Sep 23, 2023; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Cincinnati Bearcats quarterback Emory Jones (5) hands off to running back Myles Montgomery (26) against the Oklahoma Sooners in the second quarter at Nippert Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Sam Greene-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — Iowa State beat TCU last season with detail and precision. The Cyclones finally “won in the margins” — collecting four interceptions and a blocked punt en route to a 27-14 triumph.
The next challenge? Maintaining that edge in pressure-packed situations as the second half of the regular season begins with Saturday’s 11 a.m. (FS1) Big 12 road test against Cincinnati.
“Complementary football is the way you win football games at Iowa State and that’s how we’ll have to continue to do it and be better,” Cyclone head coach Matt Campbell said.
That won’t be easy for ISU (3-3, 2-1) to do against a Bearcats team (2-3, 0-2) that boasts the conference’s second-best defense in terms of average yards allowed per game (328.4). The Cyclones will meet Cincinnati for the first time in program history — and here are five Bearcats to watch this weekend:
QB Emory Jones
The well-traveled 6-3, 210-pound play caller from LaGrange, Ga. has been playing college football since 2018. He started out at Florida. Then he transferred to Arizona State last season before landing in Cincinnati. Jones’s college career has been tumultuous, to say the least, but his talent is undeniable. He’s completed 62.1 percent of his passes (100 of 161) this season for 10 touchdowns and six interceptions. The dual-threat quarterback is also averaging 4.1 yards per carry despite being sacked 10 times this season — and his three rushing touchdowns lead the team. Jones rushed for 94 yards in the Bearcats’ third straight loss at BYU and totaled 101 yards on the ground in a 31-24 overtime setback to Miami of Ohio. He’s thrown 43 touchdown passes in his long and winding college career, while rushing for 17 more.
DT Dontay Corleone
The player nicknamed “the Godfather” was the highest-rated defensive player last season, according to Pro Football Focus, and his keen ability to both stuff the run and create havoc for opposing quarterbacks makes him a potential game-changer in the trenches. The 6-2, 318-pound nose tackle totaled 45 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and three sacks last season. He also forced and recovered two fumbles. Corleone — a Cincinnati native — has 17 total tackles and two sacks this season. He earned third-team All-America honors as a redshirt freshman in 2022 and is fully capable of thwarting ISU’s recently resurgent running game.
WR Braden Smith
Fun fact: Smith helped beat the Bearcats in the 2022 Wasabi Fenway Bowl while playing for Louisville. He never redshirted for the Cardinals and is now enjoying a breakout senior season with Cincinnati. The speedy 5-10, 185-pounder from Flowood, Mo. leads Bearcats receivers with three touchdowns this season. Smith has also emerged as one of Jones’s favorite downfield targets — as evidenced by his 15.9 yards per catch average. He ranks second to Xzavier Henderson in catches with 17 and is one of three Cincinnati receivers to have notched a catch spanning 48 yards or greater. Smith mishandled a punt that proved to be costly in the Bearcats’ 35-27 loss at BYU, but he also caught a 31-yard touchdown pass in that game.
S Bryon Threats
The 5-10, 195-pound junior from Columbus, Ohio, counted Iowa State as among his voluminous offers list before committing to Cincinnati before the 2021 season. He immediately contributed on special teams as a freshman during the Bearcats’ rousing run to the College Football Playoff that season and started 10 games last season. Threats is one of many playmakers on Cincinnati’s defense and he leads the team with two interceptions this season. He’s also forced a fumble while recording 24 tackles, which ranks third on the team. Threats boasts 2.5 sacks and four interceptions since the 2022 season.
K Carter Brown
The Arizona State transfer has drilled 10 of 12 field goal attempts this season between the uprights — and he’s a perfect 4-for-4 on kicks of 40 yards or greater. Brown hasn’t missed an extra point in his career (49-for-49) and has successfully converted 80.8 percent of his field goal tries (21 of 26). The sophomore’s two field goals against Pittsburgh in the second game of the season provided the Bearcats with their winning margin in a 27-21 triumph.