. Thanks to our offense, their defense was tired and we had fresh legs. We were able to pretty much shut them down."

An attack sparked by Hicks' hard running set the tone early for the Cyclones. The sophomore carried the ball 10 times for 40 yards in the opening 15 minutes, and helped set ISU up for a 35-yard Jansen field goal late in the quarter. Jansen started on field goals and extra points for Tony Yelk, who sat out with a pulled muscle.

"The first series we came out hard and strong," said Hicks, who rushed for 100-plus yards in his second consecutive game. "We moved the ball down the field and I had some nice holes. It's what we've been looking for from the beginning. We wanted to take it down the field on the first series. We need to keep that momentum and step it up even more next week."

From there, the tandem of Flynn and Meyer helped the Cyclones take control. As planned, Flynn entered the game early in the second quarter. The sophomore needed just three plays to get ISU in the end zone for a 10-0 lead, hooking up with Todd Blythe in the corner of the end zone for 23 yards.

But Meyer countered shortly before halftime, leading the Cyclone offense through a two-minute drill. He completed seven consecutive passes at one time, including five on that drive, for 72 yards. With just 10 seconds remaining in the half, Meyer dropped back and fired a three-yard strike to Jon Davis. That score put ISU up 17-0 heading into the locker room.

Meyer said graded his first day as a starter a ‘D.' But that may be too much criticism of himself, figuring he completed 15-of-24 passes for 139 yards.

"I was pretty relaxed," Meyer said. "The veterans did a great job of helping me out throughout the game. I just went out there and did my thing. I didn't worry about the people or the other team, and did what I was told to do. I was real focused on the two-minute drill. We had a couple of setbacks with some false starts, but we persevered through it."

McCarney didn't tip his hand as to what the quarterback rotation would be next weekend against Iowa, but did say he'd be surprised if both Meyer and Flynn don't play.

"Without watching the tape, my gut would be that he'd still start and Austin would play," ISU's head coach said. "I like both of them on the field. You saw Austin make some nice throws and nice plays. But we'll watch the tape and make a final evaluation."

Brandon Brown led the Cyclone defense with eight tackles. Smith added seven tackles, including two stops-for-loss. As a team, the Cyclones came up with 14 tackles for losses of 45 yards.

The Cyclones take to the field in Iowa City to take on the Hawkeyes next Saturday at 11 a.m.

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