Leistikow: Businesslike Hawkeyes happy to let Iowa State deal with 'GameDay' distraction
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Iowa defensive back Michael Ojemudia claimed he didn’t know until Monday that ESPN’s “College GameDay” would be on hand for the Hawkeyes’ Saturday game at Iowa State.
“We actually don’t see what most of the world sees,” the senior said, a nod to the team’s no-tweeting policy.
Running back Mekhi Sargent asserted he doesn’t care about “GameDay.”
“I just know the game’s on TV,” the junior says.
Whether you believe them or not, the Hawkeyes were certainly on their usual, businesslike message Tuesday in advance of what’s going to be the most-hyped Cy-Hawk football game ever.
And, to be clear, not everyone was seemingly as oblivious about a nine-person on-air crew (including the likes of Rece Davis, Desmond Howard, Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit) coming to Ames.
“It’s ‘College GameDay.’ It’s one of the biggest games of the weekend,” linebacker Djimon Colbert acknowledged without prompting.
Iowa is 2-0 and ranked 18th, and 1-0 Iowa State enters just outside the top 25 after being a preseason ranked team for the first time in 41 years.
Colbert then hit another nail-on-the-head point.
“All the wild stuff is going on in Ames right now,” Colbert said. “It helps us out a little bit, keeps us away from that.”
That might be the biggest intangible advantage for Iowa, which has gone from being a 4½-point underdog (in preseason betting lines) to a 2½-point favorite (as of Tuesday afternoon) ahead of this showdown.
Because it’s one thing to say you’re not distracted by the national attention. It’s another to actually not be distracted. Being 130 miles away from this week’s distraction epicenter helps. The hype will really ramp up Thursday, when the "GameDay" bus rolls into Ames.
Still, Iowa coaches have been drilling into their players’ minds the importance of making this as normal a game week as possible. They know how emotions can take over a moment. In the only "College GameDay" appearance in Iowa City during the Kirk Ferentz era, the Hawkeyes got thrashed by Ohio State, 38-17 in 2006.
On the topic of distractions, Ferentz dipped further into his memory bank Tuesday. He recalled his 1990s NFL days with the Cleveland Browns, when the coaching staff was too consumed by poor officiating and ended up losing an important game.
“The bottom line is,” Ferentz said, “if you're thinking about something else other than what you're supposed to be thinking about, it probably doesn't do any good.”
Iowa’s bottom-line approach this week: Be the most prepared team on the field once 3 p.m. Saturday comes at Jack Trice Stadium.
“You win games at practice,” Sargent said. “That’s not just Iowa State, that’s every game. Carry yourself like a professional. Practice well, execute plays.”
Iowa should be helped by having a third-year starting quarterback in Nate Stanley … who threw for five touchdown passes in a 2017 overtime win the last time these teams played in Ames.
Although Stanley was great that day, he’s experienced struggles in several hostile environments with good defenses — in 2017, at Michigan State and Wisconsin; and last season at Penn State.
“You know it’s going to be loud and what to expect, so why even put any energy or focus on it?” Stanley said.
The Hawkeyes are preparing for a lot of noise. During Tuesday’s practice, they set up a large speaker behind the offense with pumped-in crowd noise. Hand signals and silent counts will be key.
“It’s kind of like their Super Bowl,” Ojemudia said. “We just treat it as going into a hostile stadium.
“If you get caught up in all the noise, you might mess up or miss a step along the way.”
The Cyclones' fan base is revved up, for good reason, about the job Matt Campbell has done. Add "GameDay" to record season-ticket sales, plus the revenge factor for four straight losses to Iowa, and there's not much doubt this will be the most pro-Iowa State crowd in Cy-Hawk history.
Ojemudia is prepared for hostility. He had four tackles in the game there two years ago, when Iowa overcame a 10-point deficit in the final 6½ minutes of regulation.
“That atmosphere was crazy that game,” Ojemudia said, before offering the closest thing to bulletin-board material that came up Tuesday.
“We definitely want to shut them up this time around.”
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 24 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.