By Sam Kienzle
If the Iowa State Cyclones are going to beat Iowa in Iowa City for the first time since 2002, this year might be their best chance in a long time.
There hasn’t been so much uncertainty and doubt surrounding an Iowa team in quite some time after Iowa’s 1-point escape from Northern Illinois last week in Chicago, perhaps since head coach Kirk Ferentz’s first few years on the job.
The 18-17 decision, although a win, looked more like a desperation dive out of burning building, with Iowa’s sophomore tailback Damon Bullock scooting into the end zone for the team’s first touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
But oh, the misery that preceded the relief. Iowa’s offensive line couldn’t protect quarterback James Vandenberg.
The defensive line got bumped around at times by five new NIU linemen, the worst moment being Huskie quarterback Jordan Lynch’s 73-yard touchdown run that likely made retired Iowa defensive coordinator Norm Parker spit in fury.
The Hawkeyes also made a handful of trips deep into Northern Illinois’ side of the field. New coordinator Greg Davis’ offense got 12 points out the deal (all Mike Meyer field goals) before Bullock’s scintillating 3rd-and-long dash to victory.
Iowa State, meanwhile? After falling behind 16-7 to Tulsa early at Jack Trice Stadium, the Cyclones overpowered the Golden Hurricane 31-7 on the way to a 38-23 win.
At least in the state of Iowa, the Cyclone somehow beats the Hurricane in a battle of climatic foes. Iowa State’s Steele Jantz threw for 281 yards and 2 touchdowns while burly ball carrier Shontrelle Johnson ran for 120 yards and a score.
Iowa fans know who Jantz is. The Californian came alive against Iowa last season in a 44-41 triple overtime victory, passing and running like some kind of future All-American. Funny thing is, Jantz eventually bowed out to reserve Jared Barnett at the position due to some sloppy, fundamentally-challenged play.
Throw it all out, though. This is the Cy-Hawk rivalry. Silly things happen in this game, like Iowa State beating Iowa on five field goals in 2007, 15-13. And oh, say, Iowa’s dynamic 2002 team blowing a 24-7 halftime lead in a 36-31 loss at Kinnick. That Iowa team went 8-0 in the Big Ten, but couldn’t hold onto the ball, especially All-American quarterback Brad Banks or Hawkeye legend Ed Hinkel (he was a freshman at the time).
Iowa State’s senior quarterback (and future NFL quarterback) Seneca Wallace Though the book has not yet been written on the currently undefeated Iowa team of 2012, odds are they won’t be undefeated in conference play when all is said and done. Why? Consider this elementary math:
(Iowa’s collective Big Ten foes > Iowa State > Tulsa >/= NIU). Hopefully NIU turns out to be really good.
A FEW THINGS TO CONSIDER BEFORE RENOUNCING YOUR ALLEGIANCE TO IOWA:
*Points scored by Iowa State in last four trips to Kinnick: 10 (’04), 17 (’06), 5 (’08), 7 (’10).
*Iowa’s new defensive line vs. Iowa State’s newish offensive line (no more Kelechi Osemele).
Iowa got a few sacks on NIU’s Jordan Lynch, one leading to a recovered fumble by Iowa’s Carl Davis. At times, though, Iowa’s big, promising linemen looked stuck in ooze. They have to move better against ISU’s line to get to the agile Jantz. Jared Barnett is no slouch, either, should he enter the game.
Barnett became the starter after head coach Paul Rhoads benched Jantz early in the Big 12 schedule. Barnett tallied big wins at Texas Tech and against Oklahoma State, and he wasn’t just a game manager. He helped facilitate those victories. It was only a poor showing by Barnett in the Pinstripe Bowl that allowed Jantz back into the picture this year.
*Iowa’s ball catchers have to get that bread to the oven. That is, Iowa’s tight ends and receivers have to make bigger gains, and ones that get into the end zone. James Vandenberg averaged about 6 yards a completion against Northern Illinois. One should frown upon that statistic. Better separation is the key.
*Iowa absconded through the back door to victory against Northern Iowa in 2009, 17-16. Iowa’s special teams blocked two field goals to win the game. The next week, Iowa traveled to Ames and pummeled Iowa State, 35-3. Doubt can be an effective motivational tool for Kirk Ferentz.