Leistikow's Iowa vs. Iowa State prediction: Every yard will be precious in Cy-Hawk slugfest

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

Cue up the 2019 Iowa-Iowa State game, and you'll notice a lot of the same Cyclones on defense that you will see in Saturday’s showdown at Jack Trice Stadium.

Five defenders started then and are still atop the Cyclones' depth chart today: tackle Enyi Uwazurike, linebacker Mike Rose and defensive backs Greg Eisworth, Anthony Johnson Jr. and Datrone Young. They were among those that gave the Hawkeyes all that could handle in an 18-17 Iowa win.

“I know from our standpoint,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said this week, “we're going to have to really work hard to move the ball.”

In the last two meetings against Iowa State, the Hawkeyes averaged 4.2 yards per play (in a 13-3 win in 2018) and 4.3 (in 2019). Those are normally losing numbers (especially considering Iowa State averaged 7.7 in the ’19 game), but the Hawkeyes have been terrific in the Cy-Hawk battle at maximizing their special-teams advantage and winning the turnover battle.

Iowa State plays a unique 3-3-5 defense (that Iowa never sees in the Big Ten) and plays it very well. That’s not to say Iowa’s defense isn’t just as good if not better, particularly after seeing last week’s 34-6 suffocation of then-No. 17 Indiana. But all of this is a good reminder that every yard Saturday will be precious for the guys wearing home black jerseys (Iowa State) and visiting whites (Iowa).

Here’s another almost incredible stat about the Cyclones' salty defense: They’ve allowed just 16 second-half points in their last six games. Just 2.7 per game! Not even a field goal.

Moving the chains and keeping the ball away from Iowa State (who have averaged just 55 snaps in the last two Cy-Hawk meetings) is paramount for offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz behind a young offensive line. Iowa might need to gamble on fourth downs with the hopes of scoring seven points instead of three.

"We’re doing the best we can to get our linemen up to the secondary," Iowa running back Tyler Goodson said, "and make sure we’ll be able to run the ball strongly and pass the ball confidently."

For Iowa to win and become a solidified top-10 team and viable College Football Playoff contender, it’ll have to come through with clutch offensive plays. Nate Stanley didn’t have eye-popping stats but delivered big-time second-half plays in 2019 — a key third-and-22 throw to Ihmir Smith-Marsette and a third-and-11 run for 14 yards stand out — to rally Iowa from a 14-6 hole.

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Does Spencer Petras have that in him? Though he’s riding a seven-game win streak, we haven’t seen the junior quarterback carry the Hawkeyes to victory. Petras might not need to Saturday, but it sure would help to have his best career game considering his counterpart (Iowa State’s Brock Purdy) is a fourth-year starter who is rewriting the Cyclones’ record books and has a track record of playing well against ranked opponents.

Spencer Petras used the quarterback sneak a few times for first downs against Indiana. As crazy as it sounds, the sneak could be a big play against Iowa State on Saturday with yards so precious (Iowa's only TD vs. the Cyclones came on a Nate Stanley sneak).

Of course, Iowa’s defense can have a big say. With most key personnel back from a year ago, the Hawkeyes haven’t allowed a running play of more than 21 yards in any of their last eight games. Iowa State’s longest rushing play in the last two Cy-Hawk games is 18 yards.

“There’s something we stress around here more than anything, and that is the big play,” Iowa assistant defensive coordinator Seth Wallace said this week. (The Hawkeyes count 25-plus yards as a big play.)

"The big thing for us is to keep the ball inside and in front of us. Realize there’s a lot of unknowns in this (matchup). Let’s not try to do too much in the beginning. We’re going to have to put our feet in the dirt … and fight."

Going to the Iowa-Iowa State football game? Here's where to find parking for the Cy-Hawk matchup

In summary?

Points and yards will be at a premium. So will ball possession. Which team can strike a few big plays (and limit turnovers) will come out on top.

Iowa wins if …

It can repeat the Indiana formula and jump out to an early lead, maybe 7-0 or 10-0. That won’t completely take a revved-up Cyclone crowd out of the game, but it would help. One reason Iowa held Indiana to 77 rushing yards was because the Hoosiers were playing catch-up through the air. A turnover-free game (like Iowa has experienced in four straight Cy-Hawk matchups) is a must. And how huge would it be if Iowa scores on defense as it did twice last week?

Iowa State wins if …

The Cyclones ride their emotional wave from the crowd. A sold-out Jack Trice Stadium might be the toughest venue many Hawkeyes see in their careers. The Cyclones didn’t lose a Big 12 home game a year ago, beating Oklahoma early in the season and closing with routs of 45-0 over Kansas State and 42-6 over West Virginia. Iowa State must prove it can be at or near its best in Week 2, something that has been a struggle under Matt Campbell.

NO. 12 IOWA (1-0) AT NO. 10 IOWA STATE (1-0)

Time, TV, Tipico Sportsbook line: 3:30 p.m., ABC, Iowa State by 4½ points.

Prediction: Iowa State 24, Iowa 19 … These teams are evenly matched in most areas, but the Cyclones have the advantage in the stands and at quarterback.

Saturday’s other Big Ten games

(All times CT, lines from Tipico Sportsbook)

Illinois (1-1) at Virginia (1-0)

Time, TV, line: 10 a.m., ACC Network, Virginia by 10½

Prediction: The Illini are hopeful to get starting quarterback Brandon Peters (shoulder) back soon, but the defense is a bigger concern after it yielded 497 yards and lost to Texas-San Antonio. Virginia 30, Illinois 24

No. 11 Oregon (1-0) at No. 3 Ohio State (1-0)

Time, TV, line: 11 a.m., Fox, Ohio State by 14½

Prediction: In its first game without Justin Fields, how did Ohio State respond under new quarterback C.J. Stroud? By averaging a school-record 10.31 yards per play against Minnesota. The Big Ten East still runs through Columbus. Ohio State 45, Oregon 21

Youngstown State (1-0) at Michigan State (1-0)

Time, TV, line: 11 a.m., BTN, no line

Prediction: Considering Youngstown State yielded nearly 500 yards to Incarnate Word, Michigan State's Kenneth Walker III (264 rushing yards in a 38-21 win at Northwestern) will have another big day. Michigan State 34, Youngstown State 14

Miami of Ohio (0-1) at Minnesota (0-1)

Time, TV, line: 11 a.m., ESPNU, Minnesota by 19½

Prediction: The Gophers must continue their ball-control mentality (nearly 39 minutes of possession time vs. Ohio State) even after the unfortunate season-ending leg injury to star running back Mo Ibrahim. Minnesota 38, Miami 21

Indiana State (1-0) at Northwestern (0-1)

Time, TV, line: 11 a.m., BTN, no line

Prediction: Pat Fitzgerald can use this game to work out some defensive issues after Northwestern gave up 326 rushing yards (and fell behind 21-0) in the opener. Northwestern 27, Indiana State 14

Rutgers (1-0) at Syracuse (1-0)

Time, TV, line: 1 p.m., ACC Network, Rutgers by 2½

Prediction: The Rutgers resurgence continues under Greg Schiano. A plus-five turnover margin helped deliver a whopping 61-14 opening rout of Temple. Remember, Rutgers becomes Iowa's East Division crossover partner in 2022. Rutgers 28, Syracuse 25

Purdue (1-0) at Connecticut (0-2)

Time, TV, line: 2 p.m., CBS Sports Network, Purdue by 34½

Prediction: A nice opening win for the Boilermakers at Oregon State (receiver David Bell had eight catches for 134 yards) is followed by playing perhaps the worst of 130 FBS teams. Purdue 45, UConn 3

Ball State (1-0) at No. 13 Penn State (1-0)

Time, TV, line: 2:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1, Penn State by 22½

Prediction: The Nittany Lions had 11 first downs to Wisconsin's 29 in Week 1 but big plays and turnover margin (plus-3) tilted the outcome. Penn State has won five Big Ten games in a row since a 41-21 loss to Iowa last season. Penn State 31, Ball State 13

Buffalo (1-0) at Nebraska (1-1)

Time, TV, line: 2:30 p.m., BTN, Nebraska by 13½

Prediction: Buffalo had to transition to a new coach late in May (after Lance Leipold bolted for Kansas) but still has good pieces in place, including a formidable defense, to make the Huskers nervous. Nebraska 24, Buffalo 20

Eastern Michigan (1-0) at No. 17 Wisconsin (0-1)

Time, TV, line: 6 p.m., FS1, Wisconsin by 25½

Prediction: Plucked from Drake in December 2013, Chris Creighton is now in his eighth year in Ypsilanti and has kept the historically-terrible Eagles competitive (28-30 since 2016). Transfer running back Chez Mellusi (5-foot-11, 204 pounds) looked terrific in his Wisconsin debut (31 carries, 121 yards), but can he hold up to the grind? Wisconsin 38, Eastern Michigan 10

Idaho (1-0) at Indiana (0-1)

Time, TV, line: 6:30 p.m., BTN, no line

Prediction: The Hoosiers could play Iowa 10 times and never again fall behind 14-0 in the first 2:15. This is still a solid, well-coached Indiana team with playmakers on offense and a terrific defense. Indiana 44, Idaho 7

Howard (0-1) at Maryland (1-0)

Time, TV, line: 6:30 p.m., BTN, no line

Prediction: After a satisfying Week 1 win vs. West Virginia (in which Taulia Tagovailoa hit 26 of 36 passes for 332 yards), it's possible the Terrapins enter their Oct. 1 home game vs. Iowa with a 4-0 record. (After FCS Howard, they face Illinois and Kent State.) Maryland 45, Howard 13

Washington (0-1) at Michigan (1-0)

Time, TV, line: 7 p.m., ABC, Michigan by 6½

Prediction: In a big year for Jim Harbaugh, the Wolverines look to build off an efficient opener vs. Western Michigan (551 yards on 60 plays). Washington will bring its best shot to Ann Arbor after a shocking 13-7 loss to FCS Montana in its opener. Michigan 24, Washington 20

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 26 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.