Preview: Cyclones vs Hawkeyes

I was stirred up a bit today. So much so that I was nearly pushed off the ledge to forming logical arguments against that “Super Bowl” thing and other weak smack from Iowa fans. But I learned an important lesson from one of my teachers in 5th grade, Mr. Sullivan.

Mr. Sullivan was a different yet effective kind of teacher that discussed things that many others wouldn’t and taught lessons in ways that others hadn’t before. One day while our entire class was filing through the hallway he had us stop (the impetus of this now, I cannot remember). He whispered to one classmate. That student walked over to a concrete block wall and began pushing. He was a strapping young 5th grader by the name of Josh.

Mr. Sullivan then asked us what we thought Josh was doing. As 5th graders being unsure of where this was going we slowly and hesitantly muttered a response. A few students pieced together a response, “Well, it sort of looks like he is trying to push that wall over.” Mr. Sullivan smirked and led us further down the trail asking if we ever thought he would succeed.

Even as 5th graders who had yet to fully understand the laws of physics we of course answered, “no way!” Then he drove his point home and asked in what areas of our lives were we wasting time trying to win battles that could not be won, or pushed over walls that could never fall with one man—or 5th grader—pushing.

Point? For a long, long time now I have kept that lesson in my head and put it to use. I don’t try to rationalize with the irrational and I don’t speak logic to the illogical. It is a wall that I cannot push over. If you want to conjure a story in your head that Iowa State has won six of the last 12 Cy-Hawk games or nine of the last 15 because they suddenly started caring more then I will not waste my time trying to convince you otherwise. I prefer to let you toil in your own personal “La La Land”.

But now, onto the game.

Like every year heading in to this game it seems we have only a tiny bit of relevant information. Right now we believe Northern Illinois to be a good Mid-Major team, Northern Iowa to be a top ten FCS team, and Missouri State to be a mid-level FCS team at best. Of course Iowa lost in the final seconds on a field goal to Northern Illinois while limping to a 28-14 win over Missouri State that was never really in doubt. Iowa State of course struggled mightily on defense on the first three Panther possessions and ISU struggled to score when they had their chances. It wouldn’t be the first time for Iowa State to rebound from a close game with the Panthers to play well the following game but that could be especially true for such a young team.

ui o vs isu d FB13When Iowa has the ball I suspect they will run and run a lot, at least they should. Iowa State showed no propensity to stopping the run game two weeks ago and the offensive line and running backs appear to be the strengths of the Iowa offense (at least they don’t drop as many balls as the receivers). Mark Weisman and Damon Bullock have both shown more than flashes of success since the start of last season.

Jake Rudock thus far has seemed to be a competent quarterback that can handle the load as well as you could hope for a guy that has only played in the last two games. Whether it is him or his receiving corps, though, I’m not sure he can be relied upon to win the game for the Hawkeyes. Plus, this will be his first game away from Iowa City. While I suspect that he should be fine in a new venue it is something that he has yet to handle in his young career.

Perhaps one of the missing links in the Iowa offense over the course of their last 14 games has been tight end CJ Fiedorowicz. He should probably be thrown to more than he is or has been over that stretch but his lack of incorporation in to the game plan has been surprising.

Above is a brief overview of Iowa’s offense as it compares to the rest of the NCAA, it is obviously early in the year and perhaps much should not be gleaned from those stats at this time. Even so you can see that their dependency and the majority of their success has been with the rushing attack. They have converted reasonably well on third down and turnovers have been a bit of an issue when compared to the rest of the country.

However, compared to the available Iowa State defensive stats to this point the Iowa offense appears to be in good shape. That is especially true when you consider that the ISU defense had these numbers racked up against them by a FCS opponent.

No matter the opponent, 6.9 yards per rush, 160+ passer rating, and a third down conversion rate of 50% are never acceptable. The Panthers also racked up a high touchdown rate against the Cyclones. Maybe one glimmer of hope for the ISU defenses is that of the 12 possessions against UNI that resulted in four touchdowns is that three of those touchdowns came on their first three possessions. The other was scored over the next nine possessions where Iowa State also forced two turnovers, so it did get a little better. Nevertheless, the Cyclone defense has a lot to prove as far as improvement this Saturday.

When the Cyclones have the ball I think they will move the ball reasonably well like they often seem to do against Iowa. But will drives stall out as the creep near or in to the Red Zone? The big talker since game one of the season has been the utilization of the running backs and Sam Richardson in the running game.

Chris Williams asked Paul Rhoads about how that would play out or change in game two against Iowa and kind of got a quick yet interesting answer that led many to believe something was perhaps up his sleeve. I’m not sure it will be a big deal and maybe my isu o vs ui d FB13“spidey sense” is just off but maybe we shouldn’t be surprised if we see some Wildcat with the Iowa State running backs? It is something that has been done in the past with Alexander Robinson and the Cyclone scheme seems to rely on the Zone Read running attack. That is fine but all of last year and against UNI this year defenses appear to be forcing the quarterback to keep while playing the odds that they won’t be able to single handedly beat them with their feet. I’m probably wrong here but it will be interesting to see what may pan out.

Statistically the Cyclone offense doesn’t look much better than the defense though they are mediocre in spots. They have no turnovers to this point and they do sport a decent passer rating and yards per attempt average.

The Iowa defense appears to be pretty solid thus far which could be the case or could be because of who they have played. Either way they did give up 30 points to Northern Illinois at home so they do have some issues. The things that jump out at me are the rushing defense allowing just 3.6 yards per carry and the fact that opponents have converted on just 26.7% of third downs. They have struggled a bit in forcing turnovers to this point.

So what does it all mean? I don’t think anyone knows at this point. A lot of questions are lingering, especially for the Cyclones as they had an early bye week in week two. That is all without even mentioning the roller coaster of the kicking game in week one. The thought of a game winning kick in the final seconds for Iowa State in this game (or any game that follows) makes me shudder a bit.

However, my best guess is that Iowa State will stop the run not well, but better than expected while leaving the secondary on islands against their receivers which is easier to do with the return of Jansen Watson. The defensive line will have to do more and the linebackers cannot whiff on such a high rate of tackles. I am confident we will see improvement there because tackling has been a strength for the program since Paul Rhoads came to Ames. The defense will force Rudock to beat them but he must be kept under wraps as he does have the ability to make a play with his feet.

I think Sam Richardson has proven his capability to handle the load but he needs to get a big win. Something he failed to do two weeks ago, at the Liberty Bowl (with reports of being sick), and in the home finale last year versus West Virginia. The running game needs to get on track and the offensive line must protect. Iowa has a bevy of really good linebackers that will be making a lot of plays around the line of scrimmage.

I thought it was interesting that in this past week I heard a few different national pundits at the NFL level talk about week one and how it means so little to this point. Your team could be 1-0 but it could be that win came against the worst team in the league; we just don’t know it yet. Similarly, there is so much to learn still about this Cyclone football team. Not to take anything away from UNI because that win is theirs and they earned it by playing better but maybe we’ll look back at the end of the year and say, “that was the worst game Iowa State played.” We just don’t know yet. It isn’t with the utmost confidence but…

Cyclones – 20

Hawkeyes – 16

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