Football Insider: Iowa Pre-Game

Football insider Jack Whitver takes a look at Iowa State's huge in-state battle with Iowa Saturday. He believes that this could go down as one of the best Cy-Hawk games in the last 10 years.

Jack Whitver played football at Iowa State from 1999-2003. The former walk-on wide receiver from Grinnell was twice named an academic All-American, a three-time ISU scholar-athlete award winner, and earned his undergraduate degree from ISU in just three years. Whitver finished his career eighth on ISU's all-time receptions list and 10th all-time in receiving yardage. He now provides exclusive analysis each week here at


CN: What does the Iowa State-Iowa rivalry mean to you as a native of the state and former player for one of the sides?


The Iowa State-Iowa game is by far one the most exciting games to play in, especially for the guys from the state. This game holds a lot of bragging rights for the native Iowans. When I played, I could go home months after the game was over, and that game was the one everybody wanted to talk about. This game is the Super Bowl of Iowa. Everybody in the state watches this game. I would expect some big games to come from native Iowans on both sides of the ball. The players that grew up watching this game definitely know what it means to the state of Iowa.


CN: What were the preparations like for this game throughout your career?


Preparation for every game is very detailed and the players are extremely focused. The difference for this game is the excitement level that surrounds it. From the scouting report to the Tuesday interviews to the Friday walk-thru, everybody involved seems to have bounce in their step.


Another main difference is that you are getting calls all week from old friends and teammates. It seems everybody wants to wish you luck or wants a ticket to the game. It takes extra focus to put everything behind you and focus on the game.


CN: Obviously with the in-state rivalry each side wants bragging rights. Just how important is this game in the grand scheme of things? How long do the memories of the ISU-Iowa game last once you're into the rest of the season?


This game has become very important for both teams. In the last few years, both teams have expected great things and this game can be a springboard for the rest of the season.


However, I think it is also important to put this game behind you when it is over. In the grand scheme of things, this is a non-conference game early in the year. There is still a lot of football left after September 10th.  A good example of this is 2002. We came back from 17 down at half to win the game. However, we finished 7-7, while the Hawkeyes finished 11-2. They put the game behind them and won a Big 10 title.


While this is a big week and a lot of fun, it is not the be-all, end-all of the season.


CN: In the long run you would rather have a win over Nebraska than Iowa because it improves your Big 12 title hopes?


Tough question. Both games are huge for different reasons. The win over Iowa helps in-state recruiting while a win over Nebraska helps the conference title race among other things.


I don't have to sit on the fence like I use to do when I was playing, so I am going to give a truthful answer. While you never like to lose any game, I would take a win over Iowa. I hated to go back to Grinnell in the off-season and hear about a loss to the Hawks. Luckily, it only happened once in 5 years when I was a Cyclone.


CN: Do the upperclassmen explain to the newcomers/out-of-state players the magnitude/intensity of this game?


Coach McCarney does an excellent job of putting this game into perspective for all players. He has current players, past players, even coaches stand up in front of the team and talk about the rivalry. Come game day, everybody that puts on a Cyclone uniform knows what this games means to the program.


CN: Which areas do you think Iowa State needs to focus on the most this week in practice?


The running game has got to improve, not only for this game, but for the rest of the season. The passing game was good last weekend, but 2.2 yards per carry will not get it done. The whole offense, from running backs to linemen to wide receivers have got to do their part in the running game.


CN: What problems does the Hawkeye defense present to the Cyclone offensive line?


The Hawkeyes have had an outstanding defense the last few years. The strength of the Iowa defense is definitely the linebackers. They have one of the premier linebacker units in the country.


It is going to be key for the ISU line to handle the defensive line so the can get up and get a body on the linebackers. If ISU needs to double team the d-line and they let the linebackers run free all game, they will have a tough time moving the ball.


The Hawkeyes lost four real good d-linemen to the NFL, so they are pretty green up front. It will be crucial for the ISU o-line to handle the young Iowa d-line and get a body on the linebackers.


The last few years, Iowa has been able to get pressure on the quarterback with a four man rush. They traditionally are not a heavy blitz team. Because they get pressure with their front four, the other seven guys can sit back in coverage and defend the pass. With 4 new starters up front, it will be important to handle their four man rush. If the Cyclone o-line lets the Hawkeye front 4 get to the QB without blitzing, it could be a very long afternoon.


CN: Do you think this will be a game dominated by the offenses or defenses? Why do you believe that?


In a rivalry game, anything is possible. However, I believe that it will be a defensive game. I would expect each team to have around 17-21 points. Iowa State's strength is definitely their defense at this point. With the exception of the two big plays last week, the Cyclone defense played a real good game. I would much rather give up two big plays then give up long drives. It is a lot easier to correct two bad plays then correct long defensive lapses.


It is hard to judge the Hawkeye offense at this point. They did not put up huge numbers last year, especially rushing the ball. However, if Iowa gets their running game going, the Hawkeye offense will be hard to stop.



CN: What specific offensive plays and schemes will John Skladany's defense need to focus on in preparation?


I don't think ISU will change a whole lot with their defense. They will mix it up a lot and disguise their coverages. Coach has liked to blitz, but it will be interesting to see if he pulls the trigger as often after giving up the two long plays last week. I would guess that ISU will use a lot of zone blitzes, where they bring the linebackers, but drop the DE's out into coverage. After giving up the long plays, Coach might be a little hesitant to leave his corners out on an island. I don't think he will stop blitzing, he will probably just use his zone blitzes more. I don't necessarily think this is bad however. It is more confusing for a quarterback with a zone blitz, because it is harder to see who is dropping out into coverage. Just ask the quarterback for Illinois State who threw the interception to Jason Berryman.


CN: Give us your assessment of the ISU special teams in the win over Illinois State. How big was the play of Tony Yelk?


I thought the special teams looked good after Tony came into the game. Blankenship did an outstanding job of punting, averaging 46 yards. He also had the beautiful punt down to the one yard line.  The kickoff team was good because Tony didn't let them return the ball. The field goal team was terrible until Tony made his kicks. I wish we could have seen Tony attempt a long kick. The kicks that he made last Saturday were kicks that a Division I kicker is supposed to make. He could be very important in the game this weekend.


CN: Finally, what are some keys to a victory over Iowa on Saturday?


1.) The line of scrimmage. Whoever wins the battle in the trenches has a great opportunity to win the game. The Cyclone o-line will definitely have to improve from last week if they want to win the battle at the line. I believe that if the ISU o-line can open hole and protect Meyer, the Cyclones will be victorious. 


2.) Special teams. The kicking game has always been huge in this rivalry. From Khalil Hill muffing the punt in 2000, to Adam Benike making huge field goals in 2002, to Sean Considine blocking two punts in 2003, it seems the kicking game always has a major impact on this game. I would not be surprised to see this game come down to a kick in the fourth quarter.


3.) Turnovers. In a close, important game, the team who has the fewest turnovers usually comes out on top. It will be crucial for the Cyclones to hold onto the ball and not throw interceptions. You cannot give a good team extra chances and expect to win. On the other hand, the ISU defense must force turnovers and give the offense good field position.


This looks to be one of the best match-ups in the series history. Considering how close the games have been over the past 7 years, this game looks to be a dandy. I am excited to get to Jack Trice for what should be a memorable game.

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