Iowa Football

No. 19 Iowa at Iowa State: The Big Analysis

Let's go with 'State Jams' and the Hawkeyes' overall line play

Iowa State hosts No. 19 Iowa in the annual Cy-Hawk Game this Saturday at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames. (The Gazette)
Iowa State hosts No. 19 Iowa in the annual Cy-Hawk Game this Saturday at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames. (The Gazette)
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Earlier in the week, there was a call for a new name for the series. This is easy.

When the Iowa-Iowa State game is played in Ames, let’s call it “State Jams.” When it’s in Iowa City, let’s do “Iowa Jams.” This is a little tribute to the old Iowa Jam concerts at the Iowa State Fairgrounds. The Ozark Mountain Daredevils played the 1975 event.

So, this week it’s “State Jams.” Why plural? Why not.

Iowa State (1-0) went on byeafter its week 1 triple-overtime victory over Northern Iowa. The No. 19 Hawkeyes (2-0) sent an overmatched Rutgers team back to New Jersey with a 30-0 beating last week.

The Hawkeyes are low on defensive backs. Cyclones head coach Matt Campbellsaid Monday that center Colin Newell is questionable with a possible sprained knee.

ESPN’s CollegeGameDay is in Ames. A lot of people will be in Ames. In 2005, Diana Reed, the baton-twirling Golden Girl for the Iowa marching band, said, “The intensity of the fans is about triple what it normally is.”

Triple, you guys.

Running with the Cyclones

1. Patient performance — ISU quarterback Brock Purdy only let his frustration show a few times in the Cyclones’ victory over UNI, but he mostly kept to the business of winning the game.

The opener was frustrating for the Cyclones in that they put up a ton of yards (468) and still needed three OTs to get to 29 points. Northern Iowa stayed in a deep zone the entire game. Purdy wanted those, but ISU tried just one throw more than 20 yards. Twenty-five of his 30 completions were within 9 yards of the line of scrimmage.

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At home, against a tenacious FCS opponent, Purdy didn’t show frustration in his play. He took what UNI gave him — mostly underneath and flat routes to Deshaunte Jones (14 catches for 126 yards) — and it was enough to win the game.

This is Purdy’s first State Jams game, but last week he showed he can be patient, let the defense do its thing and wait to pounce. That’s probably why you didn’t see him break the pocket a lot vs. UNI.

2. Center problem — Newell is questionable. He suffered a possible sprained knee against UNI. Campbell left some hope for the Ames High grad, but it is time to think about alternatives.

Left tackle Julian Good-Jones started 13 games at center in 2017. Derek Schweiger played the final four plays vs. UNI. Redshirt freshman Trevor Downing (of Creston and the object of a recruiting battle between the two schools) could also get the call.

If Newell can’t go, you probably have to keep Good-Jones at tackle. That’ll be A.J. Epenesa on the other side.

3. Can the Cyclones get a running game going? — It’s a simple question. How did running back work for ISU in the opener? Sophomore Johnnie Lang led with 14 carries for 60 yards; Sheldon Croney Jr. made the plays, including the game-winning TD and finished with 13 carries for 56 yards.

The Cyclones probably have a “running back by committee” on their hands, with true freshman Breece Hall likely having a bigger say at some point. Running back and kick returner Kene Nwangwu suffered a shoulder injury again UNI, but Campbell called him probable.

How will the Cyclones’ O-line matchup in this regard to the Hawkeyes? Iowa batted down Rutgers’ speed last week, but the edge defense has given up some yards in the first two weeks.

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4. Linebacker switcheroo — Sophomore Mike Rose was amazing for the Cyclones last season. He had 75 tackles and was freshman all-America. So, why did the ISU defensive staff move him from the middle to the strongside this year?

Well, you saw middle linebacker O’Rien Vance in the opener. The former Cedar Rapids Washington prep had eight tackles and two sacks.

This gives Iowa State’s 3-3-5 defense some teeth. The Cyclones have enough tacklers. O-lines and QBs will have to identify the multiple rushers who could go at any time. Five defensive backs, with sturdy safeties, give ISU a chance in coverage. Plus, who in coverage is dropping and who is coming?

Let’s see how it stands up in coverage.

5. Relevant numbers — Eighteen Cyclones played on defense last week. That is a confident, unified group. Iowa State piled up 19 QB hurries against the Panthers, according to Pro Football Focus. The weight class is going up, but the Cyclones averaged 5.4 yards on 86 plays against the Panthers.

Hanging with the Hawkeyes

1. Primary issues in the secondary — The State Jams game usually is week 2. Iowa had to get through its Big Ten opener before traveling to Ames. Sometimes, football comes down to who’s available. For the Hawkeyes’ secondary, it’s close to “who’s available?”

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz was terse when asked about the health of cornerback Matt Hankins, who left last week’s game with ice on a hamstring. If he’s out, redshirt freshmen D.J. Johnson and Terry Roberts are next up. They’re corners Nos. 4 and 5. Primary backups Riley Moss and Julius Brents are out.

Safety Geno Stone left last week’s game with a scary-looking non-contact leg thingie. He’s OK and in, but free safety Kaevon Merriweather will miss his second week after suffering a sprained foot last week. So, sophomore Jack Koerner is the guy. He’s a walk-on making his second start. If any safety goes down, maybe it’s senior walk-on Wes Dvorak.

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Ferentz said this week the lack of depth in the secondary does tie defensive coordinator Phil Parker’s hands when it comes to personnel packages.

2. Pass rush — A couple of things here: You didn’t see Purdy run much in the opener. Iowa State didn’t need him to use that magic. Purdy does have the feet to do damage if the Hawkeyes get sloppy in contain when rushing the passer. Does Purdy have a 60-yarder in him? Maybe, maybe not. Still, he’s a good enough runner to move chains, something that could end up being valuable in State Jams.

The other thing is check your definition of “disruption.” Sacks are defensive TDs. They are incredibly difficult to get. You saw Purdue neutralize Iowa’s pass rush with quick releases and rolling pockets last season.

“Disruption” is also getting the QB to move off his spot, hitting the QB, getting an arm up. You know where this is going. Forget about just going to the box score and looking for sacks. Can Iowa’s pass rush affect ISU’s passing game beyond that? It can.

3. What if Iowa State blitzes like crazy? — That’s a good thought. Iowa QB Nate Stanley can be flustered. He doesn’t get enough credit for standing strong in the pocket and all QBs can get rattled vs. pressure, but this is something that has shown up in his two-plus seasons as a starter.

Stanley is in his third year. He’s seen a lot of blitzes. He knows what buttons to push. That veteran eye might get him through. But also, the Cyclones are young in the secondary, with two sophomore corners (one is a first-year starter) and an “or” on the depth chart at strong safety.

4. Here is what loud sounds like — You have to give it up for Jack Trice and Iowa State fans. You’ve heard Ferentz reference the rigors of Trice for 21 years now. He was at it again this week. It’s not just coach-speak, either. Trice is full of Cyclone warriors on Saturdays.

As a third-year starter, Stanley has some road scars. He knows what to expect. Not everyone in a white jersey will know what to expect.

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With secrets to reveal, ESPN's College GameDay comes to Ames for fun

“People know it’s going to be loud, but they might not know the extent,” Stanley said. “I feel confident that I do understand that.”

5. Relevant numbers — You have to strain this through the competition, but Iowa has been outstanding on first down in its first two games. Against Miami, Iowa gained 208 yards on first down, including 21 rushes for 114 yards. Against Rutgers, Iowa had 198 yards, including 23 rushes for 118 yards. The Hawkeyes have gained a healthy 5.27 yards on 44 first-down rushes this year.

Prediction

Iowa 24, Iowa State 14

It’s bear vs. shark. As long as the bear stays out of the water ...

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

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