Iowa Football: Breaking Down the Matchups as the Hawkeyes Take on the Cyclones
This week, the Iowa Hawkeyes will face the Iowa State Cyclones in the 35th meeting of these interstate rivals.
This will be the first time since the renewing of the series in 1977 that there won't be a permanent trophy. The reason there won't be a permanent trophy is because the Iowa Corn Growers Association is too narcissistic, self-congratulating and just plain stupid to consider that a weak Norman Rockwell sculpture (yes, I realize Norman Rockwell didn't sculpt) doesn't make for a good football trophy.
In truth, they should go back to lobbying Congress to make corn syrup a "vegetable" and stay out of football, but that's not going to happen.
The inevitable end result is that we'll be stuck with some silly trophy that is only slightly less obnoxious than the recently-shelved one when the best thing the Cy-Hawk Trophy could do is retire.
Of course, the trophy doesn't take away from a great game and a great football series that I can only hope doesn't end with the Big Ten's expansion to nine conference games.
Nonetheless, that expansion won't happen until 2017, and until then, Iowa and Iowa State fans will still play for yearly bragging rights.
This season, as is usual, Iowa is the heavy favorite. Vegas is currently giving Iowa seven points. As with last week, I wouldn't take those odds, primarily because you can usually throw the spread out with this game.
Despite Kirk Ferentz's recent domination over the Clones, there is always a lingering fear that Iowa State will play like they're the Pittsburgh Steelers just for this game. Or conversely, Iowa will choke and play like they are the Dubuque School for the Blind.
On the other hand, if Iowa does win, they will probably win by more than seven.
Either way, there are always some intriguing, if not tangible, matchups in this game, and here are a few of them.
Of note, with an Iowa win, the only two true seniors left on the team—Shaun Prater and Brad Herman—will have never experienced a loss to ISU.
Dominic Alvis/Lebron Daniel vs Kelechi Osemele
WalterFootball.com ranks Osemele as the top guard prospect in this year's class, and he is projected to go in the first round in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Though he projects as an NFL guard, he plays left tackle for ISU. This means he will mostly go up against Dominic Alvis and Lebron Daniel.
Last season, Osemele went up against Adrian Clayborn, and generally speaking, Clayborn won the matchup.
However, Osemele is is one full season older and more experienced, while Dominic Alvis is not yet where Clayborn was and Lebron Daniel never will be there.
In short, Osemele is the top individual lineman the Iowa defense will face all year, outside of Riley Reiff, who the Hawk defenders face in practice.
Of course, one lineman does not make a line, but he will play a large part in protecting Steel Jantz's blind side, and sealing off the end when the Clones run stretch plays to his side.
Q: How do you make Iowa State cookies?
Iowa Defensive Line vs Steele Jantz's Legs
Steele Jantz seemed to have some accuracy problems against Northern Iowa. I'll get back to that shortly, but where he failed with his arm, he produced with his legs.
In all, Jantz had 20 rushes for 75 yards and two touchdowns.
I didn't watch the ISU-UNI game, so I don't know how many of Jantz's rushing yards came from broken plays and how many were designed rushing plays. I tried to find Iowa State blogs and such that could help me out, but Iowa State fans don't write.
That said, against Tennessee Tech, the Hawks controlled the line of scrimmage, and easily made their way to the backfield. The problem was they failed to wrap up the quarterback on multiple occasions.
This was against Tennessee Tech and their quarterback Tre Lamb. Jantz will probably be tougher to secure.
In this game, the Iowa defensive linemen will not only have to get into the backfield, but they will also be expected to contain. Finally, when they have the chance, they will need to either wrap up Jantz or force him to make bad decisions, which, judging by last week, shouldn't be that difficult to do.
A: Put them in a big Bowl and beat for three hours.
Steele Jantz's Arm vs Iowa's Secondary
And speaking of forcing Jantz to make mistakes, last week Jantz completed 45 percent of his passes and threw three interceptions to one touchdown.
According to Travis Hines of the Times-Republican (okay, Iowa State fans write a little), the first of Jantz's picks was a tipped pass that he threw behind his receiver. The second pick was overthrown, which was a problem former ISU quarterback Austen Arnaud had as well, and, according to Hines, was a problem that plagued Jantz throughout the game.
I don't know about the third pick, because Hines stopped writing at the half. That said, Jantz didn't appear much better in the second half, completing only 43.8 percent of his passes over the final two quarters.
Needless to say, while ISU might work out some kinks this week, Iowa's defense will be better than UNI's. More specifically, along with Texas A&M's Coryell Judie, Shaun Prater is the best cornerback Jantz and Iowa State will face all year.
It seems evident that if Iowa can force Jantz off his game, he will duplicate Arnaud's performances of 2009 and 2010, and start repeatedly throwing to the wrong team.
That will leave him ripe for the picking for Iowa's secondary.
Q: What’s the difference between Iowa State and cereal?
Paul Rhoads vs the Schedule
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
According to Phil Steele, ISU faces the 11th toughest schedule in the country.
In all, they face nine teams that made a bowl last season, including two teams that made BCS bowls. Moreover, one of the three teams that didn't make a bowl last season—Texas—is likely to make one this year.
Three of ISU's 2011 opponents—Oklahoma, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State—are currently in the both the AP and USA Today Top 10. Two more opponents—Missouri and Texas—are in both top 25's. A fifth opponent—Baylor—entered the AP Top 25 this week.
On top of that, ISU faces a road slate that includes UConn, Baylor, Missouri, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Kansas State.
The only three games on the Clones' schedule where they might have a shot at being favored are UNI, Kansas and K-State.
Therefore, I may be projecting a bit, but I would go so far to say that in order for head coach Paul Rhoads to gain bowl eligibility in his third season, he needs to beat Iowa, as well as Kansas, K-State and one other notable upset.
As though there isn't enough pressure in a game that essentially functions as the Super Bowl for Iowa State fans.
A: Cereal almost always makes it to a bowl.
Iowa Offensive Line vs Iowa State Defensive Line
This is an ostensible strength-on-strength battle here.
I stress "ostensible," because Iowa State, which has three returning starters, should have a good line.
However, when one considers those three returning starters, one is a little skeptical. Last season, ISU had the 73rd-ranked rushing defense in the country and were 116th in sacks.
They weren't much better against UNI, as they registered no sacks. Also, they let up 204 yards rushing to the Panthers though it should be noted that most of it was to their quarterback, who had 127 yards. The running backs only managed 3.08 YPC on 24 attempts.
Needless to say, a dual-threat quarterback won't be an issue against Iowa, unless JVB gets it in his head to try to run over Clone linebacker Jake Knott.
Either way, Iowa-Iowa State usually comes down to the battle in the trenches. Whichever teams wins this and the turnover battle will likely win the game.
Q: How many ISU freshmen does it take to change a tire?
Marcus Coker vs Jake Knott, A.J. Klein and Increased Expectations
Marcus Coker had a lousy first game of the season. He might have lost the starting job if not for Mika'il McCall's season ending broken ankle.
Now, McCall is out, and while Iowa isn't devoid of tailback depth, no remaining player is near Coker in terms of talent and readiness to carry the ball 20-25 times per game.
With that said, let's consider Coker. With McCall's emergence and Coker's fumbles, Iowa message boards lit up with worry that Coker couldn't handle the job. However, fans should try and remember the excitement Coker generated following his 219-yard, two touchdown performance in the Insight Bowl.
McCall may be the more inherently skilled back—he is—but Coker is pretty good too.
Which brings us to the Coker we saw against Tennessee Tech. Unlike last season, Coker is now the man, and he needs to step up and play like it. He not only has to run lower and secure the ball (the former will automatically help with the latter), but he has to play confidently—something he did not do upon his reentry into the game following McCall's injury.
On top of that, from this point on, Coker will have a bulls-eye on his back the size of the old capitol building in Iowa City. Opposing defensive coordinators smell blood and they know that Coker is vulnerable. Every opposing defensive player will be told to try to strip Coker of the ball.
This will certainly be true of Iowa State who has two very good linebackers in juniors Jake Knott and A.J. Klein. In fact, Knott came in second in the Big 12 last season with four forced fumbles.
Coker needs to get back on his proverbial horse and play with confidence and discipline. In a way, this may be the most important game of his career. If he fumbles or if his confidence is shattered, he may never be the same back.
And that could have a significant impact on Iowa's season.
A: Trick question; it's a sophomore course.
Marvin McNutt vs Leonard Johnson
Last week's game was even more enigmatic than could have been predicted. However, one thing that impressed me was the play of senior receiver Marvin McNutt.
He has been good the last two seasons, but that is not surprising, as he is blessed with natural athletic ability.
Last week, he played at a new level. He looked as polished and complete as I can remember a Hawkeye receiver looking, and if he keeps up that level of play, he will graduate as the highest drafted Hawkeye wide receiver ever (currently, the highest drafted receiver was Quinn Early who was the fifth pick in the third round of 1988).
However, I am not ready to sign off on McNutt yet. After all, he was going against Tennessee Tech's defense. This week, the competition will be considerably tougher.
McNutt will be matched up against senior Leonard Johnson, who was second team All-Big 12 last season. This year, Walterfootball.com lists him as a probable 4th-6th rounder.
In 2010, teams avoided Johnson's side of the field. That will be the case this year as well. Nonetheless, if Iowa hopes to get the ball in their best receiver's hands, James Vandenberg will have to try his luck with Johnson.
This is a matchup I will pay particular attention to.
Q: How do you keep a Cyclone out of your yard?
Kirk Ferentz vs Jack Trice Stadium
Kirk Ferentz lost his first four meetings against Iowa State.
Then he won two, which was followed by the 2005 loss that not only featured Drew Tate getting knocked out of the game, but also featured what I consider the second-worst offensive game plan of the Kirk Ferentz era (the 2007 Indiana game qualifies as the worst).
Since then, Ferentz has gone 4-1 against the Clones. During that time, he has faced three different ISU head coaches, and his defense has allowed an average of 9.4 points-per-game.
Nevertheless, with a 2-4 career record at Jack Trice Stadium, there is no getting around the fact that traveling to Ames has given the Ferentz's Hawks problems.
This year, the game is at Iowa State.
A: Put up a goal post.
Iowa State vs Iowa's Game Preperation
Last week, Iowa played Tennessee Tech, which runs an up-tempo, no-huddle, spread offense that focuses on a horizontal passing game.
Meanwhile, Iowa State runs an up-tempo, spread offense that incorporates elements of the no-huddle, has a dual-threat quarterback and focuses on a horizontal passing game.
This will help immensely as regards Iowa's game preparation. The scout team will run a similar offense, and the defense will work on the same fundamental gameplan.
Incidentally, the Hawkeyes' first four opponents run a similar offense, as do a number of Iowa's Big Ten opponents.
Q: How do you keep a ISU athlete from making scrambled eggs?
Iowa's Back Seven vs Iowa State's Short Passing Game
In my analysis of the Tennessee Tech game, I repeatedly referred to the lousiness of the Golden Eagles' game plan.
Specifically, they rarely tested Iowa's new safeties over the middle. They kept throwing the ball to the periphery, essentially testing the Iowa linebacker's speed.
That didn't and wasn't going to work.
If I had been gameplanning against Iowa, I would have run draws, dives and blasts right up the middle. Then I would have run repeated play-actions where two receivers ran post routes or deep crossing patterns. This would have forced the inexperienced safeties to make decisions.
Iowa State runs a similar scheme to Tennessee Tech. They emphasize a running game that starts with the read-option and a short-yardage passing game.
If they don't stray from that, they will hand Iowa the win.
My guess is they will try early and often to beat Iowa long, and we will get our first legitimate look at the Hawkeyes' new safeties.
And by the way, I admittedly hope one of those new safeties is Jordan Bernstine. If last week is any indication, he's earned it.
A: Paint his eggs black and gold…he’ll never beat them again.