Early keys for Iowa to win Cy-Hawk rivalry game

Rick Brown

Here we go, another trophy game. The Cy-Hawk rivalry returns Saturday at Jack Trice Stadium, and Iowa wants to reverse two trends.

First, Iowa State has won three of the last four meetings. And second, Iowa went 0-4 in trophy games last season after losing to the Cyclones, Minnesota (Floyd of Rosedale), Wisconsin (Heartland) and Nebraska (Heroes Game).

Iowa played a complete game in last week’s 31-14, season-opening victory against Illinois State. The offense moved the ball on the ground and through the air, and the first-team defense pitched a shutout, even keeping the Redbirds out of the red zone.

Iowa State provides an opportunity to show that a promising start has legs.

LeShun Daniels led a resurgent Iowa ground game against Illinois State with 123 yards.

Are the “Bullies of the Big Ten’ back?

Iowa’s running game never found consistency last season, so the opener was encouraging. The Hawkeyes averaged 4.8 yards a carry. The last time Iowa came close to averaging that for a season was 2008 (4.76).

The one-two punch of LeShun Daniels and Jordan Canzeri, who also had a team-high 90 receiving yards, will be in the gameplan at Iowa State. The offensive line passed its first test, allowing no sacks. Now, it will try to protect quarterback C.J. Beathard against an Iowa State defense that recorded six sacks against Northern Iowa.

One reason the running game was effective was the return (and blocking) of fullbacks Macon Plewa, injured most of last season, and Adam Cox, who missed last season with a knee injury.

STATUS REPORT:How the Hawkeyes fared in each phase of Saturday's game

Containing Iowa State’s lethal receivers

The Cyclones’ pass catchers have been hyped all offseason. Iowa’s secondary, on paper, is a team strength. This will be an area worth watching Saturday.

Iowa State quarterback Sam Richardson completed throws to seven different receivers in the opener. Quenton Bundrage had a team-high five receptions. He had seven catches for 146 yards and three touchdowns when Iowa won 27-21 two years ago at Jack Trice. Other than a pair of pass interference calls, the Hawkeye secondary was solid in the opener. This will be a much bigger test.

Putting the heat on Richardson

Richardson completed 21 of 29 passes for 233 yards and two touchdowns in the opener. If Iowa is to win, the defensive line has to put pressure on Richardson and get him out of his comfort zone. And if he scrambles, the linebackers will have to keep him in check.

Iowa had five sacks in the opener and won the fight at the point of attack. New tackles Nathan Bazata and Jaleel Johnson passed the eye test. Defensive end Drew Ott is emerging as the star of this defense and is a nightmare for offensive tackles. If he shines Saturday, there’s a good chance Iowa will, too.

MORE FROM RICK BROWN:Bloodied Ott puts on a bloody good show

Putting the special in special teams

Iowa’s much-maligned special-teams play of a season ago didn’t really get tested in the opener. We’ll have a much better picture of their improvement after this game.

The Cyclones’ Allen Lazard returned four punts for 100 yards against UNI, and Trever Ryen returned one 81 yards for a touchdown. Watch film of Iowa’s game with Nebraska last season, and De’Mornay Pierson-El’s three punt returns for 134 yards and a touchdown, if you don’t think this is an area of concern for the Hawkeyes.

Punter Dillon Kidd averaged 47 yards on two kicks, both touchbacks. So the first punt return Iowa will have to defend will likely come Saturday.

New Kirk vs. Old Kirk

We saw two sides to Kirk Ferentz when he kicked off his 17th season as Iowa’s coach last week. He left his conservative side in the locker room in the first half, trying a fake field goal, going for it on fourth down on the first drive, bringing back the shovel pass and not leaning to the run.

C.J. BEATHARD:The drive Saturday that proved his early worth

The Hawkeyes had 19 passing plays and 19 rushing plays the first half.

With a 17-0 halftime lead in his pocket, Ferentz kept it on the ground, milked the clock and played power football (six passes, 25 rushes) in the second half.

Which Kirk will we see Saturday?