Iowa Football

Play Action: Iowa State Cyclones at Iowa Hawkeyes

Let's just call the canceled game thing a push and get to this one

Iowa hosts Iowa State on Saturday at Kinnick Stadium. (The Gazette)
Iowa hosts Iowa State on Saturday at Kinnick Stadium. (The Gazette)

Iowa plays host to the Cyclones this week. The game is on Saturday. Kickoff is 4:05 p.m. The TV station it is on is Fox.

The Cyclones’ Vibe

1. Game, schmame — I really do wish I had a better answer on whether or not the Cyclones missing out on that first game matters.

On one hand, Iowa running back Ivory Kelly-Martin came out of week 1 with an ankle injury. Iowa State running back David Montgomery warmed up and was probably asleep before midnight.

On the other hand — and I’m sure ISU head coach Matt Campbell has managed this — five minutes with an FCS school isn’t a test for your team like a matchup against a decent Mid-American Conference school is (no Cyclone Fanatic, that doesn’t mean Northern Illinois should be ranked ahead of the Patriots).

Iowa might know a little better about what it might be. The Cyclones have a running back with two good ankles.

Let’s call it a push.

2. Kyle Kempt, an appreciation — Going into Oklahoma last season, Kyle Kempt had zero career passing attempts at Iowa State. Then a quick-change thing happened and Kempt was the starter at Oklahoma. Against Baker Mayfield. Against the No. 3 team in the country. A fifth-year who walked on at Iowa State after things didn’t work out at Oregon State. In the face of an 18-game losing streak to the Sooners dating back to 1990.

Kempt did have two career pass attempts going into the Oklahoma start. He really leaned on that experience (kidding).

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Kempt passed for 343 yards and three touchdowns, including a 25-yarder to Allen Lazard that put Iowa State ahead with 2:19 left in the game.

» Kyle Kempt takes ownership of Iowa State's offense

I’m sure Cyclone beat writers went to that buffet of back story and walked away with full bellies. It’s one of those stories everyone who enjoys college football digs.

3. ISU O-line vs. Iowa D-line — You saw the Hawkeyes last week. They’re getting junior defensive tackles Cedrick Lattimore and Brady Reiff back this week. Iowa should be good and maybe great at rushing the passer this season.

ISU’s passing game will be quick. You saw Hakeem Butler last year (TD receptions of 30 and 74 yards). So, the Hawkeyes will be thinking disruption.

ISU’s tackles are Julian Good-Jones and Bryce Meeker, a couple of Cedar Rapids preps who didn’t get an Iowa offer. Redshirt freshman center Colin Newell is a first-year starter, along with left guard Josh Mueller.

I don’t see five sacks for the Hawkeyes, but if they don’t make Kempt nervous, he has the kind of arm, receivers and football IQ to win the game.

4. On David Montgomery — Cyclone fans know how much he means. I can’t put anymore sheen on it. So, let’s check out some numbers and maybe try to see what Montgomery does for the Cyclones.

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Here’s a weird one: Montgomery’s 258 carries last season was 15th in the nation. Who was No. 16? Akrum Wadley at 252. Montgomery averaged 4.4 yards per carry; Wadley was 4.4. I wouldn’t have guessed this.

Montgomery’s 19.85 carries per game was 18th in the nation. So, the Cyclones’ running game routes through Montgomery. We all probably knew that, but there are the numbers.

» Iowa defense knows it must be better vs. Iowa State this year

Montgomery, a 216-pounder, is the kind of back who wants the ball. Those backs are usually the players left standing in the fourth quarter winning games for your team.

So, no new territory on Montgomery. Iowa has to deal with a powerhouse running back this week.

5. Relevant numbers — When Iowa steps on the field with a Big 12 team, I always kind of wonder about pace. Northern Illinois ran no-huddle last week and Iowa mostly dealt well with it. What’s Iowa State’s pace? The Cyclones were No. 62 in the nation last year with 904 plays. Time of possession? ISU averaged 30:12 a game in 2017, 64th in the nation. Iowa was 65th (30:09). When you have a great running back and an O-line that gets it done, you don’t have to be in a hurry.

What’s Happening With The Hawkeyes?

1. The “Coming off suspension” game Iowa is getting all of its tackles back. Offensive tackles Tristan Wirfs and Alaric Jackson are out of the penalty box. Defensive tackles Cedrick Lattimore and Brady Reiff also return.

Iowa’s rushing numbers last week weren’t glitzy, but they certainly were Iowa effective. It was 48 carries for 209 yards and three rushing TDs. Last season, Iowa had just one game with more rushes and didn’t rush for three scores in a game until six at Nebraska in the season finale.

No, no one knows for sure what Northern Illinois is or isn’t, but if Iowa sniffs that kind of game control this week, collect the Cy-Hawk Trophy.

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2. Those passing numbers — They weren’t great, Bobs. The 143 passing yards was 72nd in the nation. Quarterback Nate Stanley completed 11 of 23 for 108 yards, a TD and an interception. Pass efficiency was 92.93. Yards per attempt was 4.7 yards. These all sound like career lows. They’re not. Wisconsin last season was much worse.

With two new tackles who’ve played so very little, it’s probably a good bet offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz didn’t feel like exploring a lot of the passing game.

But now here’s a week where the passing game will matter (see last season). Tight end Noah Fant needs to brush off a subpar week 1. Wide receivers Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Brandon Smith need to continue their development. Wide receiver Nick Easley missed some action last week. They need him. He led Iowa with 51 receptions last season.

3. Linebacker, it’ll be a ride, won’t it? — Junior middle linebacker Amani Jones was replaced in the first quarter last week. Senior Jack Hockaday is the guy. We’ll see. Hockaday played the edge well after Iowa took inside runs away and spilled almost everything his way. That was a subtle change that shaped the game significantly.

Iowa allowed just 25 plays and 65 yards in the second half. The Hawkeyes did that after rethinking the middle linebacker spot on the fly.

Sophomore outside linebacker Nick Niemann was terrific. Junior weakside linebacker Kristian Welch punched in. Hockaday gave the group a sturdy backbone.

What will it look like this week? Probably those three. Iowa and Ferentz don’t like to experiment a lot with personnel in big games (Tristan Wirfs became a starter at OT after Michigan State last year).

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Who else was in play? Outside linebacker Barrington Wade gained some traction. Inside linebacker Djimon Colbert is on the two deep.

Those are probably the names. Unless ...

4. Iowa does something crazy on defense with personnel packages — In last year’s 44-41 overtime Iowa victory at Jack Trice, the Hawkeyes played a dime package for 14 plays, with linebackers Bo Bower and Ben Niemann being subbed out for safety Amani Hooker and cornerback Manny Rugamba.

Defensive coordinator Phil Parker has a measured approach to sub packages. They always come from down-and-distance and always on third down, and mostly in passing situations.

Maybe Iowa can get some cover and tackle out of another safety or corner (sophomore Geno Stone, maybe?). Or Kempt looks at that and audibles to a Montgomery run up the middle.

We don’t know what Parker might be thinking personnel package-wise. Iowa ran one last week, and that pass rush defensive line was excellent.

If Iowa State gashes Iowa between the tackles, run over to the sideline and grab your trophy, fellas.

5. Relevant numbers — Let’s get this straight, there aren’t any yet. I’m with Kirk Ferentz on this. Numbers don’t really start to show us patterns until maybe game 6.

But ...

I really liked WR Kyle Groeneweg on punt return. He averaged 8.4 yards on five returns. You can work with that. ... Iowa’s 5.0 sacks was the most since 2015 (Illinois State). Boston College had 6.0. Its first opponent was UMass. Stanford had 5.0. Its first game was against San Diego State. We can do this all night. Really, 5.0 sacks are good against anyone. ... We’ve been over the play-calling from NIU. It probably was conservative to help pass protection. No risks, no sudden movements. But Iowa is last in the Big Ten with eight plays of 10-plus yards. That’s more about moving chains. In 20-plus plays, the Hawkeyes are tied for sixth in the league with five. That’s a good pace. Last season, Iowa tied for seventh in the league with 52 20-plus plays.

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Prediction

Iowa 27, Iowa State 24

Could see blowouts coming from either direction. If ISU can move through the air as easily as it did vs. Iowa last year, well yeah, 40-something ISU to however much Iowa can scramble for. On Iowa’s end, 40-plus rushes and 200 yards is going to be 28-10 Iowa.

The three points home field provides is going to come in handy.

l Comments: (319) 398-8256; marc.morehouse@thegazette.com

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