It is incredibly ironic that Kirk Ferentz, arguably the best coach in Iowa football history, languished through almost two decades of maddening ups and downs against bad Iowa State coach after bad Iowa State coach, yet once the Cyclones hired Matt Campbell Ferentz suddenly can’t lose against Iowa State.
From 1999-2015 Iowa State went just 119-152 (.439) overall, yet Ferentz was just 8-9 against the Cyclones when Campbell arrived in Ames in 2016. That’s eight combined losses to the likes of: Dan McCarney (4 losses…eh, alright), Gene Chizik (one loss. . .well he did win a natty), and the man, the myth, the legend, Paul Rhoads (three losses. . .dear god no!).
So why then, when the Cyclones went out and found the best coach in their history (sorry, Johnny Majors and Earle Bruce) does Ferentz all of a sudden own his in-state rival? Why, as the Iowa State program has improved each year, has Ferentz all of a sudden been able to put the hammer down on the Cyclones and finally push his record in the series to the right side of the ledger (12-9)?
The answer might be the most Iowa answer in all of the answers in the world: they've been boring and good.
In the four meetings between Ferentz and Campbell all but the first, a 42-3 Hawkeye romp in 2016, have finished within 10 points. In the last three meetings combined the Cyclones have out-gained the Hawkeyes in the air 843 yards to 703 yards, and have killed Iowa with big plays in each of the past two meetings in Ames.
In 2017 wide-receiver Hakeem Butler burned the Hawkeye defense for a 74 yard touchdown reception while in the series’ last game the Cyclones connected on scoring connections of 73 and 51 yards.
Iowa’s longest touchdown in the last two CyHawk games was a 2-yard touchdown run by Mekhi Sargent in the 2018 contest. The Hawkeyes have only mustered two trips to the end zone in the last eight quarters against Iowa State, yet won both games.
How? By doing basically everything else better than the Cyclones.
The 2016 game was a laugher from start to finish, but 2017 was just the opposite. Arguably the most exciting Cy-Hawk affair ever ended on Ihmir Smith-Marsette’s 5-yard score, but Iowa hung around all day thanks to grinding out 164 yards on the ground (to Iowa State’s 120) and controlling the ball for almost 15 minutes longer than the Cyclones (37:07-22:53).
The Hawkeyes also won the turnover battle 1-0 thanks to a Parker Hesse interception deep in Iowa State territory with Iowa trailing 31-28 late in the fourth quarter.
Hesse’s pick along with Iowa’s ability to stay close through extended, physical drives allowed Akrum Wadley to tie the game with his spectacular catch-and-run and ultimately helped the Hawkeyes snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
The 2018 contest was a grinder from the jump and the teams combined for just three field goals over the first three quarters. Though the passing numbers between the teams were pretty even (169-166), Iowa destroyed Iowa State on the ground in out-rushing the Cyclones 105 yards to 19 yards. The Hawkeyes won the time of possession battle as well, 31:35-28:25, thanks mostly to a game-deciding 13 play, 83 yard drive culminating in the games only touchdown—Sargent’s 2-yarder with 4:47 left.
Once again, the Hawkeyes won the turnover battle 1-0—with Chauncey Gholston recovering a fumble off of a sack by A.J. Epenesa late in regulation to seal the win.
To be honest, I still wonder how Iowa was able to escape Ames two years ago with a 18-17 victory in the last Cy-Hawk game to date. The Cyclones badly outgunned the Hawkeyes through the air, 327 yards to 201 yards, with Brock Purdy averaging 9.3 yards per pass. Iowa out-gained Iowa State on the ground 112-91, but ran the ball 18 more times than the Cyclones (37-19) and averaged only three yards per carry. Iowa State scored two very long touchdowns, one more than Iowa, and even had more first downs than the Hawkeyes, 20-18.
So how did Ferentz pull a rabbit out of his hat?
Once again, Iowa dominated the time of possession 34:58-25:02 and took care of the ball in winning the turnover battle yet again—2-0. Both Hawkeye takeaways came at incredibly opportune times, the first a Purdy fumble as the Cyclones were driving with the lead late in the first half.
Iowa also went 10/19 on converting third downs compared to Iowa State’s 3/9 clip, thanks in large part to an incredible pair of conversions by Nate Stanley when the Hawkeyes badly needed them.
Even though I’ll never stop wondering how Iowa won this game from a superficial sense, a look at the box score shows that the Hawkeyes did most of the small, boring things better than Iowa State and, as such, survived yet another back-and-forth war in Ames.
And as for the Cyclones’ other turnover of the game?
Ya’ll know it never gets old.
Mostly thanks to dominating these statistics have the Hawkeyes won all four meetings in the Cy-Hawk series since Matt Campbell took over and there's a very good chance these same factors will be the difference tomorrow in Ames. Iowa hasn't committed a turnover against Iowa State in six years and if that streak hits seven tomorrow it should be yet another great day to be a Hawkeye.