Iowa State hosts rival Iowa in one of the must-see matchups for college football’s Week 3 slate this Saturday. Even though this isn’t a matchup of top 25 teams, there’s plenty at stake in Ames. Bragging rights between these two rivals are up for grabs, and the teams will be playing for the Cy-Hawk Trophy.
Iowa is off to a 2-0 start thanks to wins over Miami (Ohio) and Rutgers this season. The Hawkeyes beat the RedHawks 38-14 in the opener and dominated the Scarlet Knights 30-0 last Saturday. After the win over Rutgers last week, Iowa moved up a spot to No. 19 in the latest Associated Press poll. Coach Kirk Ferentz’s squad was predicted to finish near the top of the Big Ten West Division, but a tough schedule awaits this team. The Hawkeyes play at Michigan, Northwestern, Wisconsin, Nebraska and host Penn State, Purdue and Minnesota in conference action. In other words, the road doesn’t get easier after this rivalry game for Ferentz.
Iowa State is a program on the rise under fourth-year coach Matt Campbell. The Cyclones finished 3-9 in his first season but posted back-to-back 8-5 campaigns over the last two years. Iowa State’s improvement under Campbell netted the program a spot (No. 21) in the first Associated Press poll and finished a handful of votes outside of the top 25 going into Week 3. A strong defense leads the way for the Cyclones, with quarterback Brock Purdy easing into his first full season as the No. 1 quarterback in Ames. Iowa State opened the 2019 season with an overtime victory over Northern Iowa and did not play in Week 2. The open date allowed the Cyclones to get some extra prep on their rival, as well as nurse a few injuries from the opener.
Iowa holds a 44-22 series edge over Iowa State. The Hawkeyes have won five out of the last six in this series. The Cyclones last win came in 2014.
Iowa at Iowa State
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 14 at 4 p.m. ET
Spread: Iowa -2.5
When Iowa Has the Ball
The sample size is small (two games) and the opponents will get tougher, but Iowa’s offense is off to a good start in 2019. The Hawkeyes average 6.27 yards a play – up from 5.44 last season. Iowa enters Week 3 averaging 34 points a game and already has three plays of 40 yards or more.
The success of this group starts under center with senior quarterback Nate Stanley. Over 13 starts last year, Stanley threw for 2,852 yards and 26 touchdowns. He’s off to a blistering start in 2019, as the senior hasn’t thrown an interception and has passed for 488 yards and six touchdowns over 37 completions. Ihmir Smith-Marsette (18.5 ypc) is the team’s top big-play threat, with Nico Ragaini (four catches), Tyrone Tracy (four) and Brandon Smith (five) rounding out the key weapons on the outside. The departure of Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson created a void at tight end, but Shaun Beyer and Nate Wieting form a capable duo.
Steady ground attacks and strong play in the trenches are nothing new to the Hawkeyes. That’s once again the case in 2019, as Iowa’s offensive line should rank among the best in the Big Ten. Left tackle Alaric Jackson is out for a couple of weeks due to an injury suffered in the opener, prompting Tristan Wirfs – a potential high draft pick in the 2020 NFL Draft – to flip to the left side. Freshman Tyler Linderbaum anchors the interior at center, and he will be tested in Saturday’s matchup against Iowa State nose guard Ray Lima. Mekhi Sargent ran for 91 yards in the opener against Miami (Ohio) and posted 59 against Rutgers last Saturday. He’s the No. 1 back, but Toren Young and freshman Tyler Goodson will see time.
Iowa State led the Big 12 in scoring defense last season and is expected to rank near the top of the league once again. Lima is one of the nation’s most underrated players as an anchor in the trenches and in leading a stout run defense that held teams to just 115 yards a game last season. End JaQuan Bailey (eight sacks in 2018) is a standout pass rusher off the edge, while active linebackers Mike Rose and Marcel Spears help to close the gaps versus the run. The biggest question for Iowa State’s defense comes in the secondary with two new starters at cornerback.
Last year’s matchup provides some insight into how this game could play out between these two units. Iowa managed only 271 yards and no rush went longer than 11 yards. However, the Hawkeyes connected on a combined 10 passes to Hockenson and Fant, with Smith-Marsette grabbing a 45-yard reception. Iowa had only one drive longer than 40 yards in last year’s matchup, which just happened to be 83 yards to essentially seal the game in the fourth quarter.
Iowa’s offense may not find much room to run against Iowa State’s front. For the Hawkeyes to win, this game is likely to fall on Stanley’s right arm and how well the line holds up against Lima and a tough Cyclones' defensive front.
When Iowa State Has the Ball
How Iowa State's offense would perform without running back David Montgomery and receiver Hakeem Butler was the biggest question mark surrounding Matt Campbell's team this preseason. Despite having those two standouts on the roster last year, the Cyclones averaged only 26.8 points a game and did not score more than 30 points in five out of their last six contests.
Iowa State’s offense recorded 463 yards (5.4 ypp), converted 7 of 18 third-down attempts and committed only one turnover in the opener. While those numbers aren’t bad, there’s certainly room to improve. With Montgomery off to the NFL, Campbell and coordinator Tom Manning are leaning on a committee approach at running back. Johnnie Lang paced the offense with 60 yards in the opener, followed by Sheldon Croney (56) and Breece Hall (47). However, none of three running backs tallied a rush longer than 14 yards in the opener. The passing attack also featured its share of good and bad. Quarterback Brock Purdy connected on 30 of 41 passes for 278 yards and two scores but no pass went longer than 21 yards. Deshaunte Jones grabbed 14 passes for 126 yards, with Charlie Kolar (four for 45 yards) and La’Michael Pettway also involved. Iowa will be missing a couple of key players in the secondary, as cornerbacks Riley Moss and Julius Brents and safety Kaevon Merriweather are out.
Iowa State needs Purdy to have a good game to win on Saturday, but the biggest key is the matchup in the trenches. The Cyclones have experienced uneven play in the trenches under Campbell, and this year’s group returned all five starters. The experience coming back provided optimism for improvement. Saturday’s game against Iowa will be a huge test for this group and should provide Campbell and his staff of where it stands before Big 12 play begins on Sept. 28. The Hawkeyes own one of college football’s top defensive lines and have held opponents to 68.5 rushing yards a game in 2019. Additionally, this unit is holding teams to 2.9 yards per rush. End A.J. Epenesa is one of the nation’s top defenders and will be tough to contain off the edge. One injury note to watch: Iowa State center Colin Newell was injured in the opener and is questionable to go on Saturday.
In last year’s matchup, Iowa State managed only 19 rushing yards on 25 carries. Winning on Saturday starts up front. If the Cyclones can keep Epenesa away from Purdy on passing downs, while opening up a little bit of room for Croney, Hall and Lang, exceeding last year’s yardage (188) and points (three) in this rivalry should be attainable. Purdy's ability to make plays on the ground or avoid the rush will be an x-factor to watch on Saturday.
Points are going to be at a premium. A close game should also be expected considering seven out of the last eight matchups in this rivalry were decided by 14 points or less. Both Iowa and Iowa State bring standout defenses to the matchup on Saturday. With two weeks to address some of the concerns from the opener against Northern Iowa, along with a homefield advantage, the Cyclones have a few factors working in their favor. However, the Hawkeyes have a small edge on offense, which helps this team pull out a win in the fourth quarter.