How will Iowa football adjust its defense for Iowa State's offense? Plus, other Hawkeye notes
Iowa's talented defense passed its first test against Indiana, but Saturday's highly-anticipated Cy-Hawk game offers an entirely different type of stress test.
So much so that Iowa State's offense will likely take the Hawkeyes out of their base 4-2-5 defensively alignment quite a bit.
Why is that? Iowa State is known for utilizing offensive looks that feature multiple tight ends. The Cyclones are led by the All-American Charlie Kolar but Wallace noted there's four tight ends that they're game planning for: Kolar (6-foot-7, 260 pounds), Chase Allen (6-foot-7, 250 pounds), Easton Dean (6-foot-6, 255 pounds) and Jared Rus (6-foot-2, 240 pounds).
That means Iowa will likely add a linebacker to its base defensive looks this week with a 4-3 to combat that size.
"It does present some challenge to us personnel-wise," Iowa linebackers coach Seth Wallace said this week. "There's really no secret there we're going to have to be in a 4-3 defense from a personnel standpoint.
"The bigger challenge is what they do with that personnel: whether it's (two-tight end), (three-tight end) on occasion (or) it could be (four-tight end). They challenge you with a lot of gap discipline and it's going to put a lot of stress on us."
This could be the game where Jestin Jacobs breaks through. He played both outside linebacker positions against Indiana but this game will be his first where he'll play extended snaps.
Another personnel note: Jacobs taking the third linebacker spot means that 'cash' player Dane Belton slides back to strong safety with Kaevon Merriweather.
Iowa's top two linebackers are Seth Benson and Jack Campbell, the two leading tacklers from last week, but Jacobs' athleticism and speed makes him a potential wild card.
"(Jacobs) has been in there at strong side and weak side," Wallace said. "I think that this might put in more in the strong-side position based on what we're seeing but his development is daily."
Outside of Iowa's tight end group, the daunting task facing Iowa's defense is limiting All-American running back Breece Hall. Wallace is no stranger to Cyclone backs, noting that they're reminded daily of the success former Iowa State running back David Montgomery had against them during his career.
Keeping Hall in front of them and out of open space is their top priority.
"When Breece Hall is out in the open," Wallace said, "he's as good as they are in college football."
Wallace's main focus throughout the season is on linebackers but as assistant defensive coordinator he oversees all units. That includes the defensive line. A question mark heading into Week 1, nine linemen were in rotation against Indiana.
Their role in stopping Iowa State's running attack is as important as anyone else's. To this point Wallace has been pleased with their production.
"Pleasantly surprised but I'm not surprised," Wallace said. "You saw it for 24 practices during pre-season camp and leading up to the game. There's nothing more important and more welcoming than getting done with the first game, having a win under your belt but going back to assess just how much improvement can be made.
"When kids can do that, it means more when it's against an opponent than guys they share a locker room with every day."
Update on freshmen linebackers
Outside of Cy-Hawk preparation, Wallace gave an update on Iowa's four true freshman linebackers: Jaden Harrell, Karson Sharor, Justice Sullivan and Zach Twedt. They're doing the little things right: showing up prepared and having eager attitudes but Wallace admits there's a long road ahead.
"You get to college and what you thought was a small world is a big world " Wallace said. "Trying to manage it all now — two weeks into class there's a lot going on for a freshman. That's why you don't see too many jump into roles like linebacker, offensive or defensive lineman because not only is there a physical development but mental as well."
Wallace looks forward to Iowa's bye week (Oct. 16), a time that's key for freshmen development.
"That gives you an opportunity to slow down," Wallace said. "You can get back face-to-face with those guys, be able to put them back through what looks like a spring practice or fall camp. We'll re-assess then but for now they're doing an excellent job on our scout teams."
High praise for Kyler Fisher
Iowa's walk-on stories are plentiful. There's a section in the football facility dedicated to commemorating those players' efforts. The next testimony could come from the linebackers room in sophomore Kyler Fisher.
He came into the program as a defensive back. Wallace admits he had struggles keeping his weight down but out of that came an opportunity for Fisher to transition into a utility linebacker. He's making an impact on special teams and is listed as a second team weak side linebacker behind Seth Benson.
When will the Farnhamville native see the field at linebacker?
It's only a matter of time.
"Kyler's just on the front end of this deal," Wallace said. "He's at kind of at the tip of the iceberg right now. You're seeing from a special teams standpoint, and that's usually how it is with guys like him and you're seeing it continue to grow.
"There's going to be a time and place where he gets on the field defensively and I'm anxiously awaiting that. For now, he's a core part of our special teams."
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 firstname.lastname@example.org