For as funky as it was with pass protection, Iowa's offensive line blocked well for the run. The outside zone rush that running back Damon Bullock busted 23 yards for the game-winner was perfectly blocked. Center James Ferentz pulled a lot last week, something Iowa does only when it thinks it will work against a defense. You saw it a lot against Nebraska last season. The O-line moved bodies on the outside and sealed the inside for Bullock, who ran this play with patience, knowing when to turn it on. Iowa State has just one returning starter on the D-line (NG Jake McDonough), so look for talented linebackers A.J. Klein and Jake Knott to be turned loose. Against Tulsa, free safety Jacques Washington was terrific in run support. He seems to have the freedom to go where he needs to be. After last week, don't be surprised if Iowa State plugs the line of scrimmage and forces Iowa's passing game to do something. Advantage: Iowa
The flag that flew in Iowa City this week was "correctable" mistakes. That explains some of the woes in pass protection. Technique was abandoned quickly against Northern Illinois' faster, smaller D-linemen. That said, the O-line gave up sacks and heat against a four-man rush too much. Pass protection cut the playbook by what was likely a good-sized percentage. Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg locked in on targets and neglected mechanics, but then, he was running for his life. We've been over how one of the big wrinkles in the passing game under first-year offensive coordinator Greg Davis is wide receivers reading defenses and deciding on routes. That didn't work on several attempts against NIU. How long does Iowa keep banging its head on that wall? At 5-7, 176, ISU corner Jeremy Reeves gets picked on a ton, but he's a great athlete. One lazy throw in the flat, he has the burst to undercut it and pick 6. The Cyclones challenged every Tulsa pass and put up top 20 national numbers in completion percentage defense and opponent passer rating. Advantage: Iowa State
Iowa State's spread offense relies heavily on the zone read. It hits this play out of several formations, but last week rolled up a considerable chunk of its 160 yards with four wide receivers and one running back. ISU QB Steele Jantz is deft with the ball. Running backs Shontrelle Johnson and James White are on the smallish side, but they have quick feet and decision-making made for this system. The four-wide receiver set clears linebackers from the line of scrimmage, making it a numbers game with five OL for five defenders, plus the QB-RB mesh. The Cyclones' OL simply blocks whomever crosses their face. ISU coach Paul Rhoads said this week he assumes Iowa will go all out to contain, especially in the face of Jantz's heroics in Ames last season. Iowa's inside defenders will need to hold their gaps and penetrate. Every little bit of disruption is going to count against a veteran offense that makes decisions at internet speed, the good internet. Advantage: Iowa State
Against Tulsa last week, Jantz didn't need to Spiderman his way around the field. He stayed in the framework of first-year offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham's offense played pitch and catch with nine different receivers. Jantz works out of the shotgun the majority of the time. He showed a ton of patience and was a flawless decision-maker last week. He doesn't get enough credit for his accuracy. Senior WR Josh Lenz had one scholarship offer coming out of Dubuque Hempstead. Last week, he had eight catches for 96 yards, including a 43-yard TD. Senior WR Chris Young caught more passes against Tulsa (7) than he did last season (6). It's extremely difficult to blitz Iowa State. Jantz is programmed to get the ball out in one or two counts. Iowa saw just 16 passes last week, so this group remains largely untested. Iowa's corners did play a lot of man coverage and the safeties lined up closer to the line of scrimmage as the game went on. Junior CB B.J. Lowery left the game last week with bruised ribs, but will play this week. Advantage: Iowa
ISU punter Kirby Van Der Kamp is the best punter in Iowa State history. He's been good and he's getting better. Against Tulsa, Van Der Kamp had an outstanding 43-yard average on nine punts and dropped five kicks inside the 16-yard line. That's a winning stat nine times out of 10. ISU kicker Edward Arceo transferred in from Iowa Central Community College where he made 10 of 13 field goal attempts. It probably did Rhoads a lot of good to see Arceo get off to a solid start with a 30-yarder last week. Iowa State returned just one kick last week, but Lenz and Aaron Horne (Big 12 newcomer of the year last season) have history. ISU did allow a 60-yard kick return. Iowa has split the punting duties between true freshmen Connor Kornbrath and senior John Wienke, who'll punt from inside the 50. Kornbrath's first punt was a 51-yarder that he launched from Iowa's goal line. One stat that went unnoticed was Micah Hyde and two punt returns for 21 yards. Advantage: Even
1) What is Kinnick Stadium worth? Rhoads mentioned it this week, joking about bringing strangers off the street to watch practice from the sidelines to simulate the crowded Kinnick sidelines. ISU players mentioned it, specifically linebacker A.J. Klein, who was ready to go with this game on Monday. The Hawkeyes are going to have to squeeze every little bit out of arches today. 2) Emotion plays in this game. This has worked more for Iowa State than it has for Iowa. If Iowa State comes out and turns this emotion into an advantage and into an early lead, Iowa will be crawling uphill all day. Are the Hawkeyes built for that at this point, even at home? 3) Speaking of the starts, since ISU put teeth back in the rivalry in 1998, only three times has the team that led at the end of the first quarter lost the game. The 2002 thriller when ISU came back from a 24-7 halftime deficit stands out. In '06, the Cyclones led 14-10 but fell 27-17. Last season, Iowa led 7-0 after one quarter and then fell in triple OT. Quick starts matter in the first emotional game of the season. Advantage: Iowa
The Hawkeyes' passing game straightens itself out and Iowa can disrupt Jantz's decision making. There's only one way to go for Vandenberg, the OL and wide receivers, but can they make the improvements needed against a Big 12 defense in a rivalry game? Jantz knows the blueprint to victory here. He drew it up last season. Can Iowa force him to short circuit?
Jantz stays within scheme AND makes off-schedule plays and the Cyclones force Iowa to beat them through the air. Bullock didn't lose a fumble last week, but he did fumble twice. This week Klein and Knott, a pair of 250-pounders with NFL stamped on their travel papers, will be looking to intimidate. Part of the scaffolding under Jantz will be Johnson and White, who are perfect fits for ISU's offense.
PREDICTION: Iowa 23, Iowa State 20 OT