Shonn Greene electrified the hometown Hawkeye fans during last week's season opener at Kinnick Stadium. The freshman showcased an impressive mix of power and speed to roll up 116 rushing yards in Iowa's 56-0 dismantling of Ball State.
While the performance might have had the newcomer feeling like he was atop the world, his fellow running back who also hails from New Jersey sprinkled in a dose of reality.
"I say that myself – "Don't pat yourself on the back for what we did last Saturday. That really wasn't nothing." Iowa State, this is going to be a real test for us as a team. We all know that."
Rest assured that the Hawkeye players will understand that point heading into Ames on Saturday (2:30 p.m., ABC). Fans and the media might get caught up in Week 1's results, which saw Iowa cruise and Iowa State struggle to hold off Division I-AA Illinois State, 32-21, at home, and think this will play out as a one-sided affair. Players and coaches know better.
"People might say they struggled with Illinois State, but I guarantee on Saturday that they'll throw their best at us," Hawkeye senior linebacker Abdul Hodge said. "And you can see if you read in the paper that their coach wasn't satisfied with their performance. So, they're going to have their guys ready to go."
Hodge's statement reveals something that the principles in the game attempt to downplay every year. He's reading the papers and taking in the circus atmosphere as are many of his teammates, coaches and opponents, although they'll tell us otherwise.
That's OK if they keep the intensified publicity from reaching a fever pitch as it does with the fans and coaches. These guys don't live in a bubble. They're on campus with other students that remind them what awaits two hours to the west.
"Everyone has their roles in this community," Hodge said. "The fans have the role to hype things up, and the media has their role to hype things up. We, as a team, have to keep our composure because we're the ones that are going to have to go out there on Saturday."
Approaching each game on an even keel has served as one of the biggest keys to this Iowa program's resurgence under Head Coach Kirk Ferentz and his bright staff. Iowa has pounded teams it should pound and has stayed competitive with the teams its equal, for the most part.
After getting spanked at Arizona State and then losing to Michigan early last year, a lot of teams around the country would have folded the tents. Iowa took one game at a time on its way to winning the Big Ten title. Win or lose, they somehow have remained focused on the next task without looking beyond it or drowning in the past.
"We're not a group that gets caught up in that," Albert Young said of the perception by some fans and media that this week will be a cake walk. "We're hungry. We're not satisfied with 56 points last week. As an offense, we feel like we've got to do some great things this year. We just want to keep this thing moving."
It's understandable if people read or hear quotes leading up to Iowa State game and say, "What a bunch of phooey, cliché riddled crapola" coming out of the Hawkeye camp. It really isn't. Somehow, someway these guys believe what comes out of their mouths at least enough to make it work on the field.
"Iowa has always been built as the team that's the underdog and working hard," Young said. "Even though we've been having success lately, it's just still instilled in everybody. Coaches don't make any extra points about bringing us back down, that's just how we are."
The "This game is more important to Iowa State" horse has been pounded dead. These teams just have approached the game differently and likely will continue to do so.
The teams view this game as one of their biggest of the season. Where the difference lies is in the why.
The Cyclones want to beat Iowa to continue earning respect. When you lose to a team for 15 consecutive years, it's demoralizing. The chip on their shoulders remains even after beating Iowa for five years in a row because the Hawkeyes continue to be the more high-profile program. It's hard not to have an inferiority complex.
Iowa looks at this game as a pothole. Even in the one-day-at-time approach (also known as the Dwayne F. Schneider by 1970s sitcom fans), there exists those games on your schedule that stand out as potential stumbling blocks due to outside forces, namely fan and media hype. It takes extra mental toughness to block out distractions in hopes of beating a formidable opponent.
"You just try to keep the same routine every day," Iowa safety Miguel Merrick said. "Whatever you do for one week, you're not going to change it from a different week because it's a bigger game. We just try to watch film and get prepared to do the things that are necessary to win."
That's the way the Iowa players keep the game in perspective. They'll get enough of the hype filtered through them without seeking it out.
"I understand it completely," Young said. "When I first came here two years ago, playing up there, I was injured so I got the opportunity to walk around stadium before the game. I got to see what this rivalry is all about.
"We know this is a big game. This is equivalent to a Big Ten game. I know I sure understand it and I'm from Jersey. Maybe some of the freshmen (don't understand it), but they'll pick up on it today (Tuesday) after practice that this game is for real."
And for some of the veterans, the best part of the hype is when it ends.
"It makes you more anxious to play the game and get it over with," Hodge said.
STILL COMPETING: Heading into Week 2, it appears Ferentz's early season prediction of a running game by committee remains in place. The coach lists Young and Marcus Schnoor as co-No. 1s with Greene as the No. 2, or No. 3, depending on how you look at it.
"There's going to be a competition all season," Schnoor said. "Shonn came out and did really well last week; surprised a lot of people. He's going to get some more carries than people thought he would. Sam (Brownlee) ran well. I didn't run well last week. (laughs) Hopefully I can get that fixed.
"But there's going to be a competition all season. Just because you start Game 1 doesn't mean you're going to be starting six, seven, eight. You still have to go out there and work every day."
Schnoor said he was a little anxious against Ball State after missing most of last season with a knee injury. He ran six times for 14 yards and a touchdown.
"I was jacked up, and I'm more of a strider than everybody else," Schnoor said. "I need to shorten my stride up a little bit and keep my feet."
Young carried five times for 61 yards (12.2 per attempt) and a score. He said the competition was healthy.
"There's nothing more demoralizing to a defense then when somebody breaks off a big run and then somebody else comes in that can do the same thing," he said. "I'm all for that. This is a team effort. We're all trying to accomplish the same thing here. When you're out there, perform.
"We know with running backs, there's only one of them. It's not like receiver. We can't have four running backs out there at the same time. Don't get caught up into that, and things will work out."
The crew will have its work cut out for it on Saturday against an ISU defense that allowed just 139.2 yards per game on the ground in 2004.
Illinois St. gained 119 on 34 carries versus the Cyclones last week.
CANTANKEROUS CAPTAIN: We're not sure if it came through in the audio or the transcript of Coach Ferentz's Tuesday press conference, but he appeared wound a little tighter than most weeks.
One could speculate that it's the pressure brought on by an intrastate rivalry, but the Captain usually keeps the same face each week. You have to wonder if the two articles that ran in the Des Moines Register on Tuesday didn't tick him off a touch.
One article focused on football players living in low-income housing and ran with photos of Hawkeyes Chad Greenway, Ed Hinkel and Antwan Allen. The other piece highlighted a state representative commenting on Ferentz being overpaid.
Ferentz always has been better than fair with the media. As a result, he loses patience easily when he feels like he is being attacked.
Ferentz issued very short answers to questions on Tuesday, and showed the DMR reporters a little less courtesy than he usually does.
Of course, this all could just be my imagination.
IOWA PRIDE: On more than one occasion, I've heard people say that ISU cares more about this game than the Hawkeyes because it has more native Iowans.
Well, at least as far as the starting lineups go, the teams open with the same number of home-state players if you include kickers.
The Hawkeyes start five native Iowans on offense – Marshall Yanda, Brian Ferentz, Mike Elgin, Ben Gates, Ryan Majerus and Marcus Schnoor. On defense, Matt Kroul and Alex Willcox played their high school ball in the state. Kicker Kyle Schlicher and punters John Gallery and Andy Fenstermaker also come from Iowa.
Of the 10 starting offensive linemen in the game, seven come from Iowa. ISU's Aaron Brant prepped in Dubuque but calls Kieler, Wis. home. Only five of the 22 starters on defense come from the Hawkeye state.
THIS AND THAT: Iowa State Coach Dan McCarney owns the most wins (46) of any coach in school history in his 11 years there. The Iowa City native ranks 11th in tenure among NCAA Division IA head coaches. Ferentz has won 44 games at Iowa in seven years…Marques Simmons walked into the bubble Tuesday afternoon without limping or noticeable effects from his injury. Of course, tweaked hamstrings sometimes don't act up until you try to run. Ferentz said they're hopeful he can return this week.