As part of a weekly tradition here at WRNL, we like to sit down with our opponent’s SBNation blog in a small, dimly lit room with no windows and asking
WHERE ARE THEY?!? them questions about this weekend’s game. Since South Dakota State doesn’t have an SBNation blog, our first one of the season will be from the Evil Empire Out East, as Max from BHGP was kind of enough to tell us where Harvey and Rachel are his thoughts on the CyHawk game this weekend.
1. Last week, Nate Stanley was inefficient, completing just 11 of 23 passes for 108 yards. Do you see this more as just first game rust, or is there concern for the passing game going forward?
Nate Stanley wasn’t very good this past week, but I think it had a lot more to do with rust than anything. His internal clock looked off, and he held onto the ball a bit more than he probably should’ve (one of which led to a forced fumble), but that was something he struggled with last year against Wyoming and that he mostly got out of his system as the year progressed.
On the other hand, his receiving corps really didn’t help him out all that much in this one. One of our writers rewatched the game and counted four or five drops by pass catchers, so ideally, he probably should’ve completed somewhere around 15 or 16 passes out of 23, which would indeed look a helluva lot better. His interception thrown was also a bit on both him and the receiver - Brandon Smith ran a go route/fade, got himself pinned between the sideline and his defender, and Stanley underthrew it a bit trying to throw a catchable ball, leading to the turnover. Stanley limited mistakes and usually overthrew the ball last season, so I think I’d chalk that up to him just trying a little too hard to make a play early in a close contest.
All-in-all, I’m not really worried about Stanley just yet. He had a great sophomore year and this is probably the second worst game of his career (2017 vs. Wisconsin being the obvious candidate for #1), and he should figure it out, particularly once Nick Easley, his favorite target last year, is more healthy. Hopefully things get back on track this week.
2. On the contrary, after a bit of a slow start, the running game got going (as it always does), with the team clearing 200 yards rushing for the game. We know that Iowa will be a run-first team until the heat death of the universe, but against teams with stiffer run defenses (like Iowa State), is that something the Hawks will be able to continue to rely on to win them games going forward?
Iowa did get off to a bit of a slow start, but they also had a few huge runs by Ivory Kelly-Martin negated because of penalties, including a couple questionable flags on the backside of plays. It still wouldn’t have been a perfect first half, but I think the Hawks would’ve put up some more points had drive-killing penalties not occurred.
I think something that Iowa does have working for them is that they have three capable running backs this season and will be able to play a heavy rotation to wear down defenses. IKM is questionable for this weekend’s contest, but Iowa still has Toren Young, who took his first carry for 40 yards last week, and Mekhi Sargent, a JUCO All-American last year at IWCC, and those two can still provide the kind of lightning/thunder combo that Iowa’s previously used to success. They’ll also have their starting tackles back this week, so the offensive line play should be improved moving forward as well.
Once Iowa opens the passing game up more - and after they really didn’t show a whole lot in Week 1, it should be a matter of when, not if - that will open up more doors for the ground attack. The Hawks are going to have to keep teams honest if they don’t want to go up against stacked boxes all season, as long as they’re able to do that, they should be able to run with success against just about anyone.
3. We all know about the plethora of talent along the Iowa defensive line, but how did the linebackers look last week?
They looked fine. Nick Niemann, younger brother of former multi-year starter Ben, made a great tackle for loss on fourth down in the first half and was actually pretty impressive despite garnering just four tackles. Likewise, Kristian Welsh looked good, leading the Hawks with 11 tackles and recording a strip sack in the second half.
The concern is that middle linebacker Amani Jones, who was really the biggest certainty of the group, had a really unimpressive game. The junior often was found out of position and ended up grabbing some pine, as Iowa chose to test Jack Hockaday the remainder of the game. He looked fine, and by fine, I mean he wasn’t incredibly noticeable on his way to five tackles, which certainly isn’t the worst thing. Hockaday is first on the depth chart leading into Week 2’s contest, but it’ll be interesting to see how the coaches decide to manage that situation against a much better running attack.
4. Give us a player on each side of the ball that Cyclone fans need to keep an eye on that we may not know about.
On offense, the only real pieces that you’ll notice that are totally different than last year are the running backs, all of whom are sophomores. IKM, Young, and Sargent are all going to carry the load for the Hawks this season, although in what order, it’s not really certain. Young had the best game last week while only receiving second half carries, while IKM started and logged 16 carries for 3.9 YPC (and those previously mentioned gains brought back because of penalties).
Also on offense is Brandon Smith. Smith was a non-factor in Week 1, but he saw the most snaps of any Iowa receiver and figures to be a relevant piece this season. He’s a bigger bodied receiver and looked like a capable run blocker, but it’ll be seen how much of an impact he has catching the ball.
On defense, it’s the linebackers. The defensive line is mostly the same and the secondary is also roughly the same, minus Manny Rugamba. I’ve said my piece on these guys.
5. David Montgomery had a huge game in last year’s El Assico! Now that he’s got Phil Parker’s attention, what do you see as the Hawks’ best mode of slowing him down and forcing Kyle Kempt to win the game with his arm?
I think the defensive line is going to play a pivotal role, as they’ll have a deeper rotation this week following the served suspensions of DTs Brady Reiff and Cedrick Lattimore. However, when Montgomery gets past these guys, it’s going to be entirely on the linebackers to look better than they did early last week against NIU because anyone who knows anything about Iowa knows they won’t abandon their base 4-3 for anything. If Jones plays, he absolutely needs to find himself in better position than he did last week, and if it’s Hockaday, I just hope he’ll be at least as solid as he was last week. If the linebackers stink defending against the run, it won’t matter whether or not Kempt is able to air it out, it’ll be tough to win.
6. With Iowa State’s first game being cancelled, the Cyclones will face an added challenge in having to shake off the rust and work out the kinks, while still trying to bring the CyHawk Trophy back to Ames. Iowa will also have an added wrinkle to deal with, as they will have essentially no game film on Iowa State, including a defense that changed dramatically last season after the Iowa game. Most agree that the Cyclones are at a slight net negative given those two factors, but how do you think Nate Stanley will respond to a 3-man front that he basically never sees, and has no game tape from this season to review?
Iowa played a couple teams last season that featured three-man fronts and those two teams couldn’t have been more different. On one hand, Stanley got to go up against the turnstile known as the Blackshirts, and boy oh boy did Iowa have their way with them to the tune of 56 points. On the other hand, I already mentioned the Wisconsin game, in which Stanley went 8-of-24 and Iowa didn’t score on offense. I’m not quite sure either really is a true representation of how Stanley and the Iowa offense can perform against a three-man front because, well, one team was a top-3 defense in the nation last year and the other allowed over 36 points per game.
Either way, it’ll be an interesting test for the Hawks. I think that if Easley is more available this week, Stanley will fare well enough because Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson are pretty solid safety valves, but I wouldn’t count on him repeating his numbers from last year’s edition of the Cy-Hawk game. I think that as long as the run game is effective, Iowa will take about a 57-60% completion percentage with at least 225-250 yards from the QB, although it’d be fun to watch him tear up the Cyclone defense for 330 yards and five touchdowns again.
7. #HateWeek has ramped up quite a bit over the last few season. Do you see it as an overall positive towards a strengthening rivalry, or a negative given some of the added vitriol?
Hmmm... the new guard has been in place at WRNL for a year now, while Ben and I have been in charge at BHGP for two full years. Coincidence? I think not.
In all seriousness, I think it’s a bit of a double-edged sword, although gun to my head, I’d say it’s probably more of a positive than a negative. It’s great for the rivalry because there’s a lot of life to it - the fans are engaged, the stadiums are full, and pride is on the line, which is exactly what you want from a rivalry, along with competitive games and relevant programs. This series has almost always had competitive games, with 44-41 barnburners and 9-6 stinkers, and finally, it looks like Iowa State is at least at or near the level of success that Iowa has been able to sustain for the better part of 20 years.
On the other hand, sometimes it just feels kind of tedious because of the vitriol you mentioned, but I think that really gets amplified by the keyboard warriors on Twitter. Even then, I’d say that this rivalry tends to get incredibly personal very quickly, even in comparison to other rivalries that Iowa is apart of. I think a lot of that has to do with how proud each fan base is of the university they root for, but it’s just a personal observation of mine in the last couple years. Maybe I’m off-base.
Whatever the case is, it’s a good rivalry with a lot of life, and as long as these two teams are performing, it should stay hot.
8. If Iowa wins on Saturday, what are you expecting to be writing about on Sunday? Same question for Iowa State.
I can imagine that if Iowa wins, we’ll probably be talking about how this team could make some noise this season with a weak conference schedule that doesn’t feature Michigan, Ohio State, or Michigan State. If this ISU team is as good as they’re expected to be - and I think they should be - this is a huge barometer for success for the Hawks and a win would show me enough to convince me that they’ll be competitive with Wisconsin in the Big Ten West.
If they lose, it’ll really depend on how the loss looks. A close game? We’ll probably talk about what went wrong and what needs to get fixed in order to compete for a division title this season. A blowout? Well, I’m not really sure, because I honestly haven’t really entertained the idea until now. I guess we’d find out, huh?
9. It’s time. Who do ya got?
I think both teams are going to put up some points in this one, although nothing close to last year. I like Iowa, though, as Nate finds his way and Toren Young bruises his way to 100 yards. The defensive line makes things tough on the Cyclones, but Montgomery will also get his with an inexperienced linebacking crew. Iowa 27, ISU 23.
Then again, what do I know? They might put up 200 points.