The Cyclones have allowed only 143 yards rushing per game so far and a paltry 3.8-yard average for their opponents. But, ISU hasn't faced an offensive line as good as Iowa's yet. The pressure is on Jordan Carstens, Nick Leaders, Cephus Johnson and Jason Berryman. The "front four" needs to take on the Hawkeye offensive line aggressively, plug the holes and give the linebackers a chance to make some big hits. If Russell gets into the secondary with any regularity, it will be a long day for ISU. Advantage: IOWA.
Iowa pass offense vs. ISU pass defense: In his first season as a starter for Iowa, Nathan Chandler has done a very good job so far. In two games, the senior has a 178.4 QB rating, which is tremendous. He is 20 of 30 for 242 yards, with four TDs and no interceptions. If he has time to throw on Saturday, don't expect the Iowa QB to make many mistakes. On the other hand, Chandler has had very few possessions with much pressure on him…and he has yet to play on the road. Right now, Hawkeye fans like what they see in Chandler, but they'll know a LOT more about him after the next two weeks.
In addition to the offensive line protecting Chandler, another key for Iowa is to find a couple of solid second and third options to throw to. Maurice Brown can't make EVERY play in the passing game. After two games, Champ Davis has three receptions, which is the second-best total on the team. Brown has 11 catches. That's not very good balance.
ISU will need to bring some heat to Chandler to force the inexperienced quarterback into some poor decisions. Again, it falls on the Cyclones' front four. However, I can see Iowa State blitzing early to see how Chandler reacts. If the Iowa QB struggles, the Cyclones will bring a variety of blitzes throughout the game. If ISU can get pressure on Chandler, the Cyclones will be in pretty good shape against the Iowa passing attack. Advantage: PUSH.
ISU run offense vs. Iowa run defense: The Cyclones really improved their ground game from Week 1 to Week 2. Overall, Iowa State has run for 440 yards on 96 carries, for a 4.6-yard average. Good numbers, especially when you consider that offensive lineman Bob Montgomery hasn't played. Michael Wagner is leading the way with 202 yards on 38 carries, for a 5.3-yard average. The "X factor" in the ISU rushing attack is freshman quarterback Austin Flynn, who has picked up 145 yards on 27 carries, for a 5.4-yard average. If Iowa State can rush the ball effectively against the Hawkeyes, the Cyclones will be in very good shape.
Iowa's front seven is very good and defensive coordinator Norm Parker will have his troops geared up to stop the run. In two games, the Hawks have given up 281 yards on the ground to their opponents, who are averaging 3.3 yards per carry. If Iowa can stop the run and force ISU into a bunch of sec ond-and-longs…or other obvious passing situations…the Hawkeyes will be in very good shape. Advantage: PUSH.
ISU pass offense vs. Iowa pass defense: This is the match-up that scares Hawkeye fans the most. Why? Because if Flynn has time to throw, he has some outstanding receivers—Lane Danielsen, Jack Whitver, Lance Young and Jamaul Montgomery—to pick from…and Bob Sanders WON'T be in Iowa's secondary. If Flynn DOESN'T have time to throw, his ability to escape the rush and get out of the pocket might buy him more time to find one of his receivers…or pick up some big gains with his feet.
Flynn has been terrific in his first two games. The redshirt freshman has a QB rating of 145.2. He is 23 of 45 for 410 yards, with three TDs and one interception. If Flynn can stay away from trying to do too much—and making mistakes as a result—the Iowa State passing attack might be difficult for Iowa to stop.
The Hawkeyes have surrendered only 308 passing yards in two games this fall, which is pretty impressive. If Iowa's front four—Matt Roth, Jonathan Babineaux, Jared Clauss and Howard Hodges—can get to Flynn early, they may be able to force some turnovers. Or at least earn some good field position for the Hawkeye offense. Otherwise, look for Parker to blitz a few times in the first half to see how the freshman handles the heat. Advantage: IOWA STATE.
Special Teams: Iowa had the best special teams play in the nation a year ago and the Hawkeyes are looking solid in this area again in 2003. Nate Kaeding is as good as any collegiate kicker in the country and is Iowa's best ever at that position. David Bradley looks improved this season, but punting on the road in a close game is a little more difficult. The Hawkeye return teams are very good.
Iowa State has also played well on special teams so far. However, kicker Tony Yelk has suffered an injury to his non-kicking leg. The Cyclones' return specialists are threats and have performed well. There's just something about ISU's kicking game that I'm not sold on. I could be wrong, but I'll bet that special teams play will be a huge factor on Saturday. Advantage: IOWA.
Coaching: Kirk Ferentz has turned the Hawkeye program around. He was named the National Coach of the Year in 2002. Dan McCarney has turned the Cyclone program around. He has beaten Iowa five years in a row. Advantage: PUSH.
Intangibles: The fact that Iowa State has beaten Iowa five years in a row could work to the Hawkeyes' favor if they had a huge chip on their shoulder about it and came into the contest chewing nails and spitting fire. But, I really think it's working the other way around right now. Despite the five-game string, the Cyclones are still the underdog in this game and you can bet that Coach McCarney has played that message to the hilt this week. In addition, the game is at Jack Trice Stadium, which gives the Cyclones an advantage. Advantage: IOWA STATE.
Back-up Quarterbacks: True freshman Drew Tate played pretty well last Saturday for the Hawkeyes, completing 4 of 7 passes for 37 yards and running for another 21 yards. Waye Terry has yet to throw a pass for ISU this season…and Cris Love may not get the opportunity. Advantage: IOWA.
Former Head Coaches: Hayden Fry remains a legendary figure in Iowa…and thousands of Iowans continue to "scratch where it itches." Jim Criner is probably eating a plate of flapjacks right now in a small-town diner in Texas. Jim Walden lost to UNI. Advantage: IOWA (Big Time).
Winning Streaks: Iowa beat ISU 15 times in a row from 1983 through 1997. The Cyclones have defeated the Hawkeyes five times in a row, starting in 1998. Advantage: IOWA STATE.
Sideline Reporters: Iowa has Mark Allen, who does a pretty good job. ISU has John Quinn, who used to play QB for the Cyclones. Advantage: LISA GUERRERO.
Play-by-play Announcers: Gary Dolphin was recently voted into the IowaSportsOpinions.com Hall of Fame. John Walters is the new "Voice of the Cyclones" and does a terrific job. Advantage: PUSH.
Helmets: Iowa's tigerhawk logo has been in place for over 20 years. Only once did it disappear (to honor victims of an on-campus shooting) and the Hawks defeated Ohio State in Columbus. The Hawkeyes also had an incredibly large "ANF" decal on their helmets for a REALLY long time. Iowa State once had its good players wearing red helmets and average players wearing yellow helmets. Seriously. Advantage: PUSH.
Hairstyles of Former Players: Kevin Kasper and Scott Mullen dyed their hair an awful bright color…it made you wonder if they left their skateboards in the Hawkeye lockerroom. Kyle McCann looked like he was auditioning to be an "extra" on a remake of "Fantasy Island." Blaise Bryant and Dwayne Crutchfield had such big hair that I was afraid their helmets were going to explode. Advantage: IOWA STATE.
Hairstyles of Current Players: Robert Gallery has long hair. Nobody wants to bother him about it, though. Advantage: IOWA.
Basketball Arena: I've been told several times to "sit down" while cheering for the Hawks at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Meanwhile, Hilton Coliseum is one of the most exciting places in the country to watch a college basketball game…and I've never been asked to "sit down" there. Advantage: IOWA STATE.
Tom Davis vs. Troy Davis: Tom Davis earned his doctorate, although his thesis was on something like, "Why Pilgrims wore big hats." Troy Davis is taller than Tom Davis. Advantage: PUSH.
Mascot Names: Herky sounds like an uncoordinated disco move that I'll see featured on VH-1's "I Love the '70s" show. Cy is a sound that someone makes when they're tired or relieved. Advantage: IOWA.
Players Named Marv: Iowa had an All-American tight end named Marv Cook, who played for several years in the NFL. Iowa State had a QB named Marv Seiler, who beat Nebraska. I've met Seiler and he seems like a really good guy. Advantage: IOWA STATE.
Best Brother Combination to Play Running Back: Ronnie and Kevin Harmon were spectacular runners, fine receivers and gifted in the open field. Ronnie Harmon enjoyed a very long NFL career. Troy and Darren Davis were spectacular runners, fine receivers and gifted in the open field. Legend has it that Troy Davis once put some snow in a container and tried to take it with him on a flight to Florida to show some of his "home boys." It melted. So did Troy's NFL career. Advantage: PUSH.
Baseball Programs: Iowa has one. Iowa State does not. Advantage: IOWA.
Tennis Programs: I don't even know how this applies. Advantage: ANNA KOURNIKOVA (easily).
Places to Hang Out after Home Games: In Iowa City, "Brothers" is a cool establishment with a variety of people who like to have a good time…and the food is excellent. In Ames, I went to some bar once and had several drinks called "Zombies"…I don't remember much about it, but I guess it was pretty fun. Advantage: PUSH (I'm pretty sure).
Crimes by an Athlete Named Sam: In Iowa City, Sam Aiello beat the crap out of Jon Beutjer for allegedly not paying a cable bill…among other things. Aiello later hit a guy with a pool cue. In Ames, Sam "It's not me" Mack helped rob a Burger King and fled with $12.09 in his pocket…not enough money to pay for Beutjer's cable bill. Advantage: PUSH.
PREDICTION: I think this game is going to come down to three factors:
Can Iowa State run the ball consistently against Iowa?
Big plays on special teams.
If the Cyclones can run the football against the Hawkeyes—and avoid turnovers—it will be another victory for ISU. My guess is that Iowa's front seven will do a pretty good job against the run. In addition, I think Norm Parker will throw some looks at Flynn that the young QB hasn't seen before. Turnovers may be even (who knows?), but I have to give the Hawkeyes the edge on special teams.
I look for Russell to gain 125 yards on the ground for Iowa and I think Chandler will have a decent performance. The Iowa QB will be 13 of 23 for 129 yards, with one TD and two interceptions. Chandler will only be sacked one time. For the Cyclones, I think Wagner will gain 72 yards rushing and Rutland will pick up 25. Flynn will complete 21 of 32 passes for 198 yards, including a score and an interception. The freshman QB will also run for 35 yards, but will fumble once to set up an Iowa score.
The Hawkeyes will take the early lead, thanks in part to a special teams or defensive touchdown (Sean Considine again?). But, the Cyclones will come roaring back to take a 21-20 lead midway through the final quarter on a TD scamper by Flynn. On Iowa's final drive, Brown will break a tackle and turn a short gain into big yardage, setting up a 46-yard field goal by Kaeding with two minutes remaining. FINAL: IOWA 23, IOWA STATE 21.
(Marty Gallagher founded the popular web site IowaSportsOpinions.com. You can e-mail him at Marty@IowaSportsOpinions.com.)