Hey, it’s September already. Where did the time fly off to? Seems like just yesterday it was that dead period of the year with nothing but preseason football to watch for two minutes before turning it off to do something else. But, now that it is September, the pigskin season is in full effect with high school, college and professional taking up our Friday night, Saturday, Sunday and Monday nights.
Thursday night football doesn’t count as the games are usually lackluster and has teams no one really cares about.
This week, I come to you about one game in particular. A game that the entire state of Iowa stops for. Well, most of the state anyways. There are a few people who don’t care about football and that’s fine. For most of us though?
Iowa against Iowa State.
Families are pitted against one another. Neighbors and friends become enemies, enemies become friends all in the name of supporting one school against the other. Of course there are always different degrees to how far one goes with the particular fandom. I know Iowa fans who never support Iowa State and vise versa. The hardcore fans, the all or nothing fans.
Of course those are the Iowa fans who make up the excuse of “It means more to them” when the Hawkeyes lose to the supposed little brother of the state.
I’ll be straight out about it. I’m an Iowa State guy. I was born in Ames, my grandparents worked for the college, and I born and bred to be a Cyclones guy. I have two ISU mini-helmets on my work desk. However, as a member of the media, I also have to ride that line right down the middle most of the time.
Before I get into my thoughts on the game itself, being a neutral party, I just want to point out that ESPN College Gameday never came to Iowa City for the CyHawk showdown, but they are making the first trip to Ames this week, so Iowa State fans can brag about that.
So, both teams come into this game on Saturday with a perfect record. Iowa comes in with a 2-0 mark and hasn’t been challenged in their first two weeks, dispatching Miami of Ohio and the powerhouse Rutgers with relative ease. Iowa State, on the other hand, had issues with a pesky Northern Iowa team that looked great on Saturday against a fellow FCS school.
Quick side note: I really like that redshirt freshmen quarterback for UNI. Kid is gonna be a great player for them the next four years.
There has been much documented about the Cyclones’ struggles against the Panthers, until you realize that most of the struggles can be fixed. The play calling was weird and the penalties were a harmful, harmful thing. But the defense generally played lights out and the offense did rack up nearly 450 yards.
Iowa’s run game, in their first two games, looks a bit better than it did last year. We know that Iowa’s game plan is that old school style of play. Line up with two tight ends or a fullback and run it right at you. It’s not a real secret of what they do offensively, but their offensive line makes it work. The line looked great in the first two weeks and Mekhi Sargent looks solid as a lead running back, but Iowa will rotate about three-four guys into that position.
Iowa State’s run game, well, no knows much but they rotated a few guys in that position against the Panthers all about all of them got more than four yards a carry. However, Iowa State’s line is always a work in progress and with their center questionable, well, I’d have to give the run game advantage to the Hawkeyes.
The passing game, again, we know more about what Iowa can do with two games instead of one for game tape. Without top tier tight ends, Iowa is relying more on their wide receivers and running backs to haul in the passes. Iowa has no true number one target, and instead spreads the ball out. Nate Stanley has completed 40 passes this year to 11 different players. However, that lack of a true standout, go-to guy might harm them down the road.
Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy completed 30 passes in the Northern Iowa game and 14 of them went to one guy, Deshaunte Jones. Jones did most of the pass catching work but isn’t a big time downfield threat as Iowa State never really went deep in their passing game. In that game, Purdy completed a pass to nine guys. Again, both teams have a wide array of guys that can catch, but lack that big time threat to get those big plays four/five times a day. I’d call the wide receivers even.
The quarterback play between Stanley and Purdy is going to decide the game.
Both teams have an excellent defensive line that’s going to make running the ball a hard thing to do. Iowa State’s d-line was considered a top 10 group to some preseason magazines, and looked the part against UNI. Iowa didn’t allow much on the ground against either Miami of Ohio or Rutgers.
Iowa might have the better pass rush due to one guy who had an absolute monster of a game against Rutgers this pass week in A.J. Epenesa. Iowa State might have to double team on passing downs to give Purdy a fighting chance. Don’t sleep on Iowa State’s Ja’Quan Bailey who is set to be their all time sack leader this season at some point. Regardless, the line play is gonna be fun to watch.
Both teams have a good back end at linebacker and defensive back. Which, again, makes the quarterback play all that more important to find the right spot to place the throws. Stanley has a lot more familiarity playing Iowa State, his third game against them. He’s thrown five touchdowns and no interceptions against that Cyclone defense that has been improved since Matt Campbell rolled into town a few years ago.
This is Purdy’s first time playing the Hawkeyes and it is probably one of the best defenses he’ll face the entire season. The Iowa defense, the returners anyways, have seen quarterbacks like Purdy who can get out of the pocket when needed to and make some plays downfield when they’re there. They’ll know what to do against the sophomore quarterback.
When you look at this game, all signs honestly point to a game like we saw last year with minimal scoring and neither defense really breaking all that much. The offensive and defensive line play will be the biggest key, as they usually are in most football games, to whoever ends up getting the win. Iowa has the better offensive line, and the defensive lines are about a push.
However, there’s something about playing this game in Ames that seems to give it an extra push in the scoring department. Since the start of the decade, the winning team in Ames has had to at least score 27 points to win the game. The Cyclones play better at home scoring 44, 21, 17 and 41 in the four home games in the series this decade compared to 9, 20, 3 and 3 in Iowa City.
Look, all signs point to Iowa winning this game. The lines are better, the quarterback has experience in this game, but this might be a special day for the Iowa State team. College Game Day adds an extra excitement for the Cyclone fans. Iowa State plays Iowa better in Ames. Both teams are in line for a good season, but Iowa State has something to prove after the Northern Iowa game.
It’ll be another close one, and it could honestly go either way, but Iowa State’s negatives on the field are made up for by having this game at Jack Trice. Iowa State takes this in overtime, bring on the hate mail.