Time: 5:00 PM CDT
Location: Jack Trice Stadium, Ames, IA
Line: Iowa -2.5
Television: Fox Sports 1 - Information hhere
Radio: Cyclone Radio Network - Affiliate information here
There's been plenty of time to digest what happened in Jack Trice Stadium on August 31st and now Iowa State gets back to real, meaningful football this weekend with the annual renewal of the Cy-Hawk showdown. There have been stories left and right about the players not being happy with their performance but until the game kicks off and we see it play out it's all talk. These same players were talking about how they weren't going to overlook a determined UNI team but for an entire half it appeared they did just that.
What should be noted is that both teams need this win badly. Neither team is good enough right now to make you think they can win 3 or 4 (possibly more) games in their conference to reach the postseason. Non-conference wins are vital in making it to a bowl game and both teams have little room for error the rest of the way. So when a Hawk fan tells you it's Iowa State'sjust politely remind them they need the win just as bad to get on the right track. Iowa State could be playing anyone else this weekend and I'd still mark the game as vitally important to postseason hopes because you can't fucking lose to UNI and expect to skate through the rest of your schedule.
When We Last Left Off...
Iowa State lost to UNI. I want to rip my eye balls out every time I type that.
Iowa looked good in stretches, and a lot like the 2012 team in others, in a 28-14 win over MIssouri State. Mark Weisman continued his dominance on the ground with 180 yards rushing but it was Jake Rudock's two rushing touchdowns that made the difference.
Iowa leads the all-time series 37-18, has lost the last two, and is 6-9 in the last 15 years, and so on and so forth with the superlatives you've heard all week.
Last Five Games
2012: Iowa State 9, Iowa 6
2011: Iowa State 44, Iowa 41 (3 OT)
2010: Iowa 35, Iowa State 7
2009: Iowa 35, Iowa State 3
2008: Iowa 17, Iowa State 5 (Fuck you Gene Chizik)
Iowa State Offense
The Iowa State offense was humming along fine against UNI with 14 points and 297 yards racked up in the first half. They looked explosive and competent. Then halftime happened and they made a Mess of things. At first we all pointed to the injury of Tom Farniok earlier as the reason the offense unwound. Then it was Kyle Lichtenberg's poor performance at left (quick) tackle. Then it was the abandonment of the running game. All three are valid points, but it's the third and final point that really rings true.
Heading into halftime Iowa State had rushed for 124 yards and Sam Richardson accounted for 62 of those. Curiously enough Shontrelle Johnson accounted for 22 yards on only five carries in the first quarter and never saw another touch after that. All of you that read this preview regularly know I'm an unabashed fan of Shontrelle, but all bias aside you have to be getting your most explosive players more touches. That includes Shontrelle along with James White and Aaron Wimberly. When the second half rolled around and Mess started calling plays like the Cyclones were down 21 instead of 1 it was only a matter of time before Sam Richardson started taking shots in the backfield. With the five sacks included Richardson rushed 21 times for 74 yards and the running backs combined rushed 23 times for 94 yards.
The offense was humming and naturally halftime adjustments will take away some facet of their game, but they were racking up yards on the ground and through the air with a balanced attack. After watching the game again it appears Mess saw how well the pass game was working and abandoned the run. All while Mark Farley realized to limit Iowa State's explosive plays they had to drop into coverage and sell out on rushing the passer. Yes, that's right, a BCS coordinator played right in the hands of I-AA coaching staff, and it will happen more than once this season against even better coaches.
Looking ahead the talent on this offense is not of a concern to me. The backfield is deep with White looking more explosive than ever and Wimberly as advertised. The receivers are competent, work themselves open, and Tad Ecby is going to be a good threat on the outside if Quenton Bundrage starts drawing double teams. The offensive line looked solid at times, and while they'll miss Farniok the next few weeks, played well enough without him that they'll only gel and get better. Then there's Richardson, who looked all the part of the quarterback we've been searching for but needs to work on his timing and not holding on to the ball too long.
What concerns me going forward is the offensive staff and how they adjust in the game. The play calling was abhorrent in the second half and this has been the case for some time since Mess took over. The inconsistency in playing time for all backfield members is doing more harm than good. There has always been talk of "riding the hot hand" but it feels that backs are never left in there long enough to develop the hot hand. With the tempo Iowa State runs it makes sense to sub, but there are times that the subs make no sense and the play calling suffers for it (see: Jeff Woody and outside runs). I have this ever creeping fear that if Iowa State doesn't go into halftime with a lead they simply won't win a game.
Iowa's run defense finished ranked 64th nationally in 2012 after allowing 162 yards per game. But this season they have started hot after allowing 233 yards to Northern Illinois and Missouri State combined. That's good enough for a 34th ranking nationally and will be key in limiting Iowa State's offense on Saturday.
Iowa returns a ton of experience in the middle of the field with Christian Kirksey, James Morris, and Anthony Hitchens all returning. Kirksey is talented enough to cover out in space but Morris and Hitchens have a tendency to be exposed when they're forced to get outside of the box. Iowa loves getting their hands on receivers as they cross the middle of the field but if Morris and Hitchens miss they simply don't keep up enough to deny the catch.
If there's a weak link with this defense it lies in the passing defense as the defensive line routinely needs a blitz to help generate pressure and the secondary is experienced, but not as strong as past years. Guys like Tanner Miller and John Lowdermilk are not Tyler Sash and Brett Greenwood clones and freshman corner back Desmond King was burnt last week on a double move by Missouri State for their only offensive touchdown of the game.
In reality it's possible that Miller and Lowdermilk are as talented as their predecessors but the defensive line is lacking in NFL talent and because of this the secondary takes most of the lumps.
Schematically I feel that Iowa struggles still with the spread if they try to match up linebackers with faster receivers in the slot, and it led to a lot of throwing lanes over the middle for both Northern Illinois and Missouri State. Defensive coordinator Phil Parker has dialed up more blitzes on 3rd down than his predecessor and a large part of that has to do with the lack of pressure up front. You see a lot of flashes of the mid-2000s Iowa defense at times with their base cover 2, but now on 3rd down you're more likely to see 5 or 6 rushers than in year's past.
The Match Up
Iowa State should look to establish the run early by spreading Iowa out and drawing their linebackers out of the box. This puts more pressure on starting defensive tackles Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat to hold their gaps and at 315 pounds Davis is going to present a challenge to Burton, Lalk, and Tuftee inside.
If Iowa still stacks the box in three or four wide receiver sets I expect Richardson to go outside quickly to Bundrage and one of the tight ends. Simple hitches and bubble screens to eat up a few quick yards will help open the running lanes in the middle of the field and allow Iowa State to chew up yards and clock. Additionally, this is going to soften up the middle of the field for the intermediate routes as the linebackers will be out wide and the safeties are likely to creep up in run support. I expect the first few series to be a chess match feeling out Iowa's defense and how they'll respond when the field is spread.
When Iowa State moves into the red zone it will be imperative to score and I thought Tom Herman did an excellent job in 2011 with designed plays to get scores. This includes the back shoulder fades to Darius Reynolds and the perfectly executed smash route to Josh Lenz. Iowa State was in Iowa's red zone five times last season and came away with a touchdown, a field goal, and three(!) turnovers (fumble by Shontrelle, fumble by White, Jantz interception). As Adam Jacobi noted over on Black Heart Gold Pants, the difference in this game could very well be a field goal turning into a touchdown in the red zone, or vice versa. Needless to say, Iowa State isn't likely to win if they commit three more red zone turnovers in this game.
Iowa State Defense
Tackle. Just fucking tackle. That's really all that needs to be said here. The play calling seemed perfectly fine against UNI but the execution was lacking until Luke Knott entered the game late in the second quarter. A defensive line that a lot of us believed to have gotten worked over looked better on tape (but not great) and a lot the mistakes came in alignment and poor gap fits. The team has had 13 days to work on it and no doubt it has improved.
The return of Jansen Watson to the secondary is going to allow Iowa State to focus more on the run and leave the cornerbacks on islands against an Iowa receiving corps that is lacking in explosive playmakers.
Defensive line depth is again key here as Iowa's line has excelled at wearing teams down historically and have proven capable of it already in two games this season. Expect a rotation of more than 8 on the line again but David Irving and Brandon Jensen have to play better than they did against UNI and start making tackles in the backfield. Although this is a gap control scheme the coaches still want the line to break through and make plays and the biggest reason Iowa got no traction in last year's game is because Jake McDonough was spending the majority of his time in their backfield. Mark Weisman is a good running back in Iowa's system, but he's not going to do much if he can't get up to speed.
If I'm an Iowa fan I have to be liking what I see out of Jake Rudock. He's still green around the edges, and has yet to face a real test, but he seems smart, makes the good decision, and is not afraid to run when the option is there. A friend of mine told me Rudock reminded him of Drew Tate and I have a hard time disagreeing. If Rudock turns out to have similar success as Tate did in his career then the folks in Iowa City shouldn't have much to complain about.
That said, Rudock is still a sophomore making his first ever road start and it happens to come against an instate rival. His arm doesn't seem particularly strong and you know at some point Greg Davis is going to ask him to throw an out from the far hash mark... again. To compound this Rudock isn't throwing to a dangerous group of receivers. His best weapon is tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz and I expect they try to work him early and often against either Jared Brackens or Knott.
What should be worrisome with Iowa's offense is Mark Weisman, his backups, and the offensive line. Weisman is the perfect back for this system as he's big, makes one cut, and is a bear to bring down when he's running downhill. The line has been hit or miss on run blocking in both games but has been rather consistent when running behind Brandon Scherff and Conor Boffeli on the left side. Northern Illinois and Missouri State had success run blitzing early but as they tired and slowed down the Iowa rushing attack went to work. This chart really explains it all:
That's right. Mark Weisman and the offensive line get stronger as the game wears on. Or more aptly put, the opposing defense begins to wear down. Weisman's stats in the 3rd quarter are eye popping and it's not just one game that caused this. The 3rd quarter was his best quarter in both games as he averaged 6 ypc against Northern Illinois and 7.6 ypc against Missouri State. Some of it is a re-commitment to the running game after halftime, but a large part of it is just wearing down the opposing defense. Mix in Damon Bullock and Jordan Canzeri and you've found yourself a recipe of a strong downhill running game with a few change of pace backs.
The Match Up
Again, depth is key here. Iowa will stick to their bread and butter and run Weisman and Iowa State will have to counter with a defensive line rotation and crossing their fingers that Brackens and Knott can handle the onslaught. I expect Iowa to go up tempo a bit more than normal as a way to keep Iowa State from bringing in fresh back ups and when the 3rd and 4th quarter roll around it's going to have an effect.
Iowa State is not a particularly big run blitzing team, instead favoring gap control and forcing the running back to make a bad decision, but both Northern Illinois and Missouri State had success run blitzing early and getting a lick on Weisman before he got up to speed. Burnham has three of his fastest linebackers to date at Iowa State all starting so a well timed run blitz on a 2nd and long may be in order to keep Iowa facing 3rd and long situations. Iowa is one of those teams that will get 3 yards on 1st down and not shy away from trying to get 3 or 4 more on second down via the rush, so keeping them out of 3rd and short is just as important as not allowing any big plays.
The match up with Fiedorowicz concerns me as I don't feel there's anyone with size to push him around close to the line of scrimmage. The linebackers will be able to keep up with him just fine, but will they be able to bring him down in space is a lingering question.
Rudock's ability to scramble adds an extra element to defend and it's no more important than in the red zone where he did damage in both games this season. Iowa State prefers to really drop into coverage inside the 20 but there's going to have to be some strong contain by the defensive line to keep Rudock from slipping out to either buy time or scamper into the end zone. Plays like that could very well mean the difference between a win or a loss.
Some good and some bad here. Good: Aaron Wimberly is returning kicks full time now and looked great in his first return against UNI. Good: Cole Netten made his first two career field goals. Bad: Rhoads allowed Edwin Arceo to try a 54 yard field goal. Bad: Kirby Van Der Kamp was off against UNI.
Van Der Kamp will work his deal out and it mostly looked like he was trying too hard to bomb a punt and set up his defense last time. My concern really lies with whether or not Rhoads is going to ruin another kicker by setting him up for another low percentage kick. Some of this is on the offense for consistently stalling out in enemy territory, but over the last four seasons these long kicks have been a consistent problem.
How long before Rhoads sets the gameplan to include four down territory play calling between the 40 and 30 yard lines? Arceo's kick against UNI nearly ended up in Boone and that alone should tell anyone that the more you mess with these kickers at that range the more likely they are to just shit the bed completely. For as much shit as Ferentz gets for punting from his opponent's 37 yard line he at least seems to know what it takes to not ruin a kicker's confidence. So please don't ruin Cole Netten. Please.
Also, Iowa is giving up a lot of kick return yardage this year by averaging 27 yards per returned kick, which ranks 106th nationally. Salivate over Aaron Wimberly some more boys and girls.
Solid, but Not Quite a Lock Prediction: Shontrelle Johnson continues his assault on Iowa and finds the end zone for the first time in 2013.
Would Love to See, and Might: Wimberly to the house on a kick return. It would be the first kick return for a touchdown since Jeremy Reeves did it on an onside kick against Texas Tech in 2010, and the first full field one since Troy Davis did it against Colorado in... wait for it... 1994.
Would Love to See, but Won't: 30 or more attempts by the running back corps
WRNL Beer Pick of the Week
It's never too early to get Surly and this week is no exception. This week's beer is Surly's Overrated West Coast IPA. This will be my first experience with it but Norman Underwood has said good things and he has yet to steer me wrong. Especially on IPAs.
Despite all the new faces on both teams this still boils down to the classic Iowa State vs Iowa match up: win at the line of scrimmage and stop the run. Since 2007 the team that has racked up the most yards on the ground has won.
The potential difference maker here will be the big plays and who gets them. Iowa State's passing game certainly looked more explosive than the running game against UNI and Iowa has been patient enough to let the other team wear down before tearing off chunks of yards on the ground. Who breaks first will go a long way into determining who comes away with the victory.
Both teams have a lot of growing up to do and I think both will end up gelling over time and surprising teams in their own conferences but the game on Saturday is likely to be ugly as both teams look to dominate the trenches and slow the other one down. I think Iowa State has more horses on offense than Iowa does on defense but I'm not sure they have the play caller to put them in the right spots. Conversely, I think Iowa has bigger horses on offense that will eventually wear down the smaller players on Iowa State's defense.
This prediction is incredibly tough. I feel Iowa State should win given what the offense has looked like with Richardson at the helm, but it's hard to trust the defense after that debacle against UNI. I really feel the winner of this game will be determined by two factors:
1. The team that wins time of possession in the 3rd quarter. This is the key quarter for in game adjustments and Iowa has shown a far better knack than Iowa State in that regard. At least on offense. Whichever team wins the possession battle in the 3rd wins the game.
2. Quarterback play. Both quarterbacks are starting their first Cy-Hawk game, but only one is starting his first road game at the same time.
I think Iowa State knows they have to stop the run and have a plan in place to do just that. If they can keep Iowa to at least one three and out in the 3rd quarter I think they do enough to get up on the scoreboard, force Rudock into throwing situations, and eventually seal the game late.
Iowa State 20
PS - As always, leave your predictions below and be sure to stop by our tailgate in G7 under the WRNL flag. We'll even have beer to share!