Notebook: Iowa week kicks into gear

Then-junior Offensive Linemen Josh Knipfel blocks for the runner during the Iowa Corn Cy-Hawk Series game Sept. 8, 2018. The Hawkeyes defeated the Cyclones 13-3.

Noah Rohlfing

It’s Cy-Hawk week, meaning there’s a lot of attention this week on Matt Campbell and the Cyclones. 

With ESPN’s College GameDay coming to Ames on Saturday, the expectations and hype for the in-state rivalry have gone through the roof. The Cyclones are listed as 2.5-point underdogs in most places, and after a poor performance against Northern Iowa, it’s clear some need convincing of what Iowa State’s real level is. 

What better way to find out than against the team the Cyclones have lost to four years running?

Offensive line if Newell is out

Campbell reaffirmed starting center Colin Newell’s status for Saturday as questionable, saying the team hopes to have a better idea of if he can play when they practice Tuesday. 

“He’s gotta be able to function from a mobility standpoint,” Campbell said of the redshirt sophomore. “I think he’s worked really hard to get himself back; it’d be interesting to see where we’re at [Tuesday].”

If Newell can’t go, it takes away one of the Cyclones’ best linemen from a group that struggled against FCS foe Northern Iowa two weekends ago. 

Trevor Downing — the redshirt freshman who was competing for a starting spot in fall camp — has been tipped to move into the lineup if Newell is out, but then the merry-go-round of position switches may ensue. 

Starting right guard Josh Knipfel — who could be one of the players to shift positions — said the Cyclones have confidence in the work they did in different spots on the line in fall camp.

“I think we established our depth in fall camp,” Knipfel said. “That’s one of the benefits of having a bye week, is you can kind of mess around a little bit and kinda see what’s the best thing moving forward.”

Status quo at running back

The depth chart still lists Iowa State’s running backs in a five-way tie for the starting spot heading into Iowa week.

So business as usual, then, for the position that has caught the most attention of any since the start of fall camp. 

Each of the four backs to get carries — true freshman Jirehl Brock getting left out — averaged greater than four yards a pop, with not much to separate between any of them. 

Except for the late work of Sheldon Croney, as the senior scored the game-winning touchdown in triple overtime and kept the Cyclones’ offense moving in the late stages of the game. 

“Really I thought all those guys did different things really well,” Campbell said of the battle. “You can see why that’s a tough answer.”

Croney is the first name listed on the depth chart, but Hall and Johnnie Lang will get their chances as well.

All told, it’ll take more than one game to figure out who the top dog is in the Iowa State backfield.

Rose at the SAM

Many were surprised when O’Rien Vance took the starting middle linebacker position against Northern Iowa, with last year’s starter at middle linebacker, Mike Rose, lining up at the outside SAM position. 

Rose looked the part, impacting the game and contributing to what was a strong defensive performance.

Rose said the decision to move him was bandied about at the start of fall camp, so he got some time to get used to the position before getting into game action.

“It wasn’t really that big of a difference for me,” Rose said. “Not being in the box every play was a little different.

“I got a lot of good work with it in camp, so it wasn’t nothin’ too strange for me.”

Redshirt freshman Will McDonald will still factor in to the defense (primarily in pass-rushing situations as he continues to learn pass coverage), but the Cyclones have made a small change to get their best defenders on the field as often as possible. 

They’ll need Rose, Vance and Marcel Spears at their best against a physical Iowa offense. 

“Having a physical game makes it more fun, personally, for me,” Rose said. “I think our defense likes to play physical.”