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2023 Hawkeye Football Opponent Preview: Iowa State Cyclones

The Cyclones look to win two straight in the rivalry for the first time since 2011-2012

NCAA Football: Iowa State at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

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 whose 2023 season faces a ton of questions.

5 Ws

Who: Iowa State Cyclones (Ames, Iowa; Big 12 Conference)
Head Coach: Matt Campbell, 46-42 (.523) in 7 seasons at Iowa State, 81-57 (.587) in 12 overall

What: the 70th iteration of the Cy-Hawk

When: September 9th, 2023; 2:30p God’s Time

Where: Jack Trice Stadium; Ames, IA

Why: because Iowa isn’t playing 10 Big Ten games/season yet

4 Stats

20.2: the Clones scored & allowed the same per game number of points. The offense ranked 114th while the defense was 18th. The offensive concerns were address, as described below, The defense faces its own set of challenges as they’ll have to replace mainstays Will McDonald (their first first round draft pick since a long time agos days) and O’Rien Vance.

1: after ISU’s worst points/game output since 2007 (still better than Iowa’s!), Matt Campbell’s staff experienced an overhaul on the offensive side of the ball. Just one coach is in the same position he was in last year (TE coach Taylor Mouser) as Tom Manning and others were shown the door. Nate Scheelhaas has been promoted to offensive coordinator and they’ve brought in outside help at offensive line, wide receivers, and running backs.

1978: the last time an Iowa State coach left Ames with a winning record was Earl Bruce and his .529 mark. If Matt Campbell has another 4-8 season, he’ll be right at .500 for his Iowa State career.

-0.7: Iowa State’s 2022 turnover margin, which ranked 117th. Under Matt Campbell, they’ve had positive turnover margins just twice (2017 & 2020).

3 Guys

TJ Tampa (#2, DB, Sr, 6’2”, 185 lbs): Tampa, from neighboring St. Petersburg, is a multi-season starter out wide coming off second team all-conference honors. He finished the 2022 campaign with 9 pass breakups and was the man who knocked this ball loose last year:

Whether or not Iowa is able to match his ability out wide is to be seen. The influx of wide receiver talent should, more often, force defenses to defend Iowa sideline to sideline but with so few participating in full spring drills, including Cade McNamara, chemistry may still be building in Week 2.

Jirehl Brock (#21, RB, R-Sr, 6’0”, 220 lbs): Brock was a former Iowa target in recruiting who finally got his big break last year after Breece Hall’s departure. He took advantage of the opportunity as ISU’s leading rusher (99 carries for 445 yards) but injuries sent his season sideways.

Against Iowa, he was a workhorse with 27 carries for 100 yards, adding 5 receptions. He had a fumble, though. His efficiency picked up against Ohio & Baylor but the aforementioned injury in the Kansas game. He should be the primary beneficiary of improved offensive line play, though the fruits of that labor may not come to bear against a stout Iowa defensive line.

Gerry Vaughn (#32, LB, R-Sr, 5’11”, 231 lbs): Iowa State’s leading tackler will be in the crosshairs of Iowa’s offense with tight ends Erick All and Luke Lachey. With the size differential, it could be tough sledding for the linebacker. With 16 straight starts, he’s the vet of a defense which should remain stout with John Heacock at the helm but a lot may be asked of him to keep them in the top 15% of defenses.

2 Cases

Taking a look at games where Brian Ferentz was offensive coordinator to identify best and worst cases in his “Climb to 325”

Best case - 44 points: 2017 were simpler times full of the naivety with the promotion of Brian Ferentz to offensive coordinator leading to the optimism that Iowa’s offense would be different. Well, it might be different but it’s definitely worse. Anyways, 2017’s matchup with ISU featured the most points Iowa’s scored in the Cy-Hawk under Kirk Ferentz.

Worst case - 7 points: Another single-touchdown game which saw Iowa struggle despite blocking two punts and forcing four turnovers. I honestly felt relief when the last second field goal missed. I didn’t want to watch a single second more of the offense that day.

1 Question

Is last year an indicator of things to come or just a blip in the rivalries recent history?

In Hayden Fry’s last year, the rivalry turned on a DIME. They went from the 15-year winning streak to a five-year losing streak. Since that stretch, Iowa’s lost back-to-back games only once (2011-2012) which is something I think many reading this site would like to keep up.

Beyond the 15 gamer, Iowa’s six-game winning streak was the second longest stretch of Ws in the post-war era and I’d probably extend it to the rivalries full lifetime, as the sixth win in 1933 came after a 13-year hiatus.

I’d feel less comfortable about Iowa’s chances if there won’t so much uncertainty surrounding what Iowa State football might look like in three months. We know they’ll have a solid defense but they’ve got to replace some dudes. The offense will likely be gaining their sea legs even moreso than Iowa. Special teams is a no contest in Iowa’s favor after Drew Stevens wrestled the kicking job away. But the game’s in Ames and weird things can happen there.

Getting back to the question, it seems like last year’s utter ineptitude is impossible to replicate (on both sides). I don’t feel like Matt Campbell figured Kirk Ferentz out so much as finally won a coin flip game in a fairly long line of coin flip games. They caught a couple breaks on their 99-yard touchdown drive.

But it will be another 50/50 game because that’s the type of game Kirk Ferentz desires, believing his team will make less mistakes - or at least less costly mistakes - than his opponent. Sometimes your run at the craps table just ends.