It is the Super Bowl for the state of Iowa. It's the biggest event for the state over a 365 day period. It is one of the best rivalries in the nation, and it's happening in exactly 6 days. Iowa is 14 point favorites (big surprise?), but Iowa State is coming of a dominating and impressive win over Northern Illinois. This game has all the makings to be one of the best Cy-Hawk games in recent years. Let's take a look at what the Hawkeyes and Cyclones need to do to pull out a victory.
Reisner and company have to build some continuity going into Week 2
The offensive line was the question mark going into the season for Iowa, and it still is a looming question going into the Cy-Hawk game. Their run blocking is not a problem, but the pass protection was somewhat suspect. Eastern Illinois was in the backfield for almost half of Ricky Stanzi's passing attempts. Iowa is going to be forced to throw against an Iowa State defense that held All-American Chad Spann to less than 85 yards rushing. Luckily for Iowa though, ISU defensive line was very inconsistent against Northern Illinois. But in order to be successful and to outscore Iowa State, the Hawkeyes are going to need to build some continuity up front and protect Ricky Stanzi.
Stanzi needs to have a 'reliable' game
Stanzi tore apart an Eastern Illinois defense, completing 18 of 23 passing attempts and throwing for over 200 yards. He also threw for 2,400 yards last year. But Stanzi has been suspect for being very inconsistent at times. Iowa needs the consistent Ricky Stanzi, and what I mean by that is he needs to complete around 60% of his passes, have no turnovers and throw for 250+ yards. Which will not be an easy task, throwing against an ISU secondary that returns 3 starters, and a defense that had 3 interceptions last week. If Ken O'Keefe keeps with the play action tosses to the Allen Reisner, Iowa should be in good shape.
It's The Return Of Jewel Hampton, which kind of scares me a little bit. He hasn't played a down of football in almost 17 months. He's hungry, and he wants the rock. When he gets the rock, he's going to be a force to be reckoned with. Adam Robinson could use a break against this physical Iowa State team. Don't forget, Jewel Hampton still ran for over 400+ yards in the same year that Shonn Greene won the Doak Walker Award for Iowa. Look for him to make the most of his carries...
Don't underestimate the one-barred helmets!
Don't underestimate the guys that aren't on offense or defense. Iowa State won the Cy-Hawk Trophy in 2007 off of 5 field goals from Des Moines Native Brett Culbertson. In 2008, Andy Brodell took a punt return to the house, that ultimately changed the course of the game. Looking at special teams-wise, Iowa clearly has the upper hand, and they need to use that to their advantage. They have the better kicker(s) and punter. Daniel Murray is on the Lou Groza list and Ryan Donahue is arguably the best punter in the country. Meanwhile, in Ames, Grant Mahoney opened up the game with a 44 yard shank that looked like it was being telegraphed to North Dakota, and the Cyclones are now in a battle for a starting spot at the punting position between a senior and a freshman.
Kirk Ferentz needs to keep his team focused during Cy-Hawk Week
Yes, every Iowa fan across the country has heard the rumors that if Iowa goes 12-0 or 11-1, they could possibly be Big 10 Champions and in the National Title game. But in order to do so, their toughest opponents will be Wisconsin and Ohio State.
Woah. Back up the truck a few weeks. If the Hawkeyes get upset by the "little brother out West", you can kiss those "National Title" rumors and thoughts goodbye. Take it one game at a time. This game won't be easy.
Arnaud needs to have a big game to give ISU a shot at an upset
For the first time since I can remember, Austen Arnaud will put Cyclone fans through "The Stanzi Factor" in a big game. If he plays to his potential (Completes 65% of his passes, throws 2-3 TD passes, throws 0-1 interception), the Cyclones are in business But if he plays like he has a history of doing so (Completing under 50% of his passes and throwing 3-5 picks), then you can guaruntee that they Cy-Hawk Trophy will be staying put in Iowa City. But Arnaud's opening night last Thursday was very impressive, completing 75% of his passes and throwing for 265 yards, and that has some Cyclone fans excited to see what the future holds for this Cyclone Senior. Quarterbacks are supposed to have bad memories, but you can be sure that Arnaud remembers the 4 interceptions and the 35-3 butt kicking last year. He wants to beat Iowa as the starter. Brett Meyer did it. Seneca Wallace did it. Sage Rosenfels did it. Now it's Arnaud's turn.
The Iowa State defense was expected to be the weakpoint of the team going into camp this fall. But the Cyclone defense stunned many by holding Northern Illinois's All-American running back Chad Spann to 80 yards rushing on 17 carries. Iowa State also only surrendured 10 points to the Huskies and had 3 interceptions, two by Jake Knott. But Iowa will be a much more daunting task. A Davey O'Brien Watch List quarterback, a running back that ran for 109 yards and 3 TD's on Saturday, and a very talented core of wide receivers. Iowa State is going to need to keep Iowa to 21 points or less in order to win this ballgame...
Now, we all know how great Iowa's defensive line is. They are arguably the best group up front in the nation. Adrian Clayborn has some people thinking he's the next Ndamukong Suh, and Christian Ballard, Karl Klug, and Broderck Binns are no easy task, either. Which means Kelechi Osemele, Alex Alverez, Ben Lamaak, Heyworth Hicks, and Brandon Burris are going to have to play outstanding and give Arnaud at least 4-6 seconds to make a play. Running the ball should not be that big of a problem. Iowa still has inexperienced linebackers and Alexander Robinson ran for the century mark last year against the same exact defensive line. If Arnaud gets time, that gives him a better chance to make good decisions with his arm.
Arguably the Big 12's best running back
The best player on Iowa State's roster is Alexander Robinson. Robinson is, in my opinion, the best running back in the Big 12, and the second best back in the Midwest. He reached 100 yards rushing last year against the Hawkeyes, and ran for 97 yards off of 19 attempts and two touchdowns. The offense will need a big game out of Austen Arnaud, but if things don't work out that way, look for Robinson to get 20-30 touches. If he can have a huge game, that should keep Iowa State in it.
Rhoads wants to change that Trophy into the Cy-Hawk Trophy
Iowa State has everything to gain and nothing to lose. Knocking off the #9th ranked Hawkeyes would send Hawkeye fans and their season into a downward spiral. Remember back in 2002? Iowa State came back to beat Iowa, 36-31. That was Iowa's only loss in 2002, and ended up costing them a chance at the national title. That game was also played at Iowa City.
And the last time Iowa State played a Top 10 Iowa team, they won, 23-3 back in 2005. Could this be a coincidence? Or even destiny? Probably not. Considering Iowa is still huge favorites to win this game. But trust me that Paul Rhoads will have his boys ready to play come September 11th in Iowa City.
The point sheet for the game is Iowa by 14. But don't get down Clone fans. Iowa is a beatable footballl team. Always have been, always will be. Just remember, the bigger they are, the harder they fall.
My prediction is Iowa State winning, 28-24. It just seems like one of those years where Iowa comes in overlooking their weaker opponent and Iowa State comes in with a chip on their shoulder and plays great. It will be a very close game regardless, though.
And that is really all that matters.