Cy-Hawk game offers Iowa defense a shot at redemption after 2017 shootout showdown

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — If a victory can sting, then that’s precisely the feeling Iowa’s defensive players have this week as they review the film from last year’s Cy-Hawk game.

The Hawkeyes outlasted Iowa State, 44-41, in overtime at Jack Trice Stadium last September. They piled on each other in the end zone; they grabbed the trophy and headed home.

But it was sobering for the Iowa defense to review the game the next day. And every day since.

“They were a challenging offense last year, and unfortunately for us, we gave up some big plays and gave up too many points. But our offense picked us up and probably really won us that game,” Iowa safety Jake Gervase said Tuesday. “We’re looking forward to that challenge of trying to shut down their offense Saturday (4 p.m. on Fox) and hopefully not put as much stress on our offense.”

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Iowa's Parker Hesse (40) and Jake Gervase (30) team up to stop Iowa State receiver Allen Lazard in last September's CyHawk game. The Hawkeye defense knows it must do a better job of wrapping up Cyclone ball-carriers when the teams meet again Saturday at Kinnick Stadium.

Gervase had six tackles last year as Iowa won the rivalry game for a third consecutive season.

Missed tackles for the Hawkeyes were more common, however.

The Cyclones ran up 467 yards, averaging 6.5 per play. They scored 21 consecutive points in a span of 8 minutes, 51 seconds to assume a 10-point advantage. When Iowa’s Miguel Recinos tied the score 31-31 with a fourth-quarter field goal, Iowa State needed only two plays to cover 83 yards and regain the lead.

If it wasn’t for Akrum Wadley’s determined burst down the sideline for a 46-yard touchdown, the game never would have gone to overtime. If it wasn’t for a Nate Stanley connection to Ihmir Smith-Marsette for a 5-yard score in the extra session, there would have been nothing for the Hawkeyes to celebrate.

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Saturday’s game at Kinnick, the 66th in the series, offers the Iowa defense a chance to prove last year’s showing was an anomaly.

“There’s a lot of things that we need to correct if we don’t want that to happen again,” Hawkeye defensive tackle Sam Brincks said.

Like what?

“I would say tackling,” was Brincks’ succinct reply.

The Cyclones have a different quarterback this season, as Kyle Kempt replaced Jacob Park midway through last year’s 8-5 campaign. The redshirt senior is a steady leader and hasn’t thrown an interception in his past 130 pass attempts.

“He’s not going to make any dumb decisions,” Gervase said of Kempt. “He’s strong with the football, doesn’t turn the ball over very much. So if we get an opportunity, we’ve got to make sure we take advantage of it.”

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Iowa had one interception in last year’s meeting. But also only one sack of Park. More quarterback pressure seems like a necessity.

Star Iowa State wide receiver Allen Lazard has graduated. He scored twice in last year’s Cy-Hawk game.

But Hakeem Butler, who also had a pair of TD receptions in that one, is back.

“If we're going to have success this week, we'd better account for him in the game plan,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said of Butler, who stands 6-foot-6.

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The Cyclones also retain elusive tailback David Montgomery, who produced the bulk of the missed tackles a year ago while piling up 165 rushing and receiving yards.

Up front, Iowa State has reshuffled its offensive line. Only two starters are listed atop the depth chart in the same spot as the last time the Hawkeyes and Cyclones met. Iowa State’s season-opening game against South Dakota State was canceled by lightning last week.

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Brincks isn’t exactly sure who he’s going to be facing Saturday.

“We’ve seen the depth chart,” he said. “But they can throw anyone in there, so you’ve got to be ready for anything.”

Hawkeyes safety Amani Hooker has been rewatching last year’s game film, a rather unpleasant task. He assumes that the Cyclones will take a similar approach on offense this season. Why wouldn’t they?

“We feel like they’re going to come back and get some things that they got us last year with,” Hooker said. “Obviously, they’re going to change some things up where they find that we have weak spots at. So they’re going to try and exploit that and we have to do our best job to cover that up.”

Iowa’s defense had a terrific day in Saturday’s 33-7 home win over Northern Illinois. But the Hawkeyes also were coming off a 24-3 victory over Josh Allen’s Wyoming squad heading into this game a year ago.

“It’s a little bigger challenge this week with Iowa State,” Gervase said.

A bigger challenge, a bigger spotlight and a bigger opportunity for the Iowa defense to show what it’s really made of. The players barely recognize the group they see on film from last year’s game.

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