LOOKING AHEAD FOR ISU FOOTBALL: Week two, the Iowa Hawkeyes

Iowa State Cyclones defensive back Jontez Williams (31) knocks out the ball from Iowa Hawkeyes’ wide receiver Diante Vines (0) during the fourth quarter in the Cy-Hawk football game at the Jack Trice Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023, in Ames, Iowa. © Nirmalendu Majumdar/Ames Tribune / USA TODAY NETWORK

Editor’s note: Second in a 12-part series previewing each of Iowa State’s 2024 regular-season opponents.

AMES — Iowa State took the opening kickoff of last season’s Cy-Hawk Series game against Iowa and meted out a 15-play, 57-yard drive that included three third-down conversions. The end result? A blocked field goal — and that served as a harbinger of what would come in a 20-13 home loss to the Hawkeyes.

 Simply put, the Cyclones haven’t been able to get out of their own way against Iowa, and have lost six of seven meetings in the series in often gut-wrenching ways since head coach Matt Campbell took over the program in 2016.

 Will the 2024 rendition of the rivalry game be any different?

 There’s reason for optimism for the Cyclones, who return key starters at every position on offense and defense, but the Hawkeyes’ scoring defense will, as usual, likely be difficult to pierce.

 ISU has stubbornly attempted to establish the run against Iowa in recent years and that strategy has proven to be unsuccessful. So will new offensive coordinator Taylor Mouser give Cyclone quarterback Rocco Becht free rein in the passing game this time around? History says no, but history’s been unkind to ISU against the Hawkeyes. So maybe, yes?

 The Cyclones have outgained Iowa by a sizable margin in the past four meetings, yet they’ve lost three of those games. Changing up the offensive game plan would seem to be wise, then, as the Hawkeyes break in a new offense for quarterback Cade McNamara, who returns after suffering a season-ending ACL injury in 2023.

 Iowa State vs. Iowa: 3 things to watch

 **How will the Cyclones’ defense perform against a rare “new-look” Iowa offense? The Hawkeyes lack depth in their skill position groups, but will likely give ISU defensive coordinator Jon Heacock some new looks offensively under first-year coordinator Tim Lester, who spent last season as a senior analyst for the Green Bay Packers. Does that mean Iowa will pass more? Or introduce some more deceptive sets? Maybe, but the Hawkeyes’ identity as a trench-based, run-first offense is unlikely to change.

 **Can ISU’s defense force multiple turnovers? The Cyclones have collected more than one takeaway just once against Iowa in the Campbell era. That came in 2022, when ISU forced three turnovers and held on for a 10-7 win at Kinnick Stadium. Before that, the Hawkeyes didn’t turn the ball over once in five consecutive Cy-Hawk games. Bottom line: If Iowa plays clean football, it usually wins this one. 

 **Can the Cyclones’ offense hit on some big plays against the Hawkeyes? Becht passed for 203 yards and a touchdown to Jayden Higgins in last season’s loss, but ISU averaged just 4.6 yards per pass — and the offense’s longest play from scrimmage spanned a mere 16 yards. Iowa’s defense returns nine starters and despite losing some star players (Cooper DeJean, Joe Evans, Logan Lee) remains loaded with talent. 

2024 prognosis

  If ISU’s offense can stretch the field against the stingy Hawkeyes’ defense, a second win in the past three meetings is possible. If not, it could be another frustrating day for the Cyclones in Iowa City.