Football

Memories of Cy-Hawks past — and one big zero — help frame ISU’s top-ten matchup with Iowa on Saturday

Sep 14, 2019; Ames, IA, USA; Iowa State Cyclones defensive end JaQuan Bailey (3) and linebacker Mike Rose (23) pressure Iowa Hawkeyes quarterback Nate Stanley (4) at Jack Trice Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports 

James White took the handoff and sprinted toward the end zone, angling toward destiny, churning up a triumphant moment time can’t erase.

 An 11-year-old Colin Newell exulted on the Southwest corner hillside, arms raised, voice cracking.

 The Ames native watched as White cemented a 44-41 triple-overtime win over Iowa 10 years ago and his spirits soared. Popcorn filled the air like salty confetti. A four-year losing streak against the Hawkeyes had been snapped — and the Cy-Hawk rivalry seemed destined to be recast in a positive cardinal and gold-hued light once again.

 The Cyclones have won just two times since.

 “I remember being right along the fence,” Newell, now a decorated senior center for the No. 9 Cyclones, said this week in advance of Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. Cy-Hawk clash (ABC) with the tenth-ranked Hawkeyes. “A great memory.”

 But just that.

 A vestige of the past. A fond recollection of a victorious moment he — and any Cyclone on the current roster — hasn’t experienced on the field, whether at Jack Trice Stadium or Kinnick Stadium.

 Why?

 There are multiple reasons, but one big fat nothing of a number stands out in sharp relief: Zero. Zilch. Zip. Nada. Wow.

 Iowa has committed zero turnovers while winning the past four games in the series (as part of a five-game win streak overall). None! The Hawkeyes’ offense has snapped the ball 293 times against the Cyclones in that span. That’s an incredible feat — a lotta precision and skill coupled with a lotta luck. In this case, bad luck for ISU, which has nonetheless been a whisper away from winning two of the last three Cy-Hawk games.

“I didn’t even know that until yesterday,” said star Cyclones linebacker Mike Rose, who had seven tackles and defended a pass in the last meeting. “That’s a mind-boggling stat to me because the turnover margin’s what wins games for you. So really, maybe an emphasis (on it) more this week, just in practice and stuff like that. Just keep mentioning that, I think, will be huge for us, getting our hands on balls and stuff like that, but we’ve had opportunities. In 2019 I dropped one. It hurts.”

 It always does. But let’s sit with the zero turnovers in 293 snaps stat a little bit longer. It beggars the imagination and staggers the mind. Any cliche rooted in astonishment applies here — and is accompanied by a hat tip to Kirk Ferentz’s Hawkeyes, who can hang said hat on this ludicrous stat that best personifies the fact that they rarely “beat themselves.”

“That’s the respect you have, honestly, for their program and how they win games,” ISU coach Matt Campbell said this week. “They do a great job of establishing the tempo and pace of the game in their favor and then putting themselves in an advantage to win the game at the end of the game. On the flip side, when you’ve seen us play our best, it’s very similar. You look at our matchups, turning the ball over in some critical moments in critical times has really hindered us. It’s a telling stat of how they win — and when we’ve had great success, how we win.”

 It’s not like the Cyclones don’t work on forcing turnovers, or simply converting takeaway opportunities when they present themselves. It’s just that they haven’t been able to do it once against Iowa under Campbell — and it’s the primary reason they were unable to seal potential wins in 2017 (a 44-41 overtime loss) and 2019 (an 18-17 loss punctuated by an ISU special teams miscue).

 “I think they do what they do,” Cyclones defensive coordinator Jon Heacock said. “Shoot, my experiences with Iowa go back to 1988 (when he was a graduate assistant at Michigan). They take care of the football. They run the ball. They do all the things that it takes. They play good defense. They get takeaways. I think it’s real. And it’s the same thing going into games — you’ve got to do a good job of trying to get the ball out and forcing turnovers and takeaways. Obviously, we’ve got to find ways to get the ball back for our guys.”

 They did that twice in the 16-10 season-opening win over Northern Iowa, with Isheem Young and Datrone Young each snaring an interception. They’ll need to keep that turnover streak alive — finally — against Iowa, which forced three turnovers (including a pair of pick-sixes) in its season-opening blowout win over Indiana.

 “That’s something that’s been on our mind,” Datrone Young said of the lack of takeaways against Iowa in recent years. “Takeaways are something that we’re trying to bring to our game, to our team, to help our team win.”

 How? Therein lies the thorny question. It takes a lotta skill and precision coupled with a lotta luck.

 “It’s hard to manipulate turnovers,” Young said. “You’ve just got to find ways to get them and whenever they come you’ve just gotta execute.”

 In all three phases. Flashback to that 2011 triple-overtime ISU win. Both teams turned the ball over, but the Cyclones won despite coughing the football up three times to Iowa’s one.

 So it can be done. It’s just hard — like anything at Iowa State, but it’s doable.

 Just need a whole lotta skill and precision coupled with luck to change that big, fat decisive zero the past four years from the other side into a one, two, three — maybe more.

“That’s a huge emphasis,” Rose said. “I think we’ve mentioned that this week already. But Iowa does a great job of doing their thing. They make teams beat themselves sometimes, I’d say. That’s something they’re really, really good at. And that’s what college football is, teams beating themselves, really. So they just do a really good job of that and they’ve done the same thing for a while now, so I think that plays a big part in it.”

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