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5 questions for Iowa and Iowa State going into 2021 Cy-Hawk Game
A glance at the teams’ biggest strengths and weaknesses going into rivalry week
IOWA CITY — Iowa goes into Saturday’s Cy-Hawk game after a dominant defensive win against No. 17 Indiana.
Iowa has won four straight games against ranked opponents, dating back to 2019. This will be a historic game for the state, the first time that No. 18 Iowa and No. 7 Iowa State — coming off a 16-10 win over UNI — are meeting as ranked opponents.
Here are five questions with Iowa beat writer Leah Vann and Iowa State beat writer Ben Visser as Cy-Hawk week kicks off.
What are Iowa and Iowa State’s strengths heading into the game?
Vann: The obvious answer is defense. Iowa cornerback Riley Moss received FBS Walter Camp National Defensive Player of the Week and Big Ten player of the week for his performance on Saturday, but that doesn’t happen without the entire unit working cohesively. Dane Belton added the third interception and as a unit, Iowa held what was an offense with star-studded veterans like quarterback Michael Penix Jr. and wide receiver Ty Fryfogle to two field goals. Iowa has played 23 straight games without allowing 25 points, which is the longest streak of any Power-5 conference team.
The offensive line as a unit also was something to note, and the reason running back Tyler Goodson put together a performance averaging 5.2 yards per carry for 99 yards on the ground. It also opened up a gaping hole for quarterback Spencer Petras to trot in the team’s third touchdown of the game.
Ben Visser: Iowa State’s greatest strength hasn’t changed much since Oct. 7, 2017. It’s Jon Heacock’s defense.
The Cyclones are in their fifth season running the defense and teams still haven’t figured it out. Dating back to last season, over the last six games, Iowa State’s defense has allowed just 13 second-half points. Six of those points came against West Virginia when Iowa State had its second- and third-string players in for the second half. If a team doesn’t score early against Iowa State, it’s going to be in for a long day.
“Our defense is great,” ISU receiver Xavier Hutchinson said. “You know how Iowa gets really cold in the winter and you get a weighted blanket and you put it on yourself and you feel really warm and cozy? That’s how I feel when I watch our defense.”
Where can Iowa and Iowa State improve most from Week 1 to Week 2?
Vann: Goodson and fellow running back Ivory Kelly-Martin fumbled the ball. While nothing came of either turnover, it’s never good to lose the football.
The passing game could also improve. Indiana prevented Iowa from scoring more than a field goal in the second half, and Petras went 13-for-27 for 145 passing yards.
Visser: The Cyclones played far from a perfect game against UNI in Week 1 but the biggest area Iowa State needs to get ironed out is offensive execution. The Cyclones have the nation’s leading rusher from last season in Breece Hall and he had a tough time finding gaps and creases on Saturday.
The Cyclones were also bitten by the penalty bug after Tarique Milton hauled in a 34-yard reception. Iowa State was called for holding and a false start on the next two plays and was eventually forced to punt on a fourth-and-12 on the UNI side of the 50-yard line. Iowa State can’t let penalties cost them against Iowa.
Who are the key players on defense?
Vann: Moss not only had two pick-6s in the opener, but also added two pass breakups and one solo tackle. He’s a consistent veteran in Iowa’s secondary.
Indiana struggled to get its ground game going and depending on how much Iowa State leans into its run game behind Hall, Iowa’s linebackers could be the ones making the big stops.
Seth Benson led Iowa with 10 tackles last week, including six solo.
Visser: Unfortunately, there’s no easy way out for me on this one. I’d like to pick Will McDonald, Mike Rose and Greg Eisworth, but according to the arbitrary rules laid out by my editor, I have to pick two.
Rose is a lock, so he’s in as a key player. Now, it’s just between McDonald and Eisworth. And the second key player is … safety Eisworth.
Rose is among the best linebackers in the nation as an All-American and he hasn’t fallen off any, recording 11 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and two QB hurries against UNI. Eisworth is the second pick because of his role on the defense. The job for safeties in most defenses is to defend the pass and defend the run, secondarily. But with Iowa State using a four- or five-man front with regularity, Eisworth and the safeties are expected to help fit and fill gaps against the run.
Who are the key players on offense?
Vann: Goodson is the most consistent target on Iowa’s offense, and will probably stay that way after last week’s performance.
Tight end Sam LaPorta has comfortably taken over that No. 1 position, leading the team in receptions, catching five passes for 83 yards.
Visser: This might seem like the easy way out, but it’s the truth. Iowa State’s key offensive players are Hall and quarterback Brock Purdy.
The two first-team all-Big 12 selections from a year ago are the engine that moves Iowa State’s offense. While Purdy played well last week, completing 21 of his 26 passes, Hall had a tough time finding space.
Who would you like to see as College GameDay’s guest picker?
Vann: I feel like the right choice is Carson King, if you want to make this game as Iowa as possible.
But I don’t love the guest picker on GameDay, it’s just another excuse to add a guy to the show, and usually that guy doesn’t have a lot of insight other than being a known celebrity and a football fan.
I’d rather save that space for a woman in the industry with insight outside of ESPN, like Nicole Auerbach from The Athletic, who also is on Big Ten Network every week. If you want more personality, then Kaycie Smith from Barstool. Neither have an Iowa connection, though.
Visser: ESPN screwed up two years ago when they brought in that one country singer who had no ties to either school and that no one remembers to be the guest picker. It was a vanilla pick where they tried to please everyone but ended up pleasing no one.
No offense to that random country singer whose name I've long forgotten.
The worldwide leader needs to atone for its milquetoast of a guest picker and go with the one guy who brings enough bravado, the whole state will tremble with excitement.
That man is Dan McCarney.
He has ties to Iowa and Iowa State and putting a microphone in front of his face always makes for great entertainment. The only caveat is the show’s producer will need to be ready because once McCarney gets going and gets hyped, he can get a little fast and loose with the curse words. ESPN will just need to make sure the sound person is using the five-second tape delay to their full advantage.
“Windier than a Dan McCarney press conference” is an oft-used phrase in Cyclone land for a reason. The man is known for speaking with passion and excitement and it’d make for truly incredible TV.
Leave the country singers in Tennessee.
Bring Danny Mac back.
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