AMES — The cherished Cy-Hawk Series memories popped like flash bulbs in Paul Rhoads’ mind.
There’s 1998: When the current ISU head coach mentored the Cyclone linebackers during a dominant, Darren Davis-led 27-9 triumph at Iowa that snapped a 15-game skid against the intra-state rivals …
“(I remember) practicing just awful on Friday before we left in our walk-through,” Rhoads recalled this week as he readied to lead ISU into Kinnick Stadium again for Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. game against the Hawkeyes. “I mean awful. Couldn’t have felt any worse about that last preparation before we got on the bus and then going out here and just playing really, really good football and inspired football as a team.”
There’s 2011: When enigmatic quarterback Steele Jantz led a bravura Cyclone effort capped by James White’s touchdown run in triple-overtime of a 44-41 win in Ames …
Rhoads had lost his previous two Cy-Hawk games as a head coach by a combined score of 70-10.
“Hot,” Rhoads said of of the conditions during that three-hour and 50-minute game. “Two teams that were completely exhausted when it was all over. That was one of those games that makes you proud to be a football coach, proud to be a football player, because everybody was spent. And to walk off the field like that win or lose, any way you cut it, there’s something that feels good — giving that much of yourself.”
Bottom line: Expect the unexpected.
Whether that favors one side or the other is anyone’s guess (Iowa’s a 10-point favorite).
Especially today, as both teams — despite ISU being 0-2 and Iowa being 2-0 — seek to establish a coherent and uplifting narrative for the 2014 season.
“They’re probably like us, trying to figure out some things and improve,” Hawkeye coach Kirk Ferentz said in a news conference.
For the Cyclones, that list of things includes:
1. Finding more than 30 minutes worth of rhythm and production on offense per game. The Cyclones stitched together a brilliant 16 minutes in last week’s loss to Kansas State. During that first-half span, ISU scored four touchdowns and speedy Jarvis West at least had his hand in three of them.
The second half? No three-and-outs, but no points, either — and a pair of key misses on third-and-one.
There’s a recipe for changing those third-and-short misfortunes, though.
“Being physical and nasty,” said Cyclone tailback DeVondrick Nealy, who surged for one score against the Wildcats. “We had a couple, not me specifically, but we had a couple of third and shorts that we didn’t get (last) Saturday that would have been the difference in the game if we’d got those. So just being nasty and physical. … It’s a yard. You’ve just got to get it.”
It’s often a tall task against Iowa’s front that features Carl Davis and Drew Ott, who’s expected to play despite being hurt in a game week moped accident.
The Hawkeyes rank 10th nationally in rushing defense, yielding just 57.5 yards per game (and 2.04 yards per carry).
“Iowa, historically, traditionally, has been known for being extremely sound,” Rhoads said. “Not allowing a lot of points, being where they’re supposed to be, not going to give up a lot of big plays and this defense is no different.”
2. The Cyclones need to glean success from an aggressive defensive scheme that hinges upon dialing up more blitzes than in the past.
And more pressure’s coming, for one specific reason.
“Personnel,” Rhoads said. “And the ability to cover a little bit more and not the ability to do some other things that we’ve typically done the past five years.“
Simply put: There’s speed on this Cyclone defense, but it’s mostly green speed.
ISU ranks 107th nationally in total defense, allowing 488.5 yards per game.
“We’ve got to create ways,” defensive coordinator Wally Burnham said. “We’ve got to create that confusion and not let them know where we’re going to be every time.”
The good news is playing assignment-sound football improved dramatically from week one to week two.
Another spike’s required this week and the next, etc.
“I definitely think people were more comfortable out there,” WILL linebacker Luke Knott said. “We had a lot of young guys out there that first week and maybe they weren’t quite as comfortable with their run fits and all that.”
So plans are in place. Goals are set. How it all works out in Kinnick, again, may unfold in unique and surprising ways.
One thing’s for certain, though: Name’s are made in this game.
Ask Jantz (if you can find him).
Stars occasionally rise up, a la Jake Knott in 2012, but bit players often upstage the headliners.
“I don’t think careers are defined here by how they played in this game, but it’s certainly one that people in the state can tell you about and remember,” Rhoads said.
RUN REMEDY?: ISU center Tom Farniok pinpointed one issue that prevented his team’s rushing offense from fully getting on track last week against Kansas State. “I think our backside cut-off blocks,” said Farniok, who returned from an MCL strain last week. “Because there would have been some big holes if we would have been a little a better on those and then just overall we just need to execute a little crisper.”
ROLE REVERSAL?: Iowa’s offense often showcases a punishing rushing attack, but in two games this season, the Hawkeyes are averaging 132 yards on the ground and 296 through the air. What to expect Saturday? Old-school Iowa, Cyclone defensive coordinator Wally Burnham said. “I think they’ll go back and get in those power formations and run the ball downhill,” Burnham said. “If we make them get in a third and long then they’ll do those kind of things. I just think the first two ball games they were probably trying to keep it simple.”