With the battle for the Cy-Hawk Trophy coming up this Saturday, Hawkeye Insider asked Scout's Iowa State publisher Alex Halsted a few questions about the Cyclones. He shares his thoughts on the strengths and weaknesses of this year's squad, their improvement, and where the advantages and challenges in the matchup lie.
Only one game is in the books, but you've also been to observe some Iowa State practice. What would you consider the strength and weakness for the Cyclones this year?
There are some strengths and weaknesses on both sides of the ball. Offensively, Iowa State’s strength is two-fold. The Cyclones have experience in several areas, including at quarterback with redshirt senior Sam Richardson who has now started 22 games in his career. The strength is likely the combination of Richardson and his numerous options at receiver starting with Quenton Bundrage, Allen Lazard and D’Vario Montgomery.
The weakness offensively is the running game, which entered the 2014 season with a combined 24 carries at the college football level.
Defensively, Iowa State’s unit has taken on a new look, and the group looked improved from a year ago in the season-opener. The defensive front has been bolstered by a number of new faces and the strength likely rests in an experienced secondary.
The weakness is probably inexperience at linebacker, although the group performed fine in Week 1.
Iowa State has won three out of the last four meetings. Is there anything to take away from those matchups despite the squads being very different?
The biggest takeaway for me is that, at least in recent memory, this matchup seems to be well contested by both sides. Each of those last four meetings have been decided by six points or less, including three by three points.
As mentioned, both squads have been different. Iowa runs a power offense and Iowa State has run the spread offense. As Paul Rhoads said Monday, there hasn’t really been a key to any particular game. There have been games where the offense hasn’t been very good and the defense has carried the game and vice versa.
Iowa dominated the line of scrimmage against Illinois State, especially their defensive front. Do you think they can duplicate that against Iowa State?
Iowa State should hold its own better than Illinois State, but this is certainly an area to key in on Saturday afternoon. Paul Rhoads said his focus is on the trenches on both sides, and that’s definitely going to be a key. The Cyclones protected Sam Richardson well in Week 1, but it’s a group that is still working to improve and the depth is limited.
One matchup I’m interested to see is how the young (but talented) Jake Campos can perform against the very talented Drew Ott.
Arguably the strengths of each team will face off against each other when Iowa State's wideouts go up against the secondary of Iowa. I'm most looking forward to seeing Desmond King of Iowa defend Allen Lazard of the Cyclones. What are you most looking forward to when the teams square off?
This is actually one of the matchups I’m most interested in seeing too. The strength of the Northern Iowa defense was its experienced and talented secondary, and Iowa State struggled at times to get open. The Cyclones did start clicking in the third quarter when Sam Richardson went 6-of-6 for 96 yards and two touchdowns, but the passing games was overall somewhat inconsistent.
With Iowa State still trying to figure out its run game, this could be a major key to the game.
What do you think the Hawkeyes can exploit against Iowa State? What do you think the Cyclones can exploit against Iowa?
I think, given Iowa State’s lack of depth and the guard Daniel Burton uncertain for the game after missing the opener, Iowa could exploit Iowa State’s offensive line. The group held up fine in the opener, but Iowa has a talented group in the trenches.
The same might be the case for Iowa State. If the Cyclones can get anywhere near the same pressure as they did against the Panthers, they might be able to make C.J. Beathard uncomfortable and force him to make decision on the run. Much has been made about Iowa State’s new defensive front and it made a strong first impression with six sacks in the opener, now we’ll see if that was a sign of things to come.
It's early in the week, but how do you see this game going. Do you know who you'll be taking?
I still haven’t decided which way to go with this one.
Part of me says Iowa State has a better chance to win this game than its Week 3 game on the road against Toledo (which plays well at home), but Iowa looked much improved against Illinois State.
What I am ready to predict is that fans will be in for another close game for a fifth consecutive season.