Our team was triumphant once again on Saturday and rolls along at 2-0. Iowa State comes to Kinnick Stadium in a "rivalry trophy game." But who is this "Iowa State," really? Where is it? Does anyone really know? Here's what we can tell you.
Name: Iowa State University Cyclones
Location: Parts Unknown
Record: 0-2 (0-1)
Last game: L 32-28 vs. Kansas State
Passing: Sam B. Richardson, 41-61, 336 yards, 1 TD, 3 INTs
Rushing: Sam B. Richardson, 27 rushes, 90 yards
Receiving: Jarvis West, 11 catches, 90 yards
Tackles: Jevohn Miller, 20 tackles
Tackles For Loss: Cory Morrissey and Robby Garcia, 1.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks
Interceptions: [NULL SET]
QB Sam B. Richardson is back for another season calling the shots, and he's just the kind of guy who can give Iowa fits. ISU doesn't have the personnel to work a steady downfield passing attack—especially after WR Quenton Bundrage went out for the year with a torn ACL in Week 1—so Richardson shows a heavy diet of short, high-percentage routes designed to get playmakers in space. Sound familiar? Allen Lazard will eventually be that target, and he's already on the field for the Clones, but he's most certainly a work in the early stages of progress.
In particular ISU tries to get the ball in the hands of WR Jarvis West as many ways as it can, with reverses, jet sweeps (these are executed with what are technically forward passes, but this is a de facto run) and other short routes. He's also the punt returner and he busted an explosive 82-yard touchdown on KSU on a punt that almost certainly should have been fair-caught, so Iowa needs to be on alert on special teams until it actually sees West put his hand up.
The point is, Iowa can't just line Desmond King up across from West and then say "well, that's that." West will get the ball one way or another, and get it often.
Iowa State will likely try to establish the run game, but while the Cyclone line isn't the cover-your-mouth disaster it was in 2013, it hasn't moved the point of attack particularly well thus far this year, and it has ceded 12 tackles-for-loss against two defensive fronts that are simply not as talented as Iowa's. Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat should have a field day. Drew Ott's status is definitely worth keeping an eye on, though.
On defense, again, the Cyclones are decent but decidedly unspectacular. Nobody jumps off the film, nobody looks like Iowa shouldn't be able to handle him.
The ISU defensive line is athletic but smallish, and it has struggled to get off blocks against KSU and NDSU. The front four excelled in pursuit—particularly because the Cyclone secondary doesn't panic when a QB starts moving—but Jake Rudock is not exactly Jake Waters, so there's limited relevance there to Saturday's game.
Iowa's zone stretch is a different look than what ISU has seen in its first two weeks, and the linebackers will probably be happy to not have to worry about staying home in case of a designed QB run. So while the unit looked passive earlier, they'll probably be flowing in a way that will put significant pressure on Iowa's blockers to get to the second level and get hats on hats. Still, the LBs and DL don't work in tandem particularly well, and I expect lanes to be open fairly frequently when Iowa tries to run the ball—whoever's in at tailback needs to be able to take advantage of them.
It's as simple as this: if Iowa can't run on Iowa State, at least to the tune of 4.0 yards per carry for the tailbacks, that's a major concern, because things are only going to get tougher against the next 10 opponents, nearly all of whom actually belong in a Power 4 conference.
The Cyclone back four play disciplined, conservative ball and rarely blow a coverage. Because of this, Iowa will need to establish a downfield threat, or at least show legitimate willingness to test the ISU secondary deep. KSU did this with Tyler Lockett early on and it opened up the underneath passing game that Rudock and the Hawkeyes love to lean on. Tevaun Smith and Derrick Willies are the two candidates for this role, obviously, and once the corners are pushed off the line Rudock can get to work on the short routes at which he excels.
On paper, Iowa should wipe the floor with the Cyclones. Nobody plays football on paper. It would rip almost instantly on account of the cleats. Then you have a mess, and you're left to play on whatever it was the paper was laid over. Also, you shouldn't try to wipe the floor at all, much less with your opposition, if there's paper on the floor. Again, big mess, accomplishes nothing.
But this is the ISU Super Bowl every year, and as such Iowa gets the most spirited effort possible from the cardinal and gold. Paul Rhoads may be a loud doofus, but Mark Mangino is a dangerous offensive coordinator and he's going to try to take Iowa's defense out of its comfort zone early and often. That probably means a sustained drive here and there, some first downs, some points, and some nervous moments.
It also doesn't help that Iowa's offensive execution has been lacking thus far, to say nothing of the special teams, and doubtless those will cause some groans in Kinnick too. But at the end of the day, like with Ball State, Iowa is too good to fall victim to the upset bid.