FIVE KEYS TO THE GAME
1. Don't be intimidated
The 55,000-seat Jack Trice Stadium should be rocking for Iowa State's home opener, but Northern Illinois needs to find a way to block out anything going on outside the field. The Huskies handled Wisconsin and Purdue home crowds well last year and are hoping the newcomers have similar reactions in Ames.
2. Establish pass game
NIU pulled off an upset at Purdue last year by controlling the line of scrimmage and time of possession with 280 rushing yards. The Huskies will need similar success on the ground on Thursday but also need to be efficient through the air, no matter who is starting at quarterback, to keep the Cyclones defense from stacking the line of scrimmage.
3. Snap, hold, kick
Field goals and extra points look easy enough. But NIU coach Jerry Kill said the process is much more complex and difficult than it seems to the average football fan. The success of kickers Matthew Sims and Mike Cklamovski may rely on if snapper Nolan Owen and holder Chandler Harnish line up the laces correctly (away from the kicker).
4. Containing the option
ISU quarterback Austen Arnaud and running back Alexander Robinson will do the bulk of the work for the Cyclones' spread offense. Robinson, a Doak Walker Award candidate, might be the best running back NIU will see all season, and Arnaud is a load (6-foot-3, 235 pounds) to bring down. The Huskies defenders will have to stick to their assignments to slow ISU down.
5. Minimize mistakes
The first game of the season is a feeling out process for both these young teams. For the Huskies to pull off another upset of an automatic-qualifying BCS team, they'll need to make less early-season mistakes than the Cyclones. Less turnovers, less penalties and less blown assignments equate to a winning formula for NIU.