Cy-Hawk will be Iowa football's first road game with fans in two years. Here's how it's preparing.
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Last week marked the return of fans in college football stadiums across the country. Now, for the first time since 2019, Iowa will travel to play a road game in a packed stadium.
And this won't be just any packed stadium.
All that pent-up energy from fans missing a Cy-Hawk game in 2020 will be contained in a sold-out Jack Trice Stadium this Saturday. Veteran Hawkeye receiver Nico Ragaini remembers the last matchup in Ames and how warfare from opposing fans began before they entered the stadium.
"You get off the bus," Ragaini recalled, "and fans are already screaming at you. And you walk onto the field and the student section is there talking you — definitely brings extra stuff to the game, so it's always fun."
Freshman like Arland Bruce IV, Connor Colby and Mason Richman, as well as established players like Tory Taylor and Spencer Petras, have never played in a true road game with fans.
Preparing for Iowa Sate is difficult enough, but adding the layer of inexperience in a road environment makes the job that much more difficult, head coach Kirk Ferentz said.
"It's one more thing that adds to the degree of difficulty," he said Tuesday. "It's one more thing that really can take you off your game a little bit or throw you off, and you have to concentrate your way through. It can be impactful, so it's just one more element to deal with in an already tough contest as it sits there. It's a challenge."
This year's Cy-Hawk game is the biggest in the rivalry's history. For the first time, both teams are ranked at the time of their game: Iowa State is ranked No. 10 and Iowa is No. 12 in the USA TODAY Sports Coaches Poll. Jack Trice Stadium will be filled to its 61,500-seat capacity with the large majority cheering for the Cyclones.
What's Iowa's plan to silencing the crowd?
The first step is to make sure their communication is in mid-season form.
"(Communication) is the biggest thing that can be affected by a hostile crowd," Petras said. "Making sure everyone is on the same page with the play call, snap count and things like that."
Petras' connection with center Tyler Linderbaum will be especially important in keeping the offense aligned in and out of the huddle.
"Any type of communication needs to be echoed," Linderbaum said. "Making sure that it's loud and precise is the biggest thing."
The groundwork for strong communication will be built in practice. Throughout the week, players will practice with crowd noise and music piped through speakers during team periods. This is designed to give the offense and defense the best idea possible of what it'll be like to call plays and make adjustments under duress.
It's the best they can do. But Ferentz admits it can only go so far.
"You pipe music in and all that, but it's not the same and you can't duplicate the emotion," Ferentz said. "And part of it's just experience. You have to experience it sometimes. I thought it impacted our opponents the other day, a little bit, (and) helped us a little bit."
Iowa benefitted from a hostile environment in their season-opener against Indiana. Two quick touchdowns (one offensive, one defensive) put them ahead, 14-0, and from there the Kinnick Stadium crowd was loud and intense. The Hawkeyes will be on the opposite end of the home-field advantage this weekend, but they're hoping to score early and often again to shut the crowd up.
"The easiest way to take a crowd out of a game is to play well on offense," Petras said. "That's our job: to start fast and to keep our foot on the gas and if we do that, then the crowd won't be as big a factor as if we don't do that."
It's unclear about how players will respond until they're in the moment. Linderbaum recalls his first hostile road start, the 2019 Cy-Hawk game, and how there's a learning curve that you have as the game progresses.
A crowd's biggest impact is their ability to help force mistakes. But Ragaini's advice to younger players is to not be so afraid to make a mistake that it then affects their play.
"Just be yourself and play as hard as you possibly can," Ragaini said. "If you're going out there playing 100% and make a mistake, mistakes happen. But if you're going 100%, then you can live with that."
Kennington Smith is the new Iowa Hawkeyes beat writer for the Des Moines Register. You can connect with Kennington on Twitter @SkinnyKenny_ or email him at email@example.com