By Rob Gray
AMES — Iowa State has beaten Iowa in football three times in a row or more precisely three times in series history (1894, 1895, 1897; 1980-82; 1998-2002).
The Cyclones (0-1) seek to craft their fourth three-game win streak against the Hawkeyes (1-1) today at 5 p.m. at Jack Trice Stadium.
Iowa’s a two-point favorite (was three until recently).
So “three” is the operative number going in, and in honor of that fact, here’s a list of three possibly game-changing items — on the plus and thorny sides — for ISU as it tries to win for the 10th time in the last 16 games against the Hawkeyes.
Positive No. 1
Tight end Ernst Brun should be back. Brun, who caught six touchdown passes last season, played sparingly in the season-opening loss to UNI because of severe cramping issues. He actually endured full body cramps — starting in the abs — and blood test results raised concerns. “I couldn’t walk,” said Brun, whose blood numbers have improved. “My lower abs were just shot.” Brun will play limited snaps while being closely monitored, ISU coach Paul Rhoads stressed. Still ... “I’ll be good to go,” Brun said.
Positive No. 2
The return of cornerback Jansen Watson. A violation of team rules sidelined the swift senior in the opener and his absence caused problems. “I think sometimes against UNI I was leaning to the weak side too much. letting plays run up the field because in the back of my mind I was like, ‘He may need some help,’” free safety Jacques Washington said of playing next to inexperienced corners. “So (Watson’s) going to bring a great element.”
Positive No. 3
The Rhoads rebound. After yielding 120 points in back-to-back losses in 2010, the Cyclones beat then-No. 22 Texas in Austin. After four straight losses in 2011, ISU won three in a row, including the 37-31 double-overtime shocker over then-No. 2 Oklahoma State. Last season, the Cyclones upset top-20 TCU, 37-23, after a dispiriting 24-13 home loss to Texas Tech. “I don’t think their confidence in shaken,” Rhoads said.
Challenge No. 1
Missed tackles. We never got a final tally on how many there were in the loss to UNI, but Rhoads counted eight — then repeated the number to amplify its impact — on two of the Panthers’ big plays that spanned a total of 62 yards. “Can’t do that and play good defense,” Rhoads said. A return to fundamentals in the last several practices may have improved that issue. If not, Mark Weisman and Co. runs wild.
Challenge No. 2
Protect quarterback Sam Richardson. A re-configured Cyclone offensive line allowed six sacks to UNI. Rhoads said four were on the line, which will be without center Tom Farniok (MCL strain) for the first time in 28 games. “Mental errors were the biggest thing,” guard Ethan Tuftee said. Richardson also needs to get rid of the ball quicker. “If it’s after the ball’s snapped he decides what’s going on, it’s too late,” offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham said.
Challenge No. 3
Iowa’s linebackers. James Morris, Christian Kirksey and Anthony Hitchens form one of the best — if not the best — units ISU will face. “They’re different type of athletes,” Messingham said. “Obviously inside, big No. 44 (Morris), he can play in space but he’s really good as a run stopper and is very physical, yet he doesn’t lead them in tackles. So all three of them, they do complement each other well.”
There’s plenty more that the game could turn on, of course. However it sways, one team will come off the field with swagger — and a trophy.
And the last eight times the Cyclones’ season ended in a bowl game, six wins over the Hawkeyes fueled the postseason push.“It’s an important week and it kind of shows throughout the season,” Washington said. “When we win, we usually catapult up and starting winning (more), kind of clicking, and Iowa starts losing. Then, reverse. When Iowa beats us, their season goes up and we sort of fizzle out.”