Tall challenge for Hawkeyes: Stopping Richardson, Lazard

Chad Leistikow

AMES, Ia. – Is Iowa’s defense for real? It might need to be Saturday.

While we can't conclude anything after one game, the starting 11 Hawkeye defenders looked great in thrashing Illinois State. For the Hawkeyes to win Saturday’s nationally televised Cy-Hawk rivalry game (3:45, Fox), it’ll take a validating defensive effort. It almost always does against Iowa State.

As Iowa’s head coach, Kirk Ferentz is 7-9 (.438) against Iowa State, 109-76 (.589) against everyone else.

When his teams beat the Cyclones, it’s all about the Iowa defense – which has allowed 12 points a game in those seven wins.

The Hawkeyes’ first unit obliterated the potent play-makers of Illinois State in the opener. Iowa sacked 4,250-yard quarterback Tre Roberson as many times as they allowed him completions (five), and confined 2,257-yard rusher Marshaun Coprich to a long run of 7 yards. The score was 31-0 (in a 31-14 outcome) before the second- and third-teamers came in.

The way Iowa looks at it, the FCS runner-up Redbirds were an ideal preparation for Iowa State’s spread offense. The game plan won't change much, not that it ever does in Phil Parker's 4-3 base defense.

“We had a really good look with Illinois State,” linebacker Cole Fisher said. “That was a really good test for us to test our perimeter, and I think we played really successful against that. If we can take what we did last week and carry it over into this week, we’ll be fine.”

Tall tasks: Stopping Richardson, ISU receivers

Though Sam Richardson has never won a Big 12 Conference start, he’s done well against Iowa. The fifth-year senior outplayed Iowa’s Jake Rudock a year ago as the Cyclones pulled a 20-17 stunner in Iowa City.

Richardson completed 25 of 36 passes for 255 yards and two touchdowns in that game. A year earlier in Ames, he threw for 260 yards and three scores (all to Quenton Bundrage) and nearly rallied the Cyclones in a 27-21 loss.

“Every year, we’ve played a pretty good game against them,” Richardson said. “We’re going to get their best game. They’re going to get our best game.”

Even though Richardson has completed 62.7 percent of his 75 pass attempts against Iowa, containing his legs is the first order of business for the Drew Ott-led defensive line. Ott helped ESPN begin assembly of his NFL Draft highlight tape with an overpowering performance against Illinois State (constant QB pressure, two sacks).

“We’re just going to have to contain (Richardson),” said Ott, who has set a goal of 15 sacks in 2015. Saturday, he’ll be matched up against 6-foot-8 left tackle Jake Campos. “And hopefully put some pressure on him so he can’t look downfield.”

Iowa’s steepest challenge, literally, will be stopping the pass. Iowa State couldn’t run the ball last week vs. Northern Iowa, so all eyes will be on how effectively Richardson can sling it to his tall receivers – and whether he has time to sling it.

Sophomore Allen Lazard (6-5, 223) is the marquee target. He and junior D’Vario Montgomery (6-6, 213), senior Bundrage (6-2, 198) and junior backup Dondre Daley (6-2, 191) lead Iowa State’s best and deepest position.

“They've got some good size at the receiver position, which is always concerning,” Ferentz said. “But we're going to have to do a good job trying to get pressure and then also trying to re-route and things like that.

“I know this: If we just let those guys run the routes they want to run uncontested, it's going to be a long night.”

Greg Mabin’s redemption stage

Iowa junior cornerback Greg Mabin is symbolic of the transition that Hawkeye football is trying to make. He struggled in the TaxSlayer Bowl loss to Tennessee and was benched. That embarrassing 45-28 loss helped trigger culture and personnel changes in Iowa City.

Mabin is the poster child for Iowa’s redemption tour. He not only retained his role as starter opposite No. 1 corner Desmond King (5-11, 200), early observations – from open spring and fall practices and Game 1 – might rate him as the most improved Hawkeye. He stood out against Illinois State as much for his open-field tackling as his covering ability.

Mabin (6-2, 200) has heard about Iowa State’s receivers being better.

“They’re supposed to be,” Mabin said. “We’ll see on Saturday.”

Mabin is confident Iowa’s secondary has been upgraded since January. Proving it will mean stopping Lazard and Co.

“They’re going to try to stretch us down the field,” Mabin said. “They’re going to try to make some plays. And it’s going to be on us to try to limit them."

Mabin, a product of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., wants this one for the Hawkeyes as much as anyone.

The rivalry was crystallized for him last September after Cole Netten’s 47-yard field goal with 2 seconds left let Iowa State secure the Cy-Hawk trophy for the third time in four years.

“Them giving us that loss, running over to our sideline to take that trophy, taking pictures with it and kissing it and stuff. It’s hard to watch,” Mabin said. “I don’t want to see that ever again as long as I’m here.”


When, where: 3:45 p.m. Saturday, Jack Trice Stadium, Ames.

Television: Fox (announcers: Gus Johnson, Joel Klatt, Molly McGrath).

The spread: Iowa is favored by 3.

The forecast: Generally sunny with a high of 67 degrees. North, northwest wind at five to 10 miles per hour.