AMES — Depth serves as the buzzword surrounding Iowa State’s defensive line.
As for Iowa’s offensive line?
“Big, huge, nasty,” Cyclone defensive coordinator Wally Burnham said. “Good football players, so our front seven, it’s going to be a challenge. If they don’t bring their hard hats for this one …”
The veteran coach then paused.
“They’re going to wish they had,” he added, chuckling.
The trenches. Where fingers get bent backward, knuckles scrape, eyes wince and games are won and lost.
Take Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. Big Ten Network-televised matchup between ISU and the Hawkeyes. Who pushes — and who is forced to submit — will determine who puts their hands on that rethought Cy-Hawk Series trophy.
The Cyclones won last year, 44-41, in triple-overtime.
“Both teams are playing well and it’s going to go right down to the wire,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said in his Tuesday news conference. “It went down to the wire last year and then some.”
The Cyclones played 12 guys on the defensive line in last week’s 38-23 win over Tulsa.
“Every time I went out there, there was a new front four in front of me,” said linebacker Jake Knott, who forced a pivotal fumble in Saturday’s win. “So when you can do that, you have complete trust in the guys that they’re going to do their job and they’re going to be fresh doing their job. It makes a huge difference.”
He’ll get no argument from Cyclone nose tackle Jake McDonough. The fifth-year senior will make his 14th career start Saturday and remembers leaner and wheezier times up front.
“Having those fresh legs in the fourth quarter will definitely show when you’re not getting pushed around,” McDonough said.
Take the win over Tulsa. ISU held the Golden Hurricane to 83 yards rushing on 33 of 34 carries. But that other carry — a 77-yard run by Trey Watts that made the game much more tense early in the fourth quarter — drew Burnham’s ire.
“I really hated (it),” Burnham said. “It was a stupid play on our part. Not by stupid players, but a stupid play that didn’t fit right. We’d done it over, over and over. Hell, I think they ran it the first play of the game. And we stopped it.”
With great depth, comes great responsibility, whatever the freshness level. Mental slips get you beat, especially on the road.
“We’re getting there,” Cyclone Coach Paul Rhoads said.
Part of arriving means being 2-0 — and earning a second-straight win over the Hawkeyes for the first time since ISU’s last victory at Kinnick (2002) capped a five-game win streak in the series.
“I think (former offensive lineman) Kelechi Osemele was about the only hand that was raised in there as far as players, a year ago, that had been a part of a victory over Iowa,” Rhoads said. “Now we’ve got a number of guys (who) can claim that.”
Thanks to last year’s white-knuckle triumph.
Push or be pushed. Strength meets strength — down and dirty, squarely up front.
“That’s a good team,” ISU situational defensive end Rony Nelson said of the Hawkeyes. “I know everybody’s saying, ‘Oh, is Iowa State going to keep the trophy?’ Like I always say about it: Watch the game. Tune in. Because it’s going to be a good game.”
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