The Hawkeyes travel to Ames, Iowa this weekend to take on every Iowa fan’s favorite team, the Iowa State Cyclones. The Hawkeyes have won two straight games in the Cy-Hawk series and look to make it a three-peat this coming weekend in what will be Nate Stanley’s first true road test.
But first, we asked Levi Stevenson from Wide Right & Natty Lite to answer some questions about the Cyclones. A lot of us know that they haven’t been good in quite a bit, but other than that, what can you say you know about the 2017 edition of Iowa State football? Levi answered some questions about unknown players, what to expect from Matt Campbell’s team in 2017, and of course, who he thinks will win the game.
You can find the other end of this Q&A here, where I answered questions about Iowa.
Max Brekke: Iowa State is in Year 2 of the Matt Campbell experience. Can the Cyclones actually be expected to finish around .500 this season, a la the WRNL predictions, or are the Cyclones still a year or so away from their first bowl game since 2012?
Levi Stevenson: Many people, both in the Cyclone community and in the national media, believe we do have the talent to win at least 6 games this year. Texas and Baylor were generally thought of as possible wins, but their performances this past weekend moved both of them into the "better than a 50/50 shot" category. Include those two wins, two more wins over Akron and Kansas, then all you have to do is beat one of Iowa, Texas Tech, Kansas State, and West Virginia. Seems pretty doable to me.
MB: Iowa showed that they once again have a stout defense by holding Wyoming to three points in Week 1. How do you expect Iowa State to try to move the ball?
LS: I expect Iowa State to actually try to beat Iowa at their own game, with a little more passing mixed in. Looking on the last few years, teams that had success against Iowa primarily mimicked the Hawkeyes' scheme, trying to run the ball and wear out the defense. Teams that tried to spread it out against the Hawks generally didn't do as well. Iowa State finally has the running back talent to do it, so it comes down to whether the offensive line continues to show the promised it did last week in the run game.
MB: The Cyclones gave up numerous big plays against UNI, giving up (by my count) 13 plays of 15 yards or more. What ways should the Hawkeyes try to exploit their defense in order to break off big gains?
LS: Most of UNI's big plays in the game came early in the game when the secondary was experiencing some communication issues, resulting in a blown coverage. Most commonly, the corner would stay in the flats (such as in a cover 2), when the safeties were playing a high middle zone (such as in a cover 3). I would expect most of those issues to be ironed out this week during film sessions, as they're mostly related to the various miscues that can show up at the beginning of the season. A few of the long plays were a result of the corner not getting turned around in time to make a decent play at the ball, while the remaining few were simply the receiver making a great play. That said, Iowa's best opportunities for big plays will probably be in the running game, so running the ball laterally with stretch plays and pitches would be the best way to force the Cyclone front to take odd angles to the ball-carrier, an area where the linebackers struggled early in the game vs. UNI. Brian Ferentz would be wise not to go directly at either corner though, as both Brian Peavy and DeAndre Payne are more than comfortable being left on an island to play man defense.
MB: What are a couple of lesser known names that Iowa fans should know about ahead of the game?
LS: On offense, Hakeem Butler is absolutely the man to keep an eye on. The 6'6" wide receiver runs like a gazelle, and Matt Campbell actually called him the most talented receiver on the roster (high praise given the presence of Allen Lazard). Last game, the coaching staff actually used him as a pseudo-tight end in the passing game, starting him near the line of scrimmage to run into holes in the middle of the zone. This worked to perfection against UNI, as he recorded a career high seven receptions against the Panthers. Iowa's linebackers are generally good in coverage, but Hakeem Butler will be a much more difficult matchup to contend with than your standard lumbering Big 10 tight end.
On defense, Ray Lima really showed why he came to Iowa State with so much hype. He was consistently busting through the UNI offensive line (which is generally of Power 5 quality) and either pressuring the quarterback or forcing running backs to make decisions very early in the backfield. Especially against Iowa's running game, a solid performance by Lima would go along ways to slowing down Wadley and Butler.
MB: Who will have more yards in this one - Allen Lazard or Akrum Wadley?
Given that Lazard has only failed to eclipse 100 yards receiving once since Park took over as the full-time starter, my heart definitely says Lazard, but my brain says Wadley. In past CyHawk games, Iowa running backs have flirted with 40 carries, so Wadley probably has the edge just based on shear volume. His volume of carries, plus the 4--6 other receiving options Allen Lazard has to compete for touches with, gives Wadley the edge in my mind.
MB: Finish this sentence: Iowa State will win if...
LS: I'm going to go with the chalk here and say the Cyclones win if they slow down the Iowa running game. If Iowa loses an effective running game and is forced to win a Big 12-style passing shootout, I don't see any way the Hawks win this game. Iowa State has actually had the most (recent) success against the Big 12 teams which overwhelmingly pass first and test our experienced secondary. Teams like Oklahoma, Kansas State, and West Virginia have generally had our number due to their ability to run the ball and pound the Iowa State defensive line, which had been lacking depth and talent for the last few years.
MB: Prediction time. Who ya got?
LS: Iowa State appears to finally have the right mix of guys in the trenches to compete with (but probably not outduel) the Hawks, and slow the running game enough to force Stanley to win the game with his arm. If it comes down to that, give me the Cyclones' superior passing game and secondary.
Iowa State 35
Thanks to Levi for his time and insight! Of course, I hope the Hawkeyes throw six hundred points on your team. Go Hawks.