How can Iowa football extend their Cy-Hawk win streak? Look to the 2021 game as a guide
From the outside looking in, Iowa's defense couldn't have had a stronger start to the season. From inside the program, it was different.
For example: Iowa's preseason All-American linebacker Jack Campbell said the day-after film session was full of critiques from the coaching staff.
The Hawkeye defense surrendered 120 total yards, an 18.7% third down conversion rate and scored twice a pair of safeties in their 7-3 win over South Dakota State. But there's always room to grow in defensive coordinator Phil Parker's defense.
"When you get in the film room, there's just some little unique details that you wouldn't think about," Campbell said. "(Iowa's defensive staff) just kind of brings them up to you and make you think about them like, 'What if you played this kind of different technique?' or 'What if you played faster on this play?' and just stuff like this little stuff like that.
"South Dakota State gave us a lot of different looks. Right now, we're just all focused on Iowa State and everything they can bring because they have a lot of unique looks as well."
Iowa's defense has gotten the better of Iowa State's offense in their last six meetings, all of which were victories for the Hawkeyes. Outside of its 44-41 overtime win in 2017, Iowa's defense has allowed 11.4 points per game in the other five matchups. This year's game brings new challenges. New starting Cyclones quarterback Hunter Dekkers will likely test Iowa's secondary vertically and has weapons to do it, primarily All-Big 12 standout receiver Xavier Hutchinson.
The Hawkeyes will need another great defensive effort to capture their seventh straight Cy-Hawk win. Iowa's offense hit rock bottom in Week 1, almost mirroring South Dakota State's output: 166 total yards, a 23.5% third down conversion rate and committed two turnovers. There's a chance for a bounce-back performance on Saturday.
But if there isn't one, the defense will need to limit points to keep the game close.
Campbell noted that their film prep this week was a mix of Iowa State's Week 1 win and recent matchups between the in-state rivals. Last year's game provides a pathway for an Iowa win, even with a struggling offense.
In a tightly-contested 14-10 battle, Iowa's defense turned the game on its head with three forced turnovers in the third quarter, accounting for 13 points. Earlier in that game, a Matt Hankins's interception set Iowa's offense up for a touchdown drive. The defense's four forced turnovers led to 20 of the Hawkeyes' 27 points.
Meanwhile, Iowa's offense only totaled 173 yards in a 27-17 win.
That total yardage output isn't ideal nor excusable, but opportunistic football has served the Hawkeyes well in this series. Iowa holds a 9-0 edge in turnovers and 33-0 edge in points off turnovers in the last five games. Last season, Iowa converted their first 14 turnovers of the year into 82 points, which was the main reason for their rise to No. 2 in the polls midway through the campaign.
Short fields and scoring opportunities also allow for confidence-boosting moments for the offense if they're not manufacturing long drives of their own.
Looking back to last year's game, one of Iowa's largest weapons was punter Tory Taylor. Twice, he pinned Iowa State on their own 10-yard line or further, both times resulting in forced turnovers. In last week's game, Taylor pinned seven punts inside South Dakota State's 20-yard line, two inside the five-yard line that led to safeties. Much like the defense, Taylor sets high expectations for himself and only rated his performance a 7.5 out of 10.
"I kind of said it to (long snapper Luke Elkin), we’ve just got to go out there for 10 seconds and dominate," Taylor said. "There’s not much else to it.”
Taylor's punts are a catalyst for many of Iowa's defensive successes. For one, pinning opponents deep in their territory, especially inside their own 10-yard line shrinks their offensive playbook. And when the Kinnick Stadium crowd is rowdy (as they were last week), it raises the chances for mistakes.
According to safety Kaevon Merriweather, when they see a punt downed deep in opponent's territory, it triggers a scoring mentality. Taylor will be counted on again this Saturday to flip field the field and keep Iowa in advantageous spots.
"We always tell each other 'try to get this two points," Merriweather said. "That's a two-point play, we have an opportunity here. I think that's something that we saw last weekend. We always have that mentality that when a team's backed up we have to try to score points for our team."
Forcing turnovers and limiting Iowa State's offense will be an uptick in difficulty from last week. Iowa faced Dekkers in the closing minutes of last year's game. He completed 11-of-16 passes for 114 yards and one touchdown.
Iowa has a few new starters in their secondary. They were almost burned for a long touchdown pass last week, but the pass was overthrown. South Dakota State didn't test Iowa again after that, but Merriweather knows the Cyclones will be much more aggressive.
"I got beat on a double move last weekend," Merriweather said. "Showing things like that on film, they're definitely going to try to take their shots. Tick plays, double moves, I think that's all going to come out this week."
Even without contributors Yahya Black, Jestin Jacobs and Jermari Harris, Iowa's defensive standards remain high for Saturday. How they plan to replace players mirrors their plan for stopping Iowa State for another year — with incredibly detailed preparation.
Players have credited their high turnover rate to being in the right place due to prep work and staying on their keys. If Iowa's to claim its seventh straight in this series, winning the turnover battle (and some help from good field position) is critical.
Kennington Lloyd Smith III covers Iowa Hawkeyes football and men's basketball for the Des Moines Register. You can connect with Kennington on Twitter @SkinnyKenny_ or email him at email@example.com.