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2014 Game III: Iowa State at Iowa Preview

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Iowa State travels to Iowa City to try to get in the win column but will do so with a team searching for confidence in a place they've only won twice in the last six tries.

Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sport

2014 Game III: Iowa State (0-2, 0-1) vs Iowa (2-0, 0-0)

Time: 2:30 PM CDT

Location: Kinnick Stadium, Iowa City, IA

Line: Iowa -10, O/U 49

Television: ESPN

Radio: Cyclone Radio Network/Cyclones.TV stream

Game Notes/Release

Iowa SBN Site: Black Heart Gold Pants

When We Last Left Off...

Iowa State was once again falling victim to Bill Snyder's wizardry when a late touchdown drive by Kansas State, coupled by a failed drive for the Cyclones, ended up giving Kansas State a 32-28 victory.

Iowa beat Ball State, but did so in unconvincing fashion after allowing a fat guy touchdown, missing three field goals, and needing their own drive within two minutes to escape with a 17-13 victory.

The Series

Iowa leads the overall series 38-18 and is 22-10 in Iowa City.  There are the obvious superlatives that will be discussed this weekend.  Iowa won 15 straight games between 1983 and 1997, Iowa State won the next five, and the series has been 4-3 in favor of Iowa since 2007.  Kirk Ferentz is 7-8 all-time against the Cyclones and is 3-2 against Paul Rhoads.

Iowa State Offense

The Mangino led offense started showing signs of life last week against Kansas State.  After an abysmal start that showed a glaring lack of execution, the Cyclone offense rattled off 21 straight points, was helped by a punt return for a touchdown from Jarvis West, and completely dominated the second quarter.

The wheels came off again in the second half and Iowa State once again failed to score after halftime, but there were bright spots off and on through the third and fourth quarters.  Had the Cyclones converted one of their three 3rd/4th and short opportunities it's quite possible the game would have turned out different.

It was apparent that Mangino has a different approach than his predecessors.  Early and often the offense was trying to put the ball in West's hands, and when it worked it worked just about as well as we've seen an offense work in Ames the previous six years.

The commitment to the running game was apparent with DeVondrick Nealy and Aaron Wimberly combining for 24 rushes for 75 yards and a touchdown.  Those stats aren't good enough to win very many games, but it shows a commitment to moving the ball on the ground and keeping a defense honest.

As I rewatched the game I noticed that Kansas State's run blitzes weren't about trying to smash Iowa State.  They were designed around keeping Nealy and Wimberly from breaking out into the open field.  Teams are respecting these two and the passing game is starting to come around because of it.  I fully expect Iowa to treat the running game the same, and I expect Mangino and crew to have a plan to counter it.

Iowa Defense

The "wow" on Iowa's defense clearly comes up front with a stout defensive line that boats last week's Big 10 Player of the Week, Drew Ott.  Ott is finally allowing Iowa to have a semblance of a pass rush with the front four, but their strength lies in stopping the run with gap pluggers Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat stuffing the middle.

The Iowa offense did a wonderful job giving Ball State short fields last week but it was the defensive line that came up spades and held the Cardinals to just 90 yards rushing on 36 attempts.  This ability to stop the run when it matters is once again going to make Iowa one of the best red zone defenses in the country and force teams to think creatively when it comes to putting the ball in the end zone.

That said, there are some weak points on this defense.  All three linebackers are being broke in after the departures of stalwarts James Morris, Christian Kirksey, and Anthony Hitchens.  In their place stands Bo Bower (RFr), Quinton Alston (Sr), and Reggie Spearman (So).  The group can be talented, but is young and will continue to struggle in the pass game.  Especially with a safety like John Lowdermilk backing them up.

Credit to Iowa though, they still adhere to the philosophy of winning and losing games on the ground, and running on this defense is going to be tough sledding not only on Saturday, but all season.

The Stats

5 - The number of trips opponents have made in to Iowa's red zone, and also the number of field goals they've come away with.  That's right, Iowa has yet to allow a red zone touchdown this season.

The Match Up

If last week is any indication then this type of offense for Iowa State is exactly the type of offense that has undone Iowa in the past.  Jet sweeps and plays that attack the edges all but wash out the defensive line advantage Iowa possesses and forces the linebackers and secondary into situations in space they're not yet comfortable with.  Mangino will no doubt keep that up this week and work to get West open in space again and get E.J. Bibbs open underneath and in the flats.  Bibbs matching up one on one with one of the linebackers, or worse yet Lowdermilk, is a great thing for the Cyclones.

Iowa won't move off their bread and butter.  They'll focus on stopping the run and bring more heat on 3rd down with Phil Parker at the helm than they did years ago when Norm Parker was calling the shots for the defense.  Just like NDSU and Kansas State, the Hawkeyes will run blitz early and keep Nealy and Wimberly in check and help lengthen drives.

Last week Kansas State did a great job with Ryan Mueller on the zone read and his speed and size allowed him to straddle that line between crashing and containing, which all but forced Sam Richardson to give up the ball.  Ott isn't as good as Mueller but a similar game plan to stop the zone read will likely be employed.  Ott will contain enough to force Richardson to give, and trust in his big boys in the middle to keep those gaps filled.  I'm not sure if Mangino will do it, but I would counter this with some inside reads, quick hand offs, and/or the same zone read with a kick out block from someone like Bibbs.

At the end of the day the Cyclones have to find some success on the ground if they're seriously going to contend in this game.

Iowa Offense

Just like the defense, Iowa's offense isn't likely to do anything special in this game.  Teams figured out in the off season that the recipe for success is to stuff the box to stop the run, make Jake Rudock beat you with his arm, and Greg Davis beat you with his mind.  As long as this keeps happening, it isn't going to be tough sledding for most teams:

Gregdavis3rdand5_medium

via www.austinpost.org

I've had a few Hawkeye fans tell me that part of the problem is the apparent running back depth has resulted in touches being spread around too much and no one develops a hot hand.  Let me tell you, we can relate.  Five different non-QB rushers handled the ball last week, and Mark Weisman led with six carries.  The leading rusher based on touches? Rudock.  Again, we can relate.

That being said, this version of the Greg Davis offense seems to be emphasizing throwing to open up the run and Rudock threw 52 times for 322 yards and two touchdowns.  Not bad, but that 6.2 yards per attempt number is dangerously close to what Richardson is doing in Ames.

All of this is a long way of saying the two offenses are more similar than people might think, and now Iowa loses tackle Brandon Scherff for this weekend's game.

Iowa State Defense

Fortunately for Iowa the Iowa State defense doesn't fall into the "most teams" category.  The lack of depth is readily apparent in the front seven and stopping the run has all but been impossible without significant help from the safeties.  This is going to continue to be a theme throughout the season and teams like Iowa, built with a strong offensive line, should capitalize on it.

Jevohn Miller played well in his move to MIKE last week, but Drake Ferch and Luke Knott are not built to muck it up inside with most teams.  Without the defensive line keeping those guys clean it's not going to be uncommon to see teams rack up five or six yards per carry the entire year.

There are some bright spots in the passing game though.  Miller's move to MIKE has allowed him to control the middle of the field rather than read receivers and make decisions on where to drop in his zone, and Nigel Tribune and Sam E. Richardson played very well against the Kansas State receivers last week.  Richardson gave up a long play to Tyler Lockett early, but that was aided by a slip and Richardson caught back up to keep the touchdown from happening.  Tribune finally got the opportunity to press his man, and late in the game all but negated Lockett's involvement in the game.

One of the biggest keys to this game will be whether or not the safeties can improve in run support.  Kamari Cotton-Moya is well on his way to being a fantastic safety, but his counterpart T.J. Mutcherson needs to work heavily on his pursuit angles against an Iowa team whose zone blocking can punish you with cutbacks.  If Mutcherson can do that I think Iowa is going to have a hard time getting downhill with consistency.

The Stats

9 - The amount of trips that the Iowa State defense has allowed to their red zone.  The resulting scores have been six rushing touchdowns and three field goals.  Both Iowa and Iowa State rank in the bottom of the country in red zone defense because of the scoring, but obviously Iowa State's struggles are more pronounced.

The Match Up

Wally Burnham is going to stuff the box and try to stop the run.  We all now that.  What's going to matter the most is how well the defensive line can string out plays, and how the linebackers and safeties fit into their gaps.  If Miller and Mutcherson continue to over pursue then we're going to see Iowa eat up some of the yards on the ground they're known for.

The Iowa State defense isn't deep enough to stop the run, and probably has the worst defensive line of Iowa's three opponents to date, but they're going to make Iowa earn every yard and force Rudock to win with his arm.  There's also the edge that Iowa State has by the mere fact Iowa uses Greg Davis to call plays, and I full expect some boneheaded play calling to help keep the Cyclones close.

Rudock has plenty of receiving tools at his disposal, and if the run game starts clicking then tight end Jake Duzey will have a big day.  Like a lot of Iowa's teams in the past, if the tight end gets going it's going to be a long day for the defense.

If Iowa State can put Iowa into 3rd and long situations I'll be curious how Burnham's "quick" package of smaller pass rushers matches up with an Iowa line that hasn't been impressive yet this year and loses their anchor.

Special Teams

We're going to see Cole Netten this week, I can just about guarantee that.  Iowa's stout red zone defense coupled with Iowa State's inability to get tough yards on the ground all but seals the deal with Netten getting his first field goal attempt of the season.

I'd be very surprised to see West bust another punt return this week.  Iowa punter Dillon Kidd is only averaging 37 yards per punt, and that's such a short distance that Iowa's gunners have a huge advantage in coverage.

The kick return game oddly favors Iowa given how teams are playing Iowa State's dynamic duo, and Jordan Canzeri or Jonathan Parker can flip field position if Netten boots one short this week and gives them a head of steam.

WRNL Beer Pick of the Week

This week we're staying home and going with an Iowa beer most of our readers should be familiar with, but has never been featured in this space.  Toppling Goliath's PseudoSue is one of the best pale ales in the area, and possibly ever.  They now bottle and distribute throughout the state, but good luck getting your hands on one of these bombers without knowing someone or having a bit of luck.

Final Analysis

This has the potential to be a game that Iowa State could come in and absolutely sledgehammer Iowa.  The design of the offense is exactly what has given Iowa fits in the past, and their own offense fails to get out of its own way for large chunks of the game.  Mangio was brought in to improve a stale offense and showcase its players and showed last week he has every intention of doing just that.  Now the mental game is what needs to be fixed.

Rece Davis mentioned it in our discussion, we all noted it in the comments, and it's apparent after two weeks of being shut out in the second half.  This team is learning to win between the ears.  When they can do that then we'll see some of the best play of the Paul Rhoads Era.

However, it's just too much to expect the team to do that this week.  It's the first road trip of the season, it's in a stadium that is notoriously tough to win in, and the defense is still learning to be something above functional.

As rivalry games tend to happen, neither team will look impressive in this game.  There will be errors early, defenses playing better than they deserve to, and strange bounces that leave us all scratching our heads.

Iowa hasn't been impressive this year, there's no denying that, but there's also no denying that they have found a way to win when Iowa State hasn't.  That confidence, coupled with better lines on both sides of the ball, will be enough to push the Hawkeyes over the hump for a second straight year.

Final Score

Iowa 27

Iowa State 20