Iowa vs Iowa State: What We're Watching For

By RossWB on September 9, 2022 at 6:41 pm
smash some cyclones
© Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
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WHO: Iowa State (1-0)
WHEN: 3:00 PM CT (Saturday, September 10)
WHERE: Kinnick Stadium (Iowa City, IA)
TV: BTN
ANNOUNCERS: Brandon Gaudin, Anthony Herron, and Rick Pizzo
RADIO: Hawkeye Radio Network (TuneIn, or local listings) | SiriusXM Ch. 133/195
STREAM: FoxSports.com
MOBILE: Fox Sports app 
TWITTER: @IowaFBLive | @IowaAwesome | @IowaOnBTN
WEATHER: partly cloudy, high around 70, 50% chance of rain 
LINE: Iowa -3.5 (TOTAL: 40.0)

NOTE: Don't forget to follow all the action during the game and chat with your fellow Iowa fans in the Go Iowa Awesome discord! (More info here.)

If I can be candid for a moment, I find these game previews one of the hardest things 

* Will Iowa State slip on a banana peel again? 

We all remember this, of course: 

And then this from last year: 

A big part of the latter play was a great defense sequence from Jestin Jacobs and Jack Campbell, but still: Iowa's last two wins in the Cy-Hawk series have come from taking full advantage of ISU miscues. It certainly wasn't because Iowa out-played them, at least on offense -- Iowa had 173 yards of offense and 2.88 yards per play last year and 313 yards and 4.35 yards per play in 2019 (by comparison, Iowa State had 339 yards and 4.84 yards per play last year and 418 yards and 7.74 yards per play (!) in 2019). 

Of course, Iowa has dominated Iowa State in one category during their current six-game winning streak in the series: turnovers. Iowa has a cumulative +9 turnover margin over those six wins and hasn't turned the ball over to ISU since 2015. Turnovers were especially critical last year (+4 TO margin) and in 2019 (+2 TO margin). Iowa survived a -2 turnover margin last week against South Dakota State, but it's unlikely they could pull that off against Iowa State this week. Chances are, for Iowa to win the Hawkeyes are going to need the defense to take the ball away from Iowa State a few times -- and if they can go ahead and score too, well, that would be really nice.   

* How long is the leash for Spencer Petras?

Before the season I figured that Spencer Petras would need to get hit by a Cambus in order to lose his hold on the starting QB job. After all, it took significant injury to get him off the field a year ago -- a clearly hobbled Petras even started against Northwestern before it became apparent that he simply couldn't throw the ball and was replaced by Alex Padilla. Kirk and Brian Ferentz were pretty unwavering in their support of Petras during the offseason as well. 

But... the cracks in that resolve might be starting to show. Last weekend's performance -- 11/25 (44%), 109 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT -- was so dreadful and looked even worse on film, a point which was underlined by some of Brian Ferentz's comments during a press appearance during the week. 

In other words, there were plays to be made at the QB position. If the guy currently in that role can't make them, it might be necessary to try other options. Brian and Kirk both still expressed confidence in Petras in their press conferences this week and he's going to start the game tomorrow. But if the offense continues to go three-and-out on a regular basis and Petras continues to miss easy throws and fails to convert makeable plays, I do think the coaches will see if someone else (Padilla) can be the spark the offense needs.  

* Can another wide receiver make an impact?

Whether it's Petras or Padilla, Iowa certainly needs to get better play out of the QB position tomorrow. And whoever's at QB badly needs a stronger showing from the offensive line, too, which got pushed around far too easily by South Dakota State and sprung too many leaks as a result. But Iowa also needs to cobble together a more effective solution to their current wide receiver woes, too. The players who were absent last week -- Keagan Johnson, Nico Ragaini, and Diante Vines -- are still slated to be out this week, so there's no help riding in from that direction. The current crew is going to have to make some plays. 

Iowa basically played just two receivers last week -- Arland Bruce IV (52 snaps) and Alec Wick (44 snaps). (Jack Johnson saw four snaps, while Brody Brecht got on the field for one snap.) Two tight ends -- Sam LaPorta (56 snaps) and Luke Lachey (53) -- had more snaps than any of Iowa's wide receivers. Playing LaPorta out wide wasn't an effective solution, though -- his size creates a mismatch against corners, but he doesn't have the foot speed to effectively stretch the field. Bruce and Wick (and perhaps Johnson and/or Brecht) need to be used on the outside -- and Iowa actually needs to target them on some deep and intermediate routes. Iowa desperately needs to find a way to get defenses to stop loading eight or nine guys in the box on almost every offensive play; the best way to do that would be for Iowa's receivers to make some plays on the outside to force the secondary to pay some respect to them. If Iowa continues to try and play offense inside a shoebox, they're just going to keep getting stepped on. 

* How much hell can Phil Parker unleash? 

ISU QB Hunter Dekkers dazzled last week in the first start of his career -- 25/31 (81%) for 293 yards and four touchdowns (against one interception). That was also at home, against SE Missouri State. For his encore, Dekkers gets to take his passing attack a few hours to the east and try to replicate that performance in front of 69,000 screaming Iowa fans -- and against an Iowa defense that looks seriously formidable (again). Iowa's defense wrecked Brock Purdy a year ago -- 13/27 (48%), 138 yards, 0 TD, 3 INT -- and forcing a similar performance out of Dekkers this year might be essential to Iowa's hopes of winning this game. 

Iowa's defense will have some key absences -- LB Jestin Jacobs, CB Jermari Harris, and backup DT Yahya Black are all expected to miss tomorrow's game -- but Phil Parker's crew still looks pretty loaded. Jack Campbell and Seth Benson are a formidable tandem at LB and even without Black, Iowa's DL is loaded with guys who can smother a running game and harass a quarterback. Riley Moss vs ISU WR Xavier Hutchinson figures to be must-see TV, too. 

What wrinkles will Parker have in store for Dekkers and the ISU offense? Do we see some aggressive use of Campbell and Benson in blitzes? Does Iowa do anything different in the secondary to try and slow down Hutchinson? (The odds are against that, given Iowa's track record, but the threat of Hutchinson being a David Bell-style one-man wrecking crew against Iowa's secondary could give one a little pause -- maybe even Phil Parker.) It's hard to envision a path for Iowa to win this game without some big plays by the defense. 

* What does Tory Taylor do for an encore? 

I mean, hopefully he doesn't punt 10 times again. That's too much damn punting and if he's that busy it also means that Iowa's offense remains locked on the strugglebus. But Taylor's leg is obviously a major weapon for Iowa and his ability to flip field position could be vital in this game. The Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week wowed the world with this booming precision punts last week, so we definitely want to see what he do can this week. 

PREDICTION

Streaks have to end eventually and while I expect a great display from the Iowa defense and some more highlight reel punts from Tory Taylor, it's impossible to have even the slightest bit of confidence in the Iowa offense right now. But... what the hell. Picking Iowa to lose -- to Iowa State, no less -- isn't any fun, right? A defensive touchdown and another safety prove decisive. 

IOWA 19, IOWA STATE 17

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