Sep 2, 2017; Ames, IA, USA; Iowa State Cyclones wide receiver Allen Lazard (5) runs the football against the Northern Iowa Panthers at Jack Trice Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — Fans chirp. Fans talk smack. Fans sometimes get a little out of line.
Hey — it’s hash tagged #hateweek on Twitter for a reason — and its zany effects draw out a slight chuckle from Iowa State’s record-setting receiver Allen Lazard.
“We obviously want to win, but it’s almost as if the fans take more disgrace from losing, or winning, and taunting and all that stuff, than we actually do,” said Lazard, who will take the field for his final Cy-Hawk rivalry game against Iowa at 11 a.m. Saturday at a packed Jack Trice Stadium. “Because end of the day, we respect that team and they respect us, obviously. We just want to go out there and compete.”
That “team out East” boasts 57 native Iowans on its roster. ISU features 47. Some were high school teammates. All plug passion into this game — but also share that respect Lazard mentioned.
“This is a team that knows how to win,” Cyclones coach Matt Campbell said of the Hawkeyes. “It’s a team that’s had success. It’s got a lot of guys back. It’s got some really good leadership and it’s going to be a great test for us to play four quarters. If we’re going to put ourselves in the position to go win the game, we’re going to have to play four great quarters. And it starts with one. Last year we couldn’t even get one out of the gate, but it starts with one and we’ve just got to carry out from there. That all goes into our preparation and our detail, for sure.”
What doesn’t go into it for players? Hype.
As fans on both sides feud on Twitter, ISU’s quietly going about one of its 12 guaranteed game weeks.
The Cyclones aren’t seeking “revenge” for a 42-3 thrashing they endured last season at Kinnick — or for losing three of the past four in the series.
They simply yearn to win. Detached from history. Regardless of the opponent.
“The way things have gone, we’ve kind of deserved it,” ISU senior linebacker Joel Lanning said of recent woes against Iowa that were interrupted by a 20-17 win in 2014 in Iowa City. “Last year, we made mistakes and they took advantage of it and they put it to us and we deserved it. We’ve just got to come ready to play, play our game, and I think we’ll be OK.”
Lanning and Lazard stress accountability over settling past scores. Psst, this game is kind of a big deal beyond the Cy-Hawk hoopla, too.
ISU hasn’t been 2-0 since the 2012 season, which, of course, happens to be the last time a bowl beckoned.
So these week brims with opportunity, not pettiness. Vegas expects a tense contest. Iowa’s a mere 2.5-point favorite as the Cyclones seek their first home win in the series since Steele Jantz donned a cape in 2011, leading ISU to a rousing 44-41 triple-overtime triumph.
“It’s another week but it’s one of the most special games you’re part of,” senior offensive tackle Jake Campos said. “I’ve gotten to play in two, been out for one, and getting back out there is something I’ve looked forward to this whole year off, especially after last season. We’re going to come back and we get them at home this year and it’s really something we’re looking forward to, going out and showing what we can do and just playing as hard as we can.”
Intriguing matchups abound. How will ISU’s experienced secondary match up with Iowa’s largely unproven receivers? How will Iowa’s inexperienced secondary contain the Cyclones’ myriad threats at receiver? Can the Hawkeyes’ new quarterback, Nathan Stanley, find success? Will ISU be able to slow down Akrum Wadley and James Butler?
Time will tell, and humorous tweets back and forth will set the cadence toward kickoff.
“I love the rivalry piece of college football,” Campbell said. “I think that’s what makes our sport really unique and really special. We’ve certainly done that. We’ve put priority on this game just because the fact of the matter is it’s two great football traditions and the traditions of what’s happened here in the past has certainly been really unique to watch. We’ve got a lot of respect for them and their program, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a big game and a big rival game as we get into it. So something we certainly talk about the majority of the year; put a lot of emphasis on it, especially as we get closer to the game and try to be our best as we get into this week.”
What must ISU do to be its best on Saturday — and achieve that recently elusive 2-0 start to the season? For starters …
**** Win the turnover battle … again.
It’s utterly obvious that extra possessions enhance a team’s chance to win. The Cyclones’ used a pair of pick-sixes in their season-opening win over Northern Iowa to weather a rough start and glide to victory. If Willie Harvey, Kamari Cotton-Moya, Brian Peavy or anyone else can snare a pick or two and rattle Stanley, the odds tilt decisively toward the home team.
“That’s the key to every football game that’s going to be played Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday,” ISU defensive coordinator Jon Heacock said. “So we’ve got to get some takeaways; we’ve got to get the football back to our guys on offense. It’s been a huge point of emphasis for us on defense and we’ve got to take care of it.”
**** Get David Montgomery going … again.
ISU’s bruising, but swift top back rushed for 82 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries against UNI and provides a pass catching threat out of the backfield, as well. Montgomery, offensive coordinator Tom Manning said, is still learning, but his instincts and work ethic are both exceptional.
“I kind of just wait to see what he’s going to do, but I think he’s a natural runner,” Manning said. “When he has the football in his hands, he does, he has the ability to make somebody miss and I think he does have the ability to play with great physicality, which he’s shown.
Montgomery, a sophomore from Cincinnati, shrugged when asked about the buzz that surrounds this game from the stands and social media.
His focus is fixed on film — and the field.
“Whatever happens, just happens,” Montgomery said. “If I’ve got to cut or shake somebody I’ll do it. If I’ve got to run through somebody I’ll do it. If I’ve got to run around somebody, I’ll do it. Just whatever the team needs me to do, I’ll do.”
Montgomery finishes plays. It makes others eager to do so, as well.
“With him you’ve got to be ready for anything and you’ve got to know that you’ve got to hold your block the whole time, because anything can happen,” Campos said. “He could spill out. He could bust a run out of nowhere when you think the play’s over, so it really inspires you to finish blocks.”
**** And finish games.
ISU is 9-9 against Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, whose team has been favored in nearly each of those contests. The Cyclones’ last four wins in the series have come by a total of 11 points. Four of the Hawkeyes last five wins in the series were double-digit triumphs.
But so much for history. Pass the popcorn — and maybe a beer or two. While fans fret and vent, players narrow their gaze and recite the game plan like a mantra. It’s a big game, but one of many. Four quarters to fight for, with many more ahead.
“It’s going to be a tough game,” Lanning said. “They’re going to come here and bring it to us. I’ve been here — this is my fifth year, played them four times, we’ve only beat them one time. So the game is, whoever’s the toughest time that day, I feel like is going to win that game, you know what I mean? It’s just one of those games that’s gonna go back and forth and there’s gonna be a lot of things that are gonna happen. You’ve got to be able to handle adversity in this game and if you can do that, I feel like it will be OK.”