116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Laugh all you want at the closeness of last week’s Northern Iowa-Iowa State score, but none of that matters going into a rivalry week.
Take the hype as you will: it’s home-field advantage for Iowa State or away-team-focus advantage for Iowa. Either way, it’s LIT!
Iowa State is No. 9. Iowa is No. 10, and for a state with a population of 3 million and two teams that have never once played each other while ranked in the Top 25, it’s going to be wild.
If you break it down by state population, Iowa is No. 31. Utah is No. 30, has one ranked program (No. 21 Utah). Going down the list is Nevada, Arkansas, Mississippi (No. 20 Ole Miss), Kansas, New Mexico, Nebraska and we’ll stop there. (Let it be known that Oklahoma may have the No. 4 team in the country and is ranked No. 28 in state population, but we all know where its talent comes from and I digress ...)
Iowa State’s experience
Iowa State returns two key players it didn’t have for at least part of last week’s game: second-team All-America tight end Charlie Kolar, who was out with injury, and Fiesta Bowl defensive MVP linebacker O’Rien Vance, who was injured during the UNI game. The team returns 11 starters on offense and nine on defense, including six who took advantage of their COVID-year eligibility.
TE Chase Allen — Three-time second-team all-Big 12 honors, notable three receptions for 48 yards against Oklahoma last year.
K Connor Assalley — Made 13 of 19 field goals last year and the second-most PATs in school history (48), made 11 straight field goals last year, which ties the second-most in school history. (Plot twist — Iowa kicker Caleb Shudak’s dad, Jeff, is who he is tied with.)
DL Enyioma Uwazurike — Honorable mention all-Big 12 honors, had eight tackles for loss last season.
OL Sean Foster — Started all 12 games last year at left tackle for an offensive line that paved way for a school-record 31 rushing touchdowns.
DB Greg Eisworth II — First-team all-Big 12 for three seasons, had 47 tackles, including 1.5 for loss, added four pass breakups, one interception and one fumble recovery last season.
LB Jake Hummel — Honorable mention all-Big 12 last year, 40 solo tackles, 77 total tackles and a forced fumble. There’s more, but these are notable.
In comparison, Iowa actually has a lot of inexperience at its most coveted position group: the offensive line. It has junior Tyler Linderbaum and his 21 career starts, then junior Cody Ince (6) and three players who started last week for the first time: redshirt freshman Mason Richman and sophomores Justin Britt and Nick DeJong.
Battle for the Doak Walker Award
Iowa’s defense is tasked with taking down junior unanimous All-America selection Breece Hall, who led the nation with 1,572 rushing yards and was sixth on the Heisman Trophy balloting last year. Hall, a stocky 220-pound, 6-foot-1 back is the power runner up the middle who is hard to take down, while Iowa junior Tyler Goodson does a little bit of everything.
Goodson has to do that because of his stature at 5-10, 199 pounds. He did have a more productive week last week against a tougher opponent, averaging 5.2 yards per carry for 99 yards on the ground against an aggressive and experienced Indiana defense. He also added two catches for 9 yards. Hall averaged 3 yards per carry for 69 yards last week.
What is Iowa’s offense going to do?
A lot of people are saying they’re concerned about this offense, which was largely lackluster in the second half of the Indiana game, but that might’ve been by design.
Especially when you’re up by 31-3 at halftime.
QB Spencer Petras’ completion percentage was not a flashy one, but players and head coach Kirk Ferentz have confidence in his ability to lead the team. He did show his versatility on the ground, especially behind an All-America center in Linderbaum. Against a defense that can challenge even the most productive offenses in the Big 12, it’ll be interesting to see how much Iowa leans on its run game versus how involved the receivers, tight ends and backs get this week.
Linebackers are key
Iowa junior linebacker Seth Benson led the Hawkeyes with 10 tackles, including six solo last week. Benson at 6-1, 229 pounds is “unassuming,” in Iowa linebackers coach Seth Wallace’s book, meaning, he’s undersized, so people underestimate him.
“He’s at the end of every play, he’s outstanding when it comes to understanding the game both pre-snap and post-snap,” Wallace said. “What stands out is his ability to get to the football, find the football and to be on top of the football.”
You’re also going to see more of sophomore outside linebacker Jestin Jacobs at strong side linebacker this week to counter Iowa State’s use of tight ends.
On Iowa State’s side, linebackers are a strength. Senior Mike Rose was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and a first-team All-American and had the most tackles in the Big 12 with 96 last year while also leading the league with five interceptions. Vance recovered two fumbles to earn that Fiesta Bowl Defensive MVP honor, but also recorded 68 tackles last year, including six for loss.
Both lost experience at the tight-end position, but also claim to be Tight End U. Sam LaPorta was the most productive receiver for Iowa with five catches for 83 yards in Week 1. Of course, Kolar was out for Iowa State last week, but junior Jared Rus had one catch for 19 yards. The Cyclones do have productive receivers in seniors Xavier Hutchinson and Tarique Milton.
The Iowa-Iowa State pick
I think if any year is going to be the year Iowa State breaks the streak, this would be it. The team has all-around more experience and depth it’s almost scarily calculated.
Iowa State 21 Iowa 17
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