Iowa football mailbag: Time to talk strategy in Cy-Hawk showdown

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

We’ve reached the point of Cy-Hawk week where the majority of fans are done with all the “College GameDay” talk and want to get down to the nitty-gritty of the football game itself.

That was apparent in Wednesday’s weekly Facebook Live show on, as our state gets geared up for Saturday’s 3:05 p.m. showdown in Ames.

We talked about slight edges regarding intangibles, coaching, even punting (of course!) of Iowa vs. Iowa State. But we also got this question: What matchup is Iowa’s most difficult on Saturday?

Tyler Linderbaum and the Iowa offensive line face their most difficult task this season, at Iowa State.

And on that, I landed with Iowa’s run game against one of the best defensive fronts it’ll face all year.

Freshman center Tyler Linderbaum has looked great through two games for the Hawkeyes; and Kyler Schott has been a neat walk-on story as a fill-in right guard. But are they — and the rest of Iowa’s offensive line, playing short-handed again without future NFL tackle Alaric Jackson — up to the task of handling senior nose guard Ray Lima and his friends?

The defensive front seven is absolutely the strength of Iowa State’s team.

Though the Cyclones got a scare against Northern Iowa, the reality is that they still allowed just 1.1 yards per rushing attempt and 3.6 per play.

Improving Iowa’s run game was a big offseason priority, and there’s a lot to like what was accomplished against Miami (Ohio) and Rutgers — 5.1 yards per carry. But … that’s Miami and Rutgers. After watching the Hawkeyes fight for just 2.9 yards a pop vs. the Cyclones a year ago and a minus-15 rushing day in the Outback Bowl in their last game against a credible defense … we have to still see it to believe it.

Some other fun stuff from Facebook Live …

TOPIC: Besides A.J. Epenesa and Nate Stanley, which two Hawkeyes need to step up Saturday?

I picked one on each side of the ball.

On offense: Mekhi Sargent. As noted, the Hawkeyes need to find run-game traction. Two years ago in Ames, Akrum Wadley’s ability to catch passes out of the backfield was the difference between victory and defeat.

On defense: Chauncey Golston. Iowa’s “other” defensive end has yet to splash this season. But I was unimpressed with Iowa State’s tackles on film, and with Epenesa likely getting a lot of attention, a good game from Golston could help wreck the Cyclones’ game plan.

TOPIC: Who has the coaching edge?

The extra week of preparation gives Iowa State’s Matt Campbell an early advantage. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the Cyclones throw an unexpected wrinkle at an Iowa team that was busy playing a Big Ten Conference game last weekend.

But through three years of Campbell vs. Kirk Ferentz, there’s little debate that Iowa has had the better in-game adjustments. In 2016, it didn't matter. Two years ago, offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz found enough Cyclone holes to rally Iowa to victory in Ames. Last year, Iowa State jumped to a 3-0 lead in Kinnick Stadium before Phil Parker’s defense held the Cyclones to 114 total yards over the final three quarters.

It’s a slight edge, but advantage Iowa.

TOPIC: Will Oliver Martin be unleashed this week?

Unofficially, Martin’s had 33 offensive snaps as compared to fellow receivers Tyrone Tracy Jr. (87), Nico Ragaini (83), Brandon Smith (80) and Ihmir Smith-Marsette (56). So, yes, the Michigan transfer has been largely kept under wraps to date.

And, with four catches for 24 yards, he’s largely been running short routes. But the Iowa City West product has the pure speed, too, that the Hawkeyes would be silly to keep on the bench against a less-proven Iowa State secondary.

Just a gut feeling: Martin will make a big play Saturday in his Cy-Hawk debut.

TOPIC: Can Brock Purdy take advantage of Iowa's thinning secondary?

Iowa State's mobile-and-tough quarterback (who reminds me of former Penn State standout and current NFL rookie Trace McSorley) didn't take deep shots against UNI, raising questions about the Cyclones' big-play ability after the losses of David Montgomery and Hakeem Butler to the NFL.

I think Iowa State will do whatever it can to protect Purdy from injury; Campbell knows if he gets hurt, it's game over. And that means keeping Purdy out of obvious passing situations against the strength of Iowa's defense. Of course, the Cyclones should test a banged-up Iowa secondary that'll start walk-on Jack Koerner at free safety. But I think you'll see only selected deep shots and more of a dink-and-dunk approach designed at controlling clock and field position.

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.