I’m just going to pretend that kicking isn’t a part of football and certainly not an important part of a Kirk Ferentz coached team. It’s too painful to think that this game could come down to field goals. But of course it could. All of those cliches about rivalries–throw the record book out, they aren’t played on paper, and on and on–those have rung true for the past 20 years or so. Sure there have been the few exceptions, but even last year, when Iowa thoroughly dominate for most of the game and completely controlled the line of scrimmage, Iowa State was able to make it a game late and it wasn’t comfortable until B.J. Lowery had a spectacular interception.
A Game Changing Play
There were a handful of near misses last week and a 50-yard pass to Jordan Canzeri out of the backfield, which actually led to a made field goal. But Iowa’s going to need more than that tomorrow. The red zone offense hasn’t shown much improvement over last year. The kicking of course has been a big factor, but 7 of 12 isn’t going to cut it. That is 116th in the country. Like only 8 teams are worse. So ugh. Greg Davis. Figure it out.
Iowa State’s defensive coordinator is known for his Norm Parker-like, bend but don’t break style. His defense are anywhere near a Norm Parker defense, but they are still going to try to make Iowa sustain long drives to score. And while I’m sure Jake Rudock will be happy to dink and dunk his way down the field, unless the red zone offense magically improves, Iowa’s not going to put up a lot of points that way. So a big play or two could go a long way.
On the flip side, the defense and special teams needs to be on alert as well. Iowa State was in position to win last week thanks to a trick play (reverse WR pass) and a punt return for a TD. Take those away and ISU’s offense has not been consistent enough to sustain drives and score. Jarvis West has been the one to watch so far this year for the Cyclones. He’s a speed threat and the one responsible for both of the aforementioned big plays from last week.
That Running Game Thing
Pat already wrote a killer breakdown of the break downs in Iowa’s run scheme (which I hope the fly sweep thing isn’t dead). But if there was a week where Iowa could get something going and get a confidence boost, this would be it. Iowa State’s defense has been pretty weak against the run. They are giving up 6.28 yards per carries and 267 yards per game. That’s Iowa red zone bad. Actually worse…118th in the country.
Iowa beat Iowa State last year by pounding the ball over and over again. They yards per carry weren’t great, but 3 carries of 4 yards moves the chains. I don’t expect Mark Weisman to carry it 35 times or Iowa to run it 60 times, but something more balanced than the past two weeks would be excellent. If Iowa has to throw it 55 times again this week, then it’s not going to be a comfortable game.
Keep it Going on 3rd Down
Despite the lack of a running game, Iowa has been solid on converting 3rd downs so far this year. The Hawkeyes are 17 of 33…51%, good for 23rd in the nation. (Iowa State’s D is the perfect counterpart to Iowa’s O. They are giving up 51% of 3rd down conversions (15 or 29) and in the bottom 25 in the nation. ) A large part has been Rudock and Kevonte Martin-Manley connecting. It has led to sustained drives between the 20s and an important field position advantage in some key situations. Last week, at the start of the 4th quarter was pinned already back on its own 2 yard line. On 3rd and 2, Rudock found KMM for 6 yards. A few plays later on a 3rd and 7, Rudock checked down to Damon Bullock who went fo 12 yards on 3rd and 7. Iowa has able to get all the way out to the 43 before punting. That flipped the field and Iowa’s final two drives started at the 31 and 41.
Conversely, Iowa’s D has been solid on stopping 3rd down conversions, giving up just 10 of 32. Iowa State has been pretty mediocre converting them, mostly due to Sam Richardson’s poor third down performance. He’s been pretty good on first and second down, but on 3rd his QB rating dips to 54.0. He’s been just 6 of 13 for 36 yards with a interception and no TDs. His biggest problem has been pressure that opposing defense have been able to get in obvious passing situations. He’s been sacked 6 times. Iowa’s defense has 7 sacks already this year and 17 TFL. The defensive line should been able to create disruption and limit Richardson’s comfortability in the pocket, which should lead to getting off the field on 3rd downs.
Use the Crowd
There were a lot of "BOOOOO"s yelled out last Saturday. Kinnick was quiet for a good part of 3 quarters. People stopped standing on third downs and apathy was starting to set in. Hoards of fans left with over 7 minutes left when Iowa punted it away down 10. Contrast that to the week before when Iowa was doing its best to hang on to a lead and Kinnick was loud when UNI had the ball. The fans were responsible for multiple delay of game penalties.
Iowa can get and keep the crowd in the game by starting fast. This means taking shots down field early (some fans have been getting pretty grumbly when Rudock checks down) and finishing drives. Basically give the fans something to cheer about and they will cheer and make it tougher on the Cyclones. Though they have an experience senior QB, this is the offense's first year under a new OC. Communication is going to be an important part of what they are trying to do and Mangino is moving down to the field to try to improve in that department. So anything Iowa fans can do to disrupt that is going to be a factor.
I think Iowa is capable of winning this game by a couple of scores…get a run game going, add on an efficient passing attack, dominate the line of scrimmage, etc. Something like 35-10 wouldn’t really surprised me. But I'm still have too many doubts about the offense as a whole to predict this type of score. I think we'll see a similar result to the first two weeks. The game will be close through 3 quarters, back and forth, and there will be a few maddening plays to keep Iowa from pulling away. But in crunch time the defense will clamp down and the running game will finally get going a little bit. Iowa will be able to run down the clock enough and Rudock will pad the lead with a late scoring drive.
Final Score: Iowa 28 - Iowa State 16