Better Know An Opponent: Iowa State Cyclones

The off-season is a long and tiresome trudge, so how can we best get through it? By looking ahead to next year, of course. So, in the spirit of forward thinking, we present a team-by-team look at Iowa's 2011 football opponents (with looks at Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Illinois thrown in for good measure so our Big Televen brethren don't feel ignored). Next up: the Cyclones of Iowa State.

GAME 2: Iowa @ Iowa State (Jack Three Times Stadium; Ames, IA; 9/10/11)

Who are they? They're manly men with mammoth amounts of manliness who drink beer and grow beards and ride motorcycles. Wait, what?

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But they're also in touch with their kinder, gentler side:

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Oh, and occasionally they play football, too. They're not very good at it, though.

What did they do last year? Scored a touchdown against Iowa. Sure, they actually won a few games (5) and nearly made a second-straight bowl game, but if you're happy to leave your offensive starters in a game you trail by 30+ to face a group of second and third-string defenders just so you can score your first touchdown in four years, I'm going to assume that counts as the high point of your season. So, kudos, Iowa State, for getting that "no touchdowns scored against Iowa since 2006" monkey off your back. Why, Austen Arnaud even got to improve his career TD:INT ratio against Iowa from 0:6 to 1:9! Smashing success. Natty Lights all around, gents.

There were a few real highlights for ISU in 2010, of course: they smashed up Northern Illinois, who wound up being the class of the MAC, they blanked UNI and blitzed Texas Tech; came within a dropped pass on a fake extra point from upsetting Nebraska two years in a row; and there was the little matter of them beating Texas in Austin, too. (Shh about it being the worst Texas team since at least 1997.) Unfortunately, those moments of glory were buttressed with ugly failures like back-to-back bitchmakings at the hands of Utah (68-27) and Oklahoma (52-0) and a blowout loss to a lousy Colorado team that cost them a chance at the first back-to-back bowl wins in school history.

Who's coming back this year? On offense, not a lot in terms of production -- they return six starters, but lose the team leaders in passing, rushing, and receiving yards. Then again, they had a thoroughly mediocre offense in 2010, so perhaps injecting some new blood into the lineup will pay dividends. On the bright side, their defensive outlook is much rosier: they return up to nine starters (though one of those, LE Jacob Lattimer, has spent the off-season helping the Cyclones crack the Fulmer Cup big board). Of course, there's always the question of whether the unit is simply Iowa State-good or actually nationally renowned-good. The latter would give them an effective counter-punch to the offense-oriented Big 12; the former would probably just enable them to prevent their Big 12 opponents from turning the games into track meets. Either way, having a sub-par offense is going to make life very difficult in the Big 12; if the rest of the league is bringing AK-47s to the fight and ISU is bringing an air rifle, things are going to get very ugly for them. ISU also returns both kickers, punter Kirby VanDerKamp (who was very busy in '10: 60 punts for 2710 yards, including 19 of 50+ yards and 22 inside the 20-yard line) and kicker Grant Mahoney (who will never, ever graduate).

Who are five players you should know on the Cyclones?

Kelechi Osemele: Osemele is best known around these parts as Adrian Clayborn's arch-nemesis, but the dirty little secret is that's he actually, uh, good. Like really good. He pretty much kept Clayborn in check in 2009 and 2010 and he earned all-conference honors (second-team or honorable mention) each of those seasons. Mel Kiper has him just outside his Top 25 ($) and ranks him the fourth-best offensive tackle prospect ($) in next year's draft. At least one draftnik even has him going in the first round next year, which would make him the highest-drafted Cyclone since George Amundson back in 1973. Osemele is huge (6'5", 335) and should be an imposing challenge for whichever Iowa defensive end (Binns or Lebron Daniel) is tasked with getting past him.

Jerome Tiller: The sad departure of Austen Arnuad, king of the bitchmade quarterbacks, opens the door for a fresh face at the quarterback position and though Tiller is the presumptive favorite (like our very own Mandenberg, Tiller has been the primary back-up for the past two seasons and has filled in for the starter during injury-induced absences), his ascension to QB1 is by no means guaranteed. It could still be the wonderfully-named Steele Jantz or even one of the left-field choices like James Capello or Jared Barnett. But assuming it is Tiller, what are we likely to see? Tiller was at the helm when Iowa State recorded their insane upset win over Nebraska in 2009, but for the most part his stats have been middling: 41/73, 376 yards, 1/4 TD/INT in 2009 and 39/82, 363 yards, 1/0 TD/INT in 2010. Like Arnaud, he offers some threat on the ground, too (216 post-sack yards and 2 TD in 2009, 66 post-sack yards in 2010), but he's not exactly Denard Robinson or Cam Newton back there. (Or even Dan Persa.) There's really nothing in the track record to make you think that Iowa State would be primed for an offensive explosion with Tiller at the helm; he looks no better than Arnaud (and is perhaps slightly worse) and the offense wasn't too potent with Double-A running the show.

Shontrelle Johnson: A year ago we were locked in a heated battle between Good A-Rob and Evil A-Rob; a year later we find ourselves with no A-Robs to talk about in the lead-up to this game. Evil A-Rob scooted for just shy of 1K yards (946) and nine touchdowns and ran out of eligibility; Good A-Rob put up almost identical numbers (941 yards and 10 touchdowns), despite battling through concussion and academic issues. Unlike his evil counterpart, Good A-Rob didn't run out of eligibility -- but he did run out of good standing with Ferentz and so he finds himself looking for a new home to continue his football career. Mind you, the truth is that both Iowa and Iowa State may have better running backs this year. While Iowa is turning the keys over to the Coked-Up Werewolf, Iowa State is handing the reins to Shontrelle Johnson, a solid recruit (3*; offers from Kentucky, Georgia Tech, Vanderbilt, jNW) with good speed (fake 40 time of 4.5) who gave them good production in limited opportunities (218 yards and 2 touchdowns on 35 carries). The question is whether he can withstand a full season of pounding (he's listed at 5'10", 180); if he can he could give the ISU offense an explosive dimension they've badly needed.

Jake Knott: Honestly, this spot could have gone to either Knott or A.J. Klein; they're both rising junior linebackers coming off excellent sophomore seasons that earned them some all-conference love (second-team or honorable mention). Knott had the slightly more impressive stat line (130 tackles, 6 TFL, 1 sack, 4 INT, 9 passes defended, 4 forced fumbles), but Klein was no slouch (111 tackles, 8 TFL, 3 INT, 4 passes defended). Really, it came down to the fact that Knott is from Iowa and Klein is from Wisconsin. Fuck Wisconsin. (Although Klein does earn points for trying to decapitate Nebraska's Rex Burkhead last year; anyone who hates 'Huskers that much is pretty OK in my book.) Klein and Knott are tackling machines who should get very well-acquainted with Coker over the course of the game. Knott is also pretty adept in pass coverage, so Vandenberg would do well to make sure he's not lurking in a passing lane. All that and we didn't even mention the best-named ISU linebacker, Matt Tau' fo' 'ou. For the first time in probably a decade, I'd actually consider swapping linebacking corps with Iowa State; I'm plenty bullish on Nielsen and Morris for Iowa, but Knott, Klein, and Tau' fo' ou should be a very strong group.

Leonard Johnson: Johnson is probably best-known for his hits of... dubious legality in the 2008 Iowa-Iowa State game (not to mention some other cheap-shotting from that year), but he's also developed into one of the better cornerbacks Iowa State has had in a hell of a long time. He earned all-conference honors last year and had very solid stats (64 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1 INT, 9 passes defended). He'll likely have the task of shutting down Marvin McNutt in this game, which should give us an early opportunity to see if McNutt can still put up big numbers against a good corner and when he doesn't have DJK around to take some of the defensive attention.

What's going to happen to them in 2011? Unless Jerome Tiller transforms into the second coming of Seneca Wallace and A.J. Klein and Jake Knott lead a dramatically improved defense? Pain, and lots of it. That's as much a function of a schedule that looks brutal on paper as it is an indictment of the perceived quality of their team. They have nine 2010 bowl teams on their slate -- and one of the three teams that didn't go to a bowl in 2010 was Texas, who, er, probably won't be as hilariously awful as they were in 2010. It's not exactly an ideal schedule in terms of home-road splits, either; they get just four Big 12 home games (to five road games) and two of those are against teams expected to vie for the top spot in the league (Oklahoma State, Texas A&M). Iowa State is going to have to do work on the road if they want to get Paul Rhoads to his second bowl in three seasons; that seems like a tall order for a team that's won only two Big 12 road games in the last five years (though the fact that those two wins have been in Lincoln, NE and Austin, TX is impressive -- and absolutely baffling). 4-8 sounds about right.

Prediction? There's a line of thought that suggests that the worm has turned in the Iowa-Iowa State series and that after years of getting outworked, outhustled, and outschemed by our in-state neighbors, Ferentz and Iowa had "figured out" the Iowa State rivalry and restored it to its proper balance (which is to say, Iowa dominance). Certainly winning four of the last five in the series and taking the two most recent games by 28+ is nothing to sniff at, but is it really clear evidence of the beginning of a new era of Iowa dominance? Or is Iowa State still digging out of the rubble of the Chizikocalypse and they'll be back to being a thorn in Iowa's side before we know it?

On one hand, Iowa has taken four of five from Iowa State (and it would likely be five in a row and seven of eight if Iowa had had an even halfway competent offense in 2007) and the victories have been getting increasingly decisive. The 2008 game was mostly controlled by Iowa, but it wasn't salted away until Brodell's electrifying punt return in the fourth quarter. The 2009 game wound up being a 35-3 laugher, but it was only 14-3 at halftime (and it took a touchdown pass late in the second quarter to get to that point). Iowa moved the ball at will in the first half of the 2010 game and had a 28-0 lead at halftime. The second half was essentially thirty minutes of Iowa twiddling its thumbs. Based on that pattern, we should be in line for a final scoreline on par with the hellacious beatdowns Hayden's teams used to deliver in the mid 80s ('83: 51-10, '84: 59-21, '85: 57-3, '86: 43-7, '87: 48-9). Do I think that's actually going to happen? No. (And not just because Ferentz would rather chop off his own left hand than run up the score like that.)

The truth is in Paul Rhoads Iowa State has a coach who is an inspirational and competent leader of men -- which is more than you could say about any of ISU's non-McCarney coaches for the last thirty-odd years. He's not going to allow Iowa State to sink to the depths that they reached in the My Two Jims era of the '80s (which, not coincidentally, was also the time Iowa ran up their massive winning streak). They will beat Iowa again and it will likely happen sooner than we expect. (On the other hand, one of the advantages for Iowa in the Paul Rhoads Era is that he doesn't seem to be as fanatically obsessed with winning this particular game as some of his predecessors coughcoughDannyMaccoughcough were; like Ferentz, he treats it as an important game -- but he doesn't treat it as life or death and he also stresses the importance of conference games to a great degree.) All of which is a long prelude to my prediction of... another Iowa win. Quelle surprise! ISU's defense should keep it from turning into a rout, but their offense doesn't look terribly potent -- and I trust Vandenberg a hell of a lot more than I do Tiller. Iowa 26, Iowa State 14

Anything else of note? At some point, this video will get old:

"At some point" is not today, however.

And if you don't like it, Paul Rhoads has this advice for you:

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