The Cyclones’ front seven generally lines up in a 4-3 base, but a nickel back is used frequently when facing up-tempo, high-powered Big 12 offenses. Iowa spent spring and fall camp practicing in no-huddle, so there's that challenge. ISU was gouged for 228 yards on the ground by Northern Iowa — with 199 going to Panther running back David Johnson. He didn’t have a negative-yardage carry and coach Paul Rhoads counted eight missed tackles on two Panther TD runs.
Senior middle linebacker Jeremiah George (5-11, 219) is the banner carrier for ISU's front seven. The Cyclones lack size and experience up front. Linebackers Jared Brackens and Luke Knott (who won this start with his performance against UNI) are 210 and 216, respectively. Four D-linemen and linebackers have combined for four career starts. Tackle David Irving (6-7, 272) is an excellent athlete, making the switch from DE to tackle.
On paper, this matchup favors Iowa. Sophomore center Austin Blythe has been terrific in his move from guard. Guards Conor Boffeli and Jordan Walsh will be seeing their first starts against ISU.
The Cyclones mirror Iowa in the bend-but-don’t-break philosophy. Coordinator Wally Burnham doesn't call a lot of blitzes and hates giving up big plays. The Cyclones keep offenses in front of them, trying to force drives that take 12 perfect plays.
The easy answer to how many carries for Iowa RB Mark Weisman (second in the Big Ten with 280 yards; tied for fourth in the nation with 50 carries) is "as many as it takes." But seriously, Iowa has to find some balance. The Hawkeyes are ninth in the nation with 101 rush attempts and 53rd with 65 passes. If the Hawkeyes can get away with it, Weisman will run the ball as much as he can. Weisman's yards per carry could be the winning number for either side.
Iowa State has three experienced seniors in the secondary. Jansen Watson (5-9, 174) is a lockdown corner type on the right. He didn’t play against UNI because of a violation of team rules. Free safety Jacques Washington (6-1, 220) shaded a bit toward the corners in the opener, because of a lack of experience. Watson eases this issue.
Sophomore Sam E. Richardson (5-7, 182) replaced Iowa City West grad Charlie Rogers on the depth chart this week at the other corner spot. Richardson had 13 tackles against UNI, with the Panthers attacking his side of the field. Strong safety Deon Broomfield forced and recovered two fumbles against UNI.
Iowa's passing game has looked much better this season compared to 2011. Two positive steps from last week came from tight end. QB Jake Rudock hit redshirt freshman George Kittle on a wheel route for 47 yards. Then, same drive on a third-and-6, senior C.J. TE Fiedorowicz ran a smash route for 12 yards and the Hawkeyes eventually scored.
Rudock has made his mistakes, with a game-turning pick in week 1 and a pick six last week. His smarts are his best asset and he has to show he can't be fooled twice. Iowa has been all over the map at wide receiver, from personnel to targets. Junior Kevonte Martin-Manley leads with 12 catches at 8.58 yards a catch (third in the Big Ten in receptions; 34th in yards per catch). After Martin-Manley, senior Don Shumpert has four receptions. Iowa also has six drops in two games.
Advantage: Iowa State
The Cyclones try to run “downhill” out of the pistol set. The hill flipped against UNI, with the Cyclones averaging 3.82 yards on 44 carries against the smaller, quicker Panthers. No ISU running back gained more than 35 yards. The goal with the O-line in the off week was creating and maintaining space for playmakers, namely experienced running backs James White (2 TDs and game-winner vs. Iowa in '11) and Shontrelle Johnson (108 yards vs. Iowa in '11). This year, juco Aaron Wimberly (5-9, 173) joins the cast. Center Tom Farniok, 27 consecutive starts, will miss the game with a sprained knee. Guard Jamison Lalk will replace him.
The O-line beat itself up during the week because of six sacks allowed vs. UNI. Some of those were on the OL, but QB Sam B. Richardson did suffer a sprained ankle that limited his mobility (and kept him out of practice and in a walking boot last week). Richardson's ankle is kind of a big deal. The Cyclones run read-option and Richardson keeps it. He led ISU with 74 yards against UNI. He's led the Cyclones in rushing in three of his four starts.
Iowa will concentrate on contain. That means the defensive ends will try to funnel Richardson to the middle and not allow him to run free on the outside, where the secondary can get caught creeping up and leave an open receiver. There's a difference between peaking and cheating. Iowa's D will need to keep an eye on Richardson. If a linebacker turns his back and runs in coverage, Richardson will run to the open field. Gap control and keeping eyes on Richardson will be key. Kirk Ferentz has been asked about using a "spy" vs. proficient zone-read QBs. The defense can get the same effect by keeping eyes on the QB. It'll be an interesting test for Iowa's DL. UNI had success with slants. Iowa plays a two-gap technique and will try to match muscle.
The Cyclones spread the ball out in the passing game, but wide out Quenton Bundrage is a potential playmaker and a legit deep threat. Richardson looks to him often. ISU features two other receivers. Former Nebraska-Omaha Maverick Justin Coleman thrived against UNI. He caught four passes for 103 yards, including a 59-yard touchdown. Bundrage's speed was nullified by six sacks.
Richardson wasn't the problem against UNI. He might've held the ball too long on a few of the sacks, but he completed 22 of 32 for 242 yards and two TDs. He also rushed for 74 yards. The Cyclones missed their chance going 2 of 8 on third down in the second half.
How's Richardson's ankle? It will have been two weeks. It's probably pretty good.
Pass defense is an 11-man game, but the blame trickles to the secondary because they end up being the release valve. Opponents have completed six passes of 20-plus yards against the Hawkeyes, including TD passes of 21, 27, 33 and 40. Players believe the busts have come in technique and not scheme or communication. True freshman corner Desmond King started last week and could go again. Sophomore Jordan Lomax (hamstring strain) was going to be a late call this week on whether he could play.
Beyond personnel, one huge factor for Iowa's secondary will be discipline. If anyone gets caught peeling off a receiver and toward the line of scrimmage, the Hawkeyes will be open to a big play. Strong safety John Lowdermilk said this week the plan is to stick with their coverage, while keeping an awareness of the line of scrimmage and when the QB commits one way or the other.
Advantage: Iowa State
ISU punter Kirby Van Der Kamp might be the most elite player at his position in this game. He is a 12th defender for the Cyclones, especially when he pins opponent deep in their own territory. Van Der Kamp is a top contender for the Ray Guy Award. In 15 career punts against Iowa, he’s dropped eight inside the 20-yard line. Rhoads is very aggressive on special teams, especially if he thinks a trick play (unexpected onside kick, reverse on a kickoff, fake field goal) is likely to succeed. Iowa allowed a fake punt to go for 42 yards and set up a field goal against Northern Illinois. Iowa was in a zone concept and motion took corner B.J. Lowery from one side of the field to the other, leaving Iowa one man short.
If Iowa loses this on special teams chicanery, Iowa fans might turn over the Iowa buses. The Hawkeyes have shown vulnerabilities and will be put under constant pressure.
ISU kicker is unsettled. Edwin Arceo missed two long field goals vs. UNI, while Cole Netten made two short ones. Netten has leg up for field goals and PATs. Arceo more likely to handle kickoffs. Wimberly will break one at some point this season. Iowa's kick coverage opened the door with some lost leverages last week.
Iowa's return games haven't gotten off the ground. This will be senior wideout Jordan Cotton's last chance to show his younger brother, Darian, he can do something against Darian's Cyclones. Yes, Darian Cotton plays for ISU. Jordan Cotton led the Big Ten with 28.21 yards a return. This season, he's been caught in indecision, averaging 20.75 on four returns.
Iowa treats punt returns as a basic exchange and it doesn't want any funny business. No one will challenge Van Der Kamp. ISU should gain a lot of invisible yards here.
Advantage: Iowa State
1) Emotionalism -- Iowa State owns this. No, this isn't saying this is the Cyclones' Super Bowl. It happened in '98, when Dan McCarney brought a 30-something-point underdog into Iowa City and won 27-9. McCarney, an Iowa City native, former Hawkeye player and assistant coach, elevated the Iowa game to Super Bowl proportions. Then, Iowa State started going to bowls and, so now, that is the jumping off point for success. That said, more times than not, you walk away from an Iowa State-Iowa game believing ISU had the more aggressive team. Emotion is tricky. It can burn out or propel to the end. ISU channels it well. 2) Experience -- Iowa State is the youngest team in the Big 12. Four of the front seven on defense started their first games last week. 3) Rudock smarts -- This shouldn't be an underrated part of his game. Yes, he's made dumb mistakes this season (a pick that led to the score that won week 1 and another pick that went for a TD), but he can explain "spectrometry." He doesn't seem like the type who makes the same mistake twice. The next refinement in his game could come when he starts moving defensive backs with his eyes.
The offense grows even incrementally in the passing game and the defense protects the secondary. On paper, the biggest mismatch here is Iowa's running game, headlined by Weisman and the OL vs. Iowa State's front seven. The trick will be pushing the right buttons, something Iowa didn't do in the second half against Northern Illinois. If Iowa's defense allows Richardson to break contain, big plays will be there for the Cyclones. Lots of pressure on Iowa's D-ends.
If ISU forces errors and capitalizes and holds Weisman to around 3.3 yards a carry. The great big caveat hanging over Iowa this week is clutch performance. Iowa has lost 14 games decided by three points or less since 2008. That's crumbling under pressure. If ISU can keep Iowa from leaning on Weisman, the Hawkeyes will have to make a living off Rudock's arm. The only two QBs in the Ferentz era to win at Jack Trice are Nathan Chandler (Iowa blocked two punts) and Ricky Stanzi (ISU threw five picks). QBs haven't won Trice games for the Hawkeyes.
PREDICTION: Iowa 27, Iowa State 21