Iowa State will be going up against one of the country's best programs in turnover margin during recent years, and much of that success goes to the Huskies' ball control offense and efficient passing game that complements it.
But there are some kinks in Northern Illinois' armor that was not there at this time a year ago. Michael ‘The Burner' Turner has moved onto the NFL and made way for a first-year starter in A.J. Harris. Gone also is quarterback Josh Haldi, who has been out with an injury since the third play of the season opener. NIU will be giving backup Paul Horvath the second start of his young career.
The Huskies are proving to be more apt to turnovers than they were a year ago, and did fumble the ball three times last weekend against Southern Illinois.
On the other hand, the Cyclone defense must prove it can force more turnovers than it has through two games. John Skladany's unit can't afford to come out of Saturday's game with no big plays on defense, and the big reason for that lies with an inexperienced offense. If ISU can make some big plays on defense and special teams, it could create more scoring opportunities for Stevie Hicks and company.
Get after young quarterback
Horvath has been efficient, at best, during his time at quarterback against Maryland and Southern Illinois. However, he still cannot be mentioned in the same category as Haldi, who passed for 2,544 yards and 25 touchdowns to just nine interceptions one season ago.
Just as the Cyclones did last week against the Hawkeyes, they must get pressure on a young quarterback making the second start of his college career. ISU's defense is much improved in this category as well, recording eight sacks in its first two games after making just 14 in all of the 2003 campaign. More pressure will mean more bad decisions out of Horvath.
Win field position battle, then capitalize
This somewhat ties in with the first key to victory. After gaining a big edge in field position during their first outing of the season, the Cyclones gave up that edge slightly against Iowa. Therefore, an offense that scored 23 points against the Panthers – yet could have easily scored more – managed just a touchdown and field goal the following weekend.
It would be nice for the offense to get some short fields to work with Saturday, but the defense and special teams will have to play roles in that. But the quarterback tandem of Bret Meyer and Austin Flynn will have to do their parts as well, especially if ISU continues to struggle in the field-goal kicking game. In a game that could be decided by a touchdown or less, the Cyclones will need to capitalize on every scoring opportunity they get.