AMES --- Paul Rhoads was eager to get a glimpse at the game film of Iowa State's 28-20 loss to Northern Iowa Saturday at Jack Trice Stadium.
But he didn't need to see the film to know where his Cyclones had holes to fix and weaknesses to strengthen. Rhoads said the Panthers did a good enough job of showing him during four quarters of play of what wasn't solid for ISU.
"They had an outstanding game plan on both sides of the ball," Rhoads said. "They throughly knew our offense and defense and took advantage with great execution of all those holes and weaknesses."
Rhoads knew there would be growing pains with a defense that saw seven players making their first career starts. But it may have been worse than he expected
The Panthers rolled to 457 total yards, averaging, 7.37 yards per play, with David Johnson continually getting to the second level of the Cyclones defense unscathed.
ISU got just a solo tackle and an assist tackle from the highly-touted defensive tackle duo of David Irving and Rodney Coe, and three of the Cyclones top four tacklers in the game were defensive backs which means the Cyclones secondary was making most of the tackles. In fact, cornerback Sam E. Richardson, safety Jacques Washington, safety Deon Broomfield and cornerback Charlie Rogers combined for more than 50 percent of ISU's tackles against UNI.
That is an area of concern now and could be a bigger issue if not resolved before ISU has to take on the likes of an Oklahoma, Oklahoma State or Baylor.
But despite those struggles, the Cyclones defense was solid in the second half, especially after ISU inserted redshirt freshman Luke Knott in at will linebacker.
UNI averaged 9.28 yards per play in the first half, but just 5.79 in the second. ISU also forced two Panther second-half turnovers.
In broader terms, the Cyclones defense played well enough for ISU to rally from a 21-14 halftime deficit and pull out a victory.
But that leads to another area of concern that to a man the Cyclones pointed out, the offense's inability to finish drives.
ISU had to settle for four field goal attempts in the game, a pair of them misses of 48 and 54 by Edwin Arceo in the first half.
"We'd rather take touchdowns than field goals," running back James White said. "Points are points, but touchdowns are more valuable."
Most glaring was two golden opportunities in the third quarter.
ISU had a first and goal at the Panther six on its opening second-half drive, but Jeff Woody was hit for a three-yard loss on second down, and Shontrelle Johnson couldn't haul in pass on third down forcing the Cyclones to settle for a Cole Netten 23-yard field goal.
One play after the field goal, Broomfield forced and recovered a fumble at the UNI 20. But ISU gained exactly zero yards in three offensive plays and Netten drilled a 38-yard field goal pulling the Cyclones to within 21-20, but somehow it felt like a defeat having to settle for another field goal
"We needed a big play to get the momentum back," Broomfield said of the fumble recovery. "We got a field goal out of it, but it would've been nice to get a touchdown to really take the momentum."
ISU wanted and needed more out of consecutive third quarter red zone opportunities.
"Offensively, we just needed to finish," Woody said. "We left 20 points off the board. You can't base you living off ifs and buts, but we need to fix the mistakes that caused those issues."
If the Cyclones had scored touchdowns on those two third-quarter drives ISU might have been talking about a hard-fought victory instead of a stinging defeat.
The Cyclones now have 13 days to think about the would'ves and could'ves until they host another in-state rival, Iowa, on Sept. 14.
"We'll be itching to get back on the field," said senior receiver Justin Coleman who was one of the highlights Saturday becoming the first Cyclone receiver since Ed Williams in 1997 to have more than 100 yards receiving in a season opener. "That's going to be the most painful part. As far as coming out and being ready to play our next game, it's probably a good thing.
"It's more time to prepare and watch as much film as we can and fix the mistakes we made."