It’s that time of year again: I crack open my trusty laptop which still has Yahoo! as the default search engine and begin the football previews. Up next are the Iowa State Cyclones, a team currently led by a man who is winless against the Hawkeyes
Who: Iowa State Cyclones (Ames, IA; Big 12 Conference)
Head Coach: Matt Campbell 42-34 (.553) in six seasons at Iowa State; 77-49 (.611) in 11
What: Iowa’s in-state rivalry game in which they own a 46-22 record and six-game winning streak
When: September 10th, 2022; 3p God’s Time (corrected)
Where: Kinnick Stadium; Iowa City, IA
Why: Because they are contractually obligated and it is also good for the state
2nd longest win streak: The six wins over seven seasons is tied for the second longest winning streak in the matchups’ history with only the Hawkeyes dominant stretch between 1983 & 1997 exceeding the current mark. The last four games have been tighter than that period, with a combined margin of 24 points. Eight times, Hayden Fry’s Hawkeyes beat ISU by 24 points or more.
37% of Iowa State’s 2021 production returns: They turn over a lot of guys, especially when compared to Iowa’s 76% mark, which puts 106 teams between them in the linked rankings. While there are some reasons to be skeptical of that mark - would you rather return 100% of Spencer Petras & Alex Padilla’s production or 0% of Brock Purdy’s - it indicates just how much work may be ahead of Campbell in getting his group up to speed.
45 starts: The difference in consecutive starts ISU’s presumed starting quarterback, Hunter Dekkers, will have vs his predecessor, Brock Purdy, at 46. The 46 is about as much continuity as one program can have at the quarterback position in today’s NCAA football.
29 sacks: The career number for edge rusher, Will McDonald. Without stealing too much from another section, the man already holds the all-time mark for sacks at ISU (by 3.5) with the 2022 season ahead of him.
Xavier Hutchinson (#8, WR, RS Sr, 6’3”, 210 lbs): ISU returns their back-to-back receptions & yards leader, which should facilitate the quarterback transition from Purdy to Dekkers. With the departure of ISU’s tight ends and Breece Hall, Hutchinson enters as the far-and-away #1 option for ISU’s offense. He displays an impressive catch radius by virtue of his size and willingness to dive for passes alongside good speed for a man his stature.
The easy comp to Hutchinson is former ‘clone Allen Lazard. You may remember the lead-up to Desmond King’s final game against ISU featuring some talk of King following Lazard wherever he lined up. Iowa did nothing of the sort, as Lazard got his by way of seven catches and 111 yards. The Hawkeyes kept him out of the end zone in the blowout victory.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see similar chatter approach between Hutchinson & Riley Moss, though Phil Parker has shown a little more flexibility of late in moving CBs around to keep WRs in check. Iowa may need to if the corner opposite Moss remains unsettled.
Will McDonald (#9, DE, RS Sr, 6’4”, 245 lbs): For as important as Hutchinson’s return was for the ISU offense, McDonald’s return is an even bigger statement. With back-to-back double digit sack seasons, McDonald is a bona fide pass rusher and increasingly impactful, with 5 forced fumbles last season. Against Iowa, he had 1.5 sacks last season and could single-handedly derail the Hawkeyes’ effort to extend the winning streak to seven.
If he is able to replicate George Karlaftis as a one-man wrecking crew (4 QB hits & 6 hurries) in Purdue’s 17-point win against the Hawkeyes where Iowa’s OL looked especially lost, it will put the Cyclones in great position for a road victory. Worth noting Karlaftis has about 30 lbs on McDonald.
Jirehl Brock (#21, RB, RS Jr, 6’0”, 215 lbs): The player set to fill Breece Hall’s shoes has a history with Iowa (RIP Land of 10). Hall was an absolute workhorse, with 81% of running back carries last season, for 5.8 yards a pop. He has just 250 rushing yards to his name but has the accolades to turn ISU’s back-to-back NFL RBs into three.
Best case: Kirk Ferentz continues to live rent free in the six inches between Matt Campbell’s ears.
Worst case: Everything clicks for ISU as they replicate Purdue’s gameplan by feeding Hutchinson, getting the run game going with Brock, and enough playmaking on defense to keep Iowa off the scoreboard. The cathartic win is reminiscent of past times when the Cy-Hawk series flipped on its head (18-point ISU win in 1998; 19-point Iowa win in 2003).
Can Iowa State not bungle special teams? The last two times these two played each other, the punt return game has been a sore spot for ISU. The 2019 vintage featured an all-time blunder but 2021 had an instance which goes unnoticed. Iowa had just gone three and out, and backed up to their six yard line after their first second half possession, with the Cyclones in a punt return safe call. They were unable to catch Tory Taylor’s punt which turned it into a 69-yard field-flipping punt. Teams traded quick possessions, eventually putting ISU on their own six, which led to Iowa’s scoop-and-score, and really that was all they wrote.
Iowa gained just two offensive yards in going from the shadow of their own goal posts to pinning ISU in theirs.
The distillation of the difference between Matt Campbell & Kirk Ferentz is the talk of caring about the little things to actually doing the things which show you care about the little things. Special teams highlights that distillation.
Campbell still has no named special teams coordinator.