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IOWA CITY — Sometimes, it feels like all really great football players know each other. They played against each other and became friends. Maybe they worked a camp together and connected. Or, maybe, they’re just like all of us and want a connection to something otherworldly.
Iowa cornerback Desmond King and Iowa State wide receiver Allen Lazard don’t know each other.
“We don’t text or anything like that,” Lazard said. “Obviously, I have the utmost respect for him.”
You know how the Cy-Hawk game works. One side wins and races to the Cy-Hawk Trophy. The other side, well, doesn’t win and jets to the locker room. There really isn’t a lot of time to exchange email addresses.
“We’re never really able to talk after the game,” Lazard said. “One person is running for the trophy and the other is walking off his sorrows.”
King and Lazard have run into each other. This will be the third year they’ve faced off in the Cy-Hawk game. King sealed the Hawkeyes’ victory at Ames last season with a fourth-quarter interception. In two meetings against the Hawkeyes, Lazard, a 6-5, 223-pounder from Urbandale, has 12 catches for 124 yards.
Now, in the past, King has gone one-on-one with the opponent’s best receiver, but for the most part, Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker keeps corners King and Greg Mabin on the right and the left side of the field, respectively.
King said that’s changing Saturday night, when the No. 10 Hawkeyes (1-0) play host to Iowa State (0-1).
“This game, we’re going to do matchups with personnel,” King said. “If he’s in, I’m going to be guarding him. We’ll be flipping sides. We did it last year, too, but it got to the point where guys were getting fatigued, so we just stayed on our sides. We’re going to try it again and see what we can do.”
If there’s an element the Cyclones might be able to strike with, it could be the passing game. Quarterback Joel Lanning did throw two late interceptions that turned out the lights last week in a 25-20 loss to Northern Iowa, but he also threw three TD passes, including a 33-yarder to Lazard in the fourth quarter. Lazard had height and weight on the UNI defensive back. When the two landed on the sideline, Lazard was the giant squid and the UNI guy was the jon boat.
In a game where his team generated just 307 yards total offense, Lazard had six catches for 129 yards and the TD.
“He’s got great size, great athleticism,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “I don’t want to pretend to be an expert, but he grows with every step. He’s an outstanding football player and he’s tough to defend, when you have that kind of size, ability. He’s a really productive, tough guy and the size is a great advantage.”
King, who’s 5-11, 203, has noted the size difference.
“He’s one of those receivers who’ll go up and get the ball and get open,” King said. “I feel like one thing we noticed on film is when you get to jamming him and not allowing him to get off the line, it affects his play. We’re going to play more aggressive this game and try to play more physical with him.”
Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell likes King’s versatility, specifically mentioning King in the return game. He also talked about what makes King an elite defensive back.
“His ability to point break, his ability to read the quarterback, I think you can tell he’s really comfortable and a little credit goes to their system, too,” Campbell said. “He’s a guy who relishes his role. He’s perfected his craft and technique. He breaks on the ball maybe as well as anyone in the country.”
In Iowa’s victory over Miami (Ohio) last week, the RedHawks’ plan clearly was to avoid King. Miami coach Chuck Martin said, “You could put me out there at left receiver and I’d have hung out with King and asked him why the hell he’s not in the NFL.”
Miami targeted King just three times and completed all three in front of him. Campbell was asked this week if the Cyclones challenge King.
“That’s a great question,” Campbell said. “When we get into this game plan, you watch the matchups that he takes part in, he wins more than he loses a lot of the time. We have to have a great understanding of where he’s at in the football game, where he aligns, and do a great job of if we want to attack him, what gives us the best opportunity to attack him?
“I think a great player like that, you don’t want to give him a lot of opportunities to change the game.”
Lanning said he can’t be “afraid” to throw at King. Campbell believes Iowa State’s passing game vs. Iowa’s secondary is the marquee matchup. Iowa allowed 266 passing yards and two TD passes to Miami (Ohio), with 11 targets going Mabin’s way. Along with Lazard, ISU freshman Hakeem Butler is a potential matchup problem at 6-6, 210 pounds.
King said Iowa is changing its structure to defend Lazard. As of Monday, Lazard said he was still looking for weaknesses or tendencies in King’s game.
Yes, these guys are as excited to get to this as you are to watch it.
“He’s a great corner,” Lazard said, “and I can’t wait to go against him.”