The battle for in-state bragging rights heats up in Iowa this weekend, as the Iowa Hawkeyes travel an hour west of Iowa City to visit in-state rivalIowa State in Ames for the annual Cy-Hawk Trophy series. Both teams are coming off wins in the opening weekend, with Iowa handing the Wyoming Cowboys and potential NFL first-round draft pick Josh Allen a 24-3 road loss, while Iowa State handled its in-state little brothers from Northern Iowa by a less convincing margin than the 42-24 score would indicate.
Both teams leaned heavily on veteran leadership on the defensive side of the ball in opening weekend action, with the Hawkeyes warming up rookie starters at the quarterback and wide receiver positions. The Cyclones opened with a more experienced offensive unit, albeit one without a lenghty record of credentials associated with it.
This will be the 65th meeting in the series, with Iowa holding a 42-22 all-time advantage. The Hawkeyes are 18-8 all-time in games played in Ames, including winning two straight at Jack Trice Stadium.
Iowa at Iowa State
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 9 at 12 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN2
Spread: Iowa -2.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Can the Hawkeyes find an offense to match their defense?
The Hawkeyes scored 24 points against Wyoming, but most of the scoring came as a result of strong defensive stands. Iowa's first three possessions of the game took only 4:03 off the clock, produced back-to-back-to-back three-and-outs, and saw sophomore quarterback Nathan Stanley go 0-for-4 including an interception as the Hawkeyes gained a total of 12 yards. By the end of the game, Stanley was a less-than-impressive 8-for-15 for 125 yards, three TDs and one interception as Iowa finished with just 260 total yards of offense. But as it often does in these situations, the Hawkeyes’ defense took control, led by senior linebacker Josey Jewell’s 14 tackles (seven solo). More importantly, Jewell got behind the line to take down highly touted Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen twice, and he picked up 2.5 tackles for a loss and one pass breakup as the Cowboys were held to just three points and 233 total yards. Jewell was named the Walter Camp National Defensive Player of the Week for his performance.
2. Can the Cyclones continue their balance?
No one said it better than the Cyclone player who had this to say to a local reporter after the game: “Our defense was our offense,” regarding the first half performances of both units. Iowa State got on the board early thanks to three interceptions in the first half, including back-to-back pick-sixes from Willie Harvey (12-yard return) and Kamari Cotton-Moya (22-yard return). The defensive support on the scoreboard allowed the offense plenty of time to find its rhythm, as quarterback Jacob Park and wide receiver Allen Lazard (above, right) finally got things going and the Cyclones finished with 405 yards of total offense. Running back David Montgomery contributed 82 on the ground as Iowa State put together a fairly balanced attack. A similar effort will be needed against Iowa to keep Jewell and the Hawkeyes’ defense on its toes and guessing Saturday afternoon.
3. Who steps up for the Hawkeyes?
Iowa did potentially identify a pair of offensive weapons in the win over Wyoming. Tight end Noah Fant (2 rec., 29 yards) and wide receiver Nick Easley (4, 77) helped out in the passing game, while running back Akrum Wadley did his usual damage (24 carries, 116 yards) with his legs. Wadley’s production out of the backfield will be key for the Hawkeyes if they want to contend for the Big Ten West Division title, but he will need help. Maybe this is the game senior wide receiver Matt VandeBerg gets going, but for Iowa to have success against Iowa State through the air, Stanley will need to improve upon an inconsistent and often times sloppy performance against the Cowboys. The Hawkeyes instead may decide to rely on Wadley and backfield mate James Butler to try and grind out another win over the Cyclones.
Both these teams will continue to break in young offenses, meaning this game has all the makings of a low-scoring, slug-it-out defensive battle – the kind Iowa knows how to win, and Iowa State hopes to learn to finish. But while the Cyclones’ defense looked impressive early against Northern Iowa, it did little to prepare them for facing Hawkeyes running back Akrum Wadley. But don't get the wrong idea. The predicted final score has less to do with the defensive strength of these teams compared to the lackluster offenses each displayed last week. Yes, Iowa State won by 18 points, but take away those early pick-sixes and that games looks like a toss-up. And yes Iowa nearly shut out a Wyoming offense led by projected first-round pick Josh Allen, but the Hawkeyes’ own offense offered minimal support. I've said it before, but this is definitely a “something's gotta give” sort of game for both of these teams. In the end, Iowa's defense proves to be too tough for Matt Campbell's young Iowa State team.
Prediction: Iowa 17, Iowa State 7
– Written by Robert A. Boleyn, a UCLA-trained screenwriter and member of the Athlon Contributor Network since 2015. He attended both the University of Iowa and UCLA, and after nearly 25 years in Southern California now calls the Greater Chicago area home. Follow him on Twitter @BoleynRobert.