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KEYS TO THE GAME: IOWA HAWKEYES VS. IOWA STATE CYCLONES

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What do Kirk’s Dawgs need to do to keep it a Hawkeye State?

Northern Iowa v Iowa State Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images

Here it is. Cyclone fans have been gearing up for this one since the fourth quarter curb-stomping they got on their home turf last season. Hawkeye fans have been dreading this one like we always do, because as always, this game is a no-win situation for Iowa.

Lose the game, and your hopes for the season dip from magical to forgettable faster than you can say “Cyclone State.”

Win the game, and you managed to beat a team that is having a harder and harder time keeping up with the FCS.

I rip on Iowa State a lot. I joke about their 7-4 all-time record against FCS programs. I poke fun at how their uniforms look like something that can be found in Ronald McDonald’s closet. I think their new head coach seems like a total nerd and find it comical that they still don’t have more bowl victories than Ricky Stanzi (This will be my favorite sports fact until the Cyclones finally capture that elusive fourth bowl victory. That is, if they ever do...).

But the fact of the matter is that this game has a way of predicting the outcome of the Iowa football season. Under Kirk Ferentz, the Hawkeyes are a combined 53-57 (48.2% winning percentage) in years they fall to the Cyclones, while they are 74-30 (71.2%) in years they are victorious in the Cy-Hawk game.

It’s simple: Iowa needs to keep Iowa a Hawkeye State tomorrow. The rest of the season depends on it.

Here’s how Kirk’s Dawgs can get it done.

Defend Kinnick

It’s no secret that the Iowa defense showed weaknesses in the season opener—the Hawkeyes gave up 266 passing yards and 158 rushing yards to Miami Ohio, a lower-tier MAC program. While this sub-par performance has largely been attributed to the first quarter ejection of linebacker Josey Jewell, it is still a cause for concern.

The Iowa run defense faces a challenge this week in stopping Iowa State running back Mike Warren, who rushed for 1,339 yards in 2015. However, the Iowa State offensive line is extremely inexperienced and they looked somewhere between horrible and atrocious against Northern Iowa in Week 1. Warren only managed to gain 30 yards on 12 attempts against Northern Iowa, which was largely due to his linemen being manhandled at the point of attack. He will be looking to improve upon that performance against another in-state rival, but if the big men on defense can play a solid game, Iowa should be able to have similar success in rush defense to what Northern Iowa accomplished a week ago.

The Iowa secondary was exposed by Miami quarterback Billy Bahl in Week 1. To combat these early struggles, the Hawkeyes have possibly installed a plan to have All-American cornerback Desmond King match-up with Iowa State receiver Allen Lazard whenever possible. Lazard started off his 2016 season hot, catching 6 balls for 129 yards and a touchdown. The Cyclones will be looking for every opportunity to capitalize on mistakes made by what was projected to be a strong Iowa secondary. The pass defense needs to show improvement from Week 1, and that starts with stopping Allen Lazard. Iowa has other business to attend to with Lazard, but we’ll get to that later.

A Storm Swarm is Brewing

Iowa State visits Kinnick Stadium with a new head coach and a new mantra. Just to be clear: Iowa State lost 25-20 to Northern Iowa (an FCS program) last week. But apparently a “storm is brewing” in Ames? I must have missed the memo on that in Week 1.

Despite the fact that ISU is essentially a glorified FCS program, one of the greatest challenges in this game is going to be preparation. This may be the only area where Iowa State holds an advantage—they have four seasons of film to study from the current Iowa coaching staff (and 17 seasons of Hawkeye film under Kirk Ferentz). The only tangible film of the Cyclones that Iowa will have at its capacity is the film from Week 1 and the film of Matt Campbell’s former teams at Toledo. Plus, if this video is an indication, we know that Matt Campbell will be really “grinding to greatness” prior to this game...

Because they just wouldn’t be the Cyclowns if they didn’t think it was a great idea to post a video of their new head coach pretending to do squats and sleep in the film room. Maybe the Cyclone film crew should take notes from Big Brother and produce a video actually worth watching:

A storm is brewing? I think a SWARM is brewing.

But speaking of storms...

Thunder and Lightning

Iowa needs to pick up where they left off against Miami Ohio in the run game. Last week, Northern Iowa managed to top the Cyclones despite passing for only 135 yards. The Panthers ran for 232 yards and 2 touchdowns on 58 total rushing attempts. While I don’t expect the Hawkeyes to call on their tailbacks quite to that extent, I would like to see them top 200 total yards on the ground in this game. A good dose of Thunder (LeShun Daniels) and Lightning (Akrum Wadley) will be a handful for a Cyclone defense that proved to be weak at the point of attack in their season opener.

THIS.

I’m sorry, Allen. I wasn’t aware that you were qualified to determine which conferences are a “joke” after playing on a team that was 3-9 in 2015, ranked 93rd in the FBS in points scored per game, and allowed 32.7 points per game. The Big Ten, mind you, had three teams that finished in the top 10 in college football last season. One of those is the Iowa team that held your Cyclones to 66 yards of total offense in the 2nd half of last year’s match-up—the same Iowa team that you play this weekend. I’m just curious—if the Big Ten is a joke, what does that make Iowa State?

We can break down this game all we want, but at the end of the day, it’s a rivalry game. It’s the battle for the state (sorry, UNI...). Print out this column and rip it to pieces, because none of the above analysis matters come Saturday night. The best Iowa team of my lifetime (the 2002 Hawkeyes) lost to Iowa State, and I’ve since seen plenty of capable Iowa teams give people reason to believe that the state of Iowa is a Cyclone state. It’s no secret that Iowa State carries the emotional edge, mostly because they typically don’t have anything left to play for after this game. Iowa State is a terrible football team, but if Iowa comes out emotionally flat, the Cyclones have a chance. However, if Iowa approaches this game with the same intensity as their Little Brother, they will pick up right where they left off in last season’s game, when they outscored the Cyclones 17-0 in the second half.

The Prediction

Iowa is better than Iowa State in every phase of the game. The Hawkeyes’ experience on both the offensive and defensive lines should allow them to control the line of scrimmage and win the battle in the trenches. The Hawkeyes feel like they have unfinished business after the way the 2015 season ended, and an added layer of motivation from Allen Lazard himself will fuel their desire to bury the Cyclones. The Swarm will weather the storm and walk off the field carrying the Cy-Hawk Trophy for the second consecutive year.

It’s a Hawkeye State, and that’s no joke.

Final score: Iowa 38, Iowa State 10

Go Hawks.