Insert whatever cliche you want to here about rivalry games. We know, anything can happen. It doesn't matter how terrible either of these teams looked against FCS opponents in their last games. This game is its own thing.
This year it feels a little different. Both fan bases are not too confident (though every prediction by ISU fans that I've seen have the Clones winning). But the hate is still strong, and you can bet I'm going to pick Hawkeyes to win in Ames.
Make Sam Richardson beat you
When facing a mobile quarterback, Iowa almost always tries to force the hand-off on the zone read. The DE stays home, the QB hands off, and the linebackers try to stop the running back for minimal gain. Rinse, repeat.
Richardson likes to keep on the read and likes to run. He was ISU's leading rusher week one, even with 6 sacks. However, he injured his ankle in that game against UNI. He's had 2 weeks to recover, but if I'm Iowa, I am going to make him prove that he is 100%. Given Iowa State's deep running back pool, I think Iowa should take their chances with a potentially slowed Richardson until he shows that he can be an elusive runner.
Beyond the DE crashing in on the running back on the zone read, on passing plays Iowa should dial back on the contain and try to get after Richardson. UNI was able to repeatedly get pressure and Richardson didn't look great in the pocket. When he did have time to sit back though, he was pretty effective. He threw for 242 yards completing 22 of 32 passes.
Finish them off
Iowa has had the opportunity the past two weeks to take control of the game and finish off their opponent. Against NIU, the Hawks floundered and let NIU come back and ultimately win. Against MSU, it was not quite the same story, but still let the Bears hang around for most of the game.
Iowa needs to be able to keep their foot on the gas pedal and finish drives. ISU is going to play its familiar brand of keep everything in front of you defense and wait for Iowa to make a mistake. So stop the too cute play calling on 3rd downs. Stop the dumb penalties. Stop punting from inside the 40.
Iowa State had some of the same issues against UNI. The Clones put together 5 good drives and forced a turnover deep in UNI's territory, but had to settle for FG attempts on 4 of those 6 drives...and they missed 2 of those FGs. Iowa has been pretty good in the red-zone on defense. Their problems have really just come on giving up long passing TDs. So, if Iowa can shore up those leaks in the secondary, then they should be able to limit ISU.
This one is just in here in response to the dumb penalties last week. The were drive killers and field position changers. Iowa could afford those mistakes last week, but won't be able to Saturday. Kirby Van Der Kamp will give ISU a field position advantage so Iowa will need to reverse the field by sustaining drives.
Pound the ball
This is the obvious one this week. Iowa has been successful running the ball and has run it a lot. Iowa is 28th in rushing yards per game and Mark Weisman is 11th. Iowa State's defense ranks near the bottom of the nation in rushing defense after allowing UNI to rack up 228 yards on the ground. UNI's running back, David Johnson, averaged almost 9 yards per carry.
I think we saw Iowa's default game plan last week. Run the ball. Run it some more. Run it as much as they can. They think with their tempo and physicality their can wear down a team and win in the 4th quarter. Iowa should be able to do this against Iowa State. It'll probably have to be a more diverse attack than what we saw against MSU, which was just the KF standard inside/outside zones. Against NIU, we saw little more variety in the running game with some read option stuff and I think that's more of what we'll see tomorrow.
The game has come down to the wire the past 2 years, and I don't see this one any different. However, this year, thanks to a physical rushing attack, Iowa's offense will be able to wear down the Cyclone defense and put together a big drive in the 4th quarter that will seal the deal.
*Final Score - * Iowa 27 - Iowa State 23