Brown: Where Hawkeyes need to improve to beat ISU

Rick Brown

IOWA CITY, Ia. – Will Iowa's Brandon Scherff play Saturday against Iowa State?

Quite possible. Next question.

Damond Powell (22) celebrates a touchdown during the fourth quarter against Northern Iowa on Aug. 30.

Will Iowa's running game, without Scherff in his usual left tackle position, show consistent success for the first time this season against a Cyclone defense allowing 267 rushing yards a game?

It better, or Iowa State will leave Kinnick Stadium with a victory.

Will Iowa's kicking game show a significant uptick?

At least it can't get much worse.

Marshall Koehn, the junior with the big leg, and Mick Ellis, the freshman short-range specialist, have combined to miss four field-goal attempts inside the 40 in Iowa's first two games. That's more inside-40 misses than Iowa's had in any season since 2007. Nate Kaeding struggled inside the 40 as a freshman in 2000, missing five of 11 attempts. He turned out OK.

Seven of Koehn's 10 kickoffs have resulted in touchbacks, so there's a silver lining for you. But punter Dillon Kidd hasn't exactly changed field position when called upon. He needs to take a step forward with his foot Saturday, too.

The running and kicking games have been at the center of a lot of discussion this week, and in one significant way they're joined at the hip. If Iowa's running game is more productive in the red zone, that would mean fewer field-goal attempts.

Until the Hawkeyes scored two touchdowns in the final minutes to beat Ball State, they had just four TDs on 10 red-zone trips. A 50 percent touchdown rate (six of 12), especially without reliable placekicking, is bad enough to get you beat.

But I think the real key to an Iowa victory Saturday will come on the defensive side of the ball. The Hawkeyes are in the Top 10 nationally in rushing defense, but 92nd in passing yards allowed (254.5).

How many times do you think Iowa State's coaching staff watched the Iowa-Northern Iowa tape? It showed the Panthers burning the Hawkeyes for eight passing plays of 20 yards or more. Three of those catches, by David Johnson out of the backfield, went for 183 yards. The Cyclones are averaging 182.5 passing yards through two games.

Iowa State would be smart to borrow a page from Northern Iowa's plan of attack. Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz acknowledged earlier this the week that his team will be tested in a similar manner "until we do stop it effectively."

Saturday would be a good time to start.

Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow @ByRickBrown on Twitter.