It's Gonna Be a Cyclone State?
This era of the Hawkeyes saying “We’re going streakin’!” in the Cy-Hawk football series has been pretty neat-o. Six straight wins (across three presidencies!) is the longest run we’ve had against them since I was in junior high in 1997, and it feels great. Matt Campbell, Iowa State’s best football coach in this, and probably any, century has in fact never beaten the Hawkeyes. People don’t talk about this often enough. And yet, I can’t shake the feeling that this streak is going to be forced to put its clothes back on this year.
It’s tempting to look at Iowa State losing a lot of players from one of their all-time best rosters and say “rebuilding year” and end your analysis right there. And I do get it. It is almost certainly true that this 2022 Iowa State squad will have cumulatively less talent than their 2021 counterpart. The game is in Kinnick for the first time in four years (!) and Iowa is probably going to be favored by a few points, but let’s take a step back and check on what our pals in Ames have been up to.
2021 was supposed to be Iowa State’s year. Almost all the talent from their Fiesta Bowl-winning team from 2020 ran it back to make a run at a Big 12 title, and ISU was going to ride the S.S. Campbell to the center of the college football universe. But that’s not how things went down. In yet another example of the fickle nature of success in college football, ISU sputtered to a 7-6 record, culminating in a 20-13 loss to a down Clemson squad in the Cheez-It Bowl.
That last game is probably an apt metaphor for what went wrong for Iowa State in 2021, which is not much, but more than enough. For all save 5-10 college football programs, the margins between success and failure are maybe a razor thin 10-15 plays in any given season. Because by all but the most important metric, Iowa State was actually a very good, Top 20 team last year. But the single most important reason for Iowa State’s record last year? They were 2-5 in games decided by seven points or fewer. (Their lone double-digit loss was to Iowa, despite outgaining Iowa by 150 yards. Hilarious.) You flip those numbers around and Iowa State maybe wins the Big 12 and their fans would have spent their time making bad arguments for why they should have been in the College Football Playoff last year on Twitter.
Compare that to their magical 2020 run: They were 4-2 in those games. Iowa State didn’t get functionally worse in 2021, they just didn’t get the same breaks in those games like they did in 2020. (I’m very much in the “luck is a part of college football” camp, but you make whatever claims you like about being “clutch” or “learning to win close games” or whatever.) I’m not throwing stones, by the way. We as Hawkeye fans live in the same glass house. Last year the Hawks were 4-1 in one-score games, with the only loss in the bowl game. Turn even one of those close games into a close loss, and Iowa doesn’t make the Big Ten title game and we are a lot more resentful about our offense than we already are. (This isn’t a one-off either. Pretty much every great Iowa season in the Ferentz era has a stellar record in close games.) And as Matt Campbell settles into becoming Iowa State’s Kirk Ferentz sans the hatred of offense, that will probably always be the case for them as well.
But as to the 2022 version of the Cy-Hawk game? We can be pretty confident how that will play out. Since Campbell took over in Ames in 2016 (and Brian started running the Iowa offense in 2017), this game slowly transformed into the football equivalent of a slap-fight, the ones where those massive Russian dudes stand there taking turns hitting each other until someone loses consciousness. In 2016, Iowa State just plain sucked and got their ass kicked. 2017 was the Nate Stanley-Akrum Wadley game, a lot of fun, and a complete aberration. Here is Iowa’s yardage totals from the last three CyHawk games: 271, 313, 173. In that span, Iowa has not managed to average more than 3 yards/carry and only broke 200 yards passing once.
Personnel-wise, Iowa is probably better on offense, at least marginally, than they were a year ago, if for no reason than the offensive line can’t be as bad as they were in 2021, even accounting for losing Tyler Linderbaum. Iowa State no longer has Mike Rose to weed running backs in the backfield. Eyioma Uwazurike is gone, which means the Cyclones go from two to just one terror-monster on the defensive line, though one is probably more than enough to give our offense fits, as I fully expect Will McDonald to spend a lot of time in Iowa’s backfield saying “I’m Lovin’ It” after yet another sack lunch. There has been a lot of turnover in Iowa State’s secondary as well, perhaps none more surprising than former Big 12 Freshman of the Year Isheem Young transferring to Ole Miss. Yet despite every one of those things being true, you could not get me to bet anything of value that Iowa finishes this game north of 300 yards of offense.
So as it usually does, the hope for our salvation as Hawkeye fans rests with the defense. The recipe for these most recent Cy-Hawk victories has been pretty simple: No horrific mistakes by Iowa’s offense, contain Iowa State’s offense, and pounce when Iowa State inevitably slips on the banana peel that is sitting conspicuously in the middle of the room. And look, long may Iowa State piss the Cy-Hawk game down their leg due to their own buffoonery. But I’m not nearly as much a fan of counting my turnovers before they hatch as Kirk is.
Instead of biding our time waiting for the Cyclones to bungle another opportunity at victory, I’m hoping for a repeat of the 2018 Cy-Hawk game, in which the Hawkeye defense choked the life out of the Cyclone offense, limiting them to 179 yards of offense and smothering future NFL running back David Montgomery for just 44 yards on 17 carries, which completely took the pressure off an offense that could only muster 13 points of their own. It isn’t that hard to talk yourself into this happening. Jirehl Brock may be very good, but he probably isn't Bryce Hall-good. (And, of course, Iowa did a perfectly excellent job containing Bryce Hall last year.) Iowa State lost a couple of dudes on the offensive line and Hunter Dekkers, limited to mopping-up after Brock Purdy last year, is likely starting his first road game in a very hostile Kinnick Stadium. It might be very tough for ISU to move the ball.
And yet, I can't talk myself into penciling in more than 13 non-Cyclone-aided points for Iowa in this game, and even that feels overly optimistic. Charlie Jones is gone and with him the prodigious X-factor he brought in the Hawkeye return game. Xavier Hucthinson is quite good. A busted coverage. A trick play. A Hawkeye turnover. However they manage it, if ISU can manufacture 14 points and not turn the ball over, that feels like more than enough to win this things
So...In Phil Parker We Trust!
Ben's Anxiety Scale: 6/10
Homer Version: Clowns/IS-Poo/Favorite Derogatory term for the Cyclones are embarrassed in a raucous Kinnick stadium and it remains a Hawkeye state baby, now and forever!!!
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