Opponent preview: Iowa State Cyclones

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AMES, IA – SEPTEMBER 14: Defensive end Chauncey Golston #57, left, and defensive end A.J. Epenesa #94 of the Iowa Hawkeyes carry the Iowa Corn Cy-Hawk Trophy off the field after winning 18-17 over the Iowa State Cyclones at Jack Trice Stadium on September 14, 2019 in Ames, Iowa. The Iowa Hawkeyes won 18-17 over the Iowa State Cyclones. (Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images)

 

It’s one of the biggest weeks of the year for Hawkeye football: Cy-Hawk week. Moon Family Head Football Coach Kirk Ferentz called the game “good for our state” when talking about the rivalry.

It’s back after a year off and the hype has never been higher. The game is set to be a top-10 matchup for the first time ever and College Gameday will be in Ames.

Head coach Matt Campbell is coming off his most successful season at Iowa State, with a Big 12 championship and Fiesta Bowl win over Oregon. He’s quickly built the Cyclones into a premier Big 12 team, going 33-19 over the last four years, but hasn’t found success yet against the Hawkeyes. Here’s a look at this year’s Iowa State team.

Series Quick Facts

Number of games: 67
First meeting: October 1, 1894; Iowa State, 16-8
Last meeting: September 14, 2019; Iowa, 18-17
All-time series: Iowa, 45-22
Current win streak: Iowa, 5 (2015-present)
Longest win streak: Iowa, 15 (1983-1997)

Offense

The Iowa State offense didn’t have the best showing last week, putting up just 16 points against FCS-level Northern Iowa, but it’s a unit riddled with All-American and all-conference talent. It starts with junior all-American running back Breece Hall. As a sophomore, he led all of college football with 1,572 yards.

“He’s just an extraordinary player,” coach Ferentz said. “He can do a lot of things that a back his size normally wouldn’t be able to do, but he can do them. He’s a big back. There’s really not much that we’ve seen that he can’t do.”

They all also have to deal with a veteran quarterback in Brock Purdy who’s very accomplished himself. He was voted first-team all-Big 12 by coaches last year. His last full season in 2019, he threw for nearly 4,000 yards, 27 touchdowns and only nine interceptions. So obvoiusly he’s a dangerous passer, but his ability to use his legs might be the Hawkeyes biggest challenge.

“We just need to be able to contain him and keep him in the pocket,” junior defensive end Joe Evans said. “We need to do what we can and be able to execute.” 

His targets are an impressive bunch as well. They have a couple of seniors at wide receiver in preseason all-Big 12 selection Xavier Hutchison and Tarique Milton. Hutchinson was their top receiever a week ago with 88 yards on seven catches.

Included in that group are a couple of super experienced super senior tight ends. Charlie Kolar is the headliner, being the preseason AP first-team All-American. He missed last week’s contest due to an injury, but is expected to play this week. His fellow starter is 2020 all-Big second-teamer Chase Allen. That could mean a bigger role for Jestin Jacobs this week.

“Yeah, that’s possible,” coach Ferentz said of an expanded role for Jestin. “If there’s been one shift over the years, the last couple years, it’s personnel that they play to, but it’s like anybody else; if you have good players you tend to try to get them on the field as much as possible, and last year they had three really good tight ends.”

The offensive line might the most experienced they see all season and one of the most talented, with two All-Big 12 selections. They play up to four seniors and during the offseason Coach Campbell said this could be the best line he’s had at Iowa State.

Defense

While the offense might be more decorated, the Iowa State 3-3-5 defensive scheme presents a unique challenge. It’s something the Hawkeyes seldom see playing in the Big 10.

“It affects everything you do, it’s unique,” Coach Ferentz said. “They’re a disciplined team. They don’t hurt themselves with penalties, turnovers, so it’s a pretty good combination for winning football games, and I think that’s one of the reasons we’ve seen them be as successful.”

So what does that mean for the Iowa offense? They’ll likely see a lot of defensive backs on the field. Generally that means a lot of speed, so its important to try to neutralize that.

“Their defense is very aggressive,” junior running back Tyler Goodson said. “We’re doing our best to get our linemen up to the secondary, to make sure we can run the ball strong.”

Attention to details will also be paramount.

“The main focal point of being ready for their defense is knowing my assignments and knowing what I have to do,” Goodson said. “I have to be patient in the run game. My eyes have to be detailed in the pass game, because they do bring blitzes from time to time, but it’s not often. So I have to make sure I’m locked in and reading my keys.”

The group is led by 2020 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and preseason first-team All-American senior linebacker Mike Rose. Last season, he led the team in interceptions and tackles for loss.

Outside of Rose, other players to watch is three-time first-team All-Big 12 safety Greg Eisworth and defensive end Will McDonald who led the nation in sacks last year.

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