Defenses ready to battle in annual CyHawk game


Daniel Jacobi II

Darren Wilson Jr. makes the catch and attempts to fend off a tackler against Southeast Missouri State on Sept. 3.

For the first time since 2018, the Cyclones will take the field at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa, in hopes of toppling the Hawkeyes in the annual CyHawk game on Saturday.

Iowa State is in a bit of a drought in the CyHawk series, with the last win coming in 2014. Iowa also leads the all-time record in the exchange with 46 wins to Iowa State’s 22.

With COVID-19 canceling the last meeting in Iowa City, many Cyclone players are getting their first taste of the atmosphere that Kinnick Stadium brings in the CyHawk matchup. It’s going to be a tough place to play, but if the Cyclones can perform as they did in week one, they could give Iowa a run for its money.

The big takeaway from week one was how vastly different Iowa and Iowa State’s offenses were. The Cyclones lit up the field while the Hawkeyes struggled to get anything going.

Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras came out of week one with a quarterback rating of just 1.1, one of the lowest in college football that week. Not only were the Hawkeyes having trouble moving the ball in the air, but the run game also left much to be desired. The team as a whole averaged only 1.6 yards per carry.

A slow offensive start isn’t unusual for Brian Ferentz’s offense, as the Hawkeyes don’t tend to come out of the gates hot on that side of the ball. The CyHawk game will be a true test for Iowa’s offense to see if changes need to be made.

Iowa State’s defense isn’t going to take it easy knowing the struggles of the Iowa offense, as the teams know that the rivalry game tends to be competitive. The CyHawk series can be a reset for both teams, which makes it tough for each team to prepare for what’s ahead.

“The team you see on film is not the same team you are going to play in a rivalry game,” Iowa State defensive coordinator Jon Heacock said.

Group of Cyclones combine to bring down Southeast Missouri State player on Sept. 3. (Tyler Coe)

Studying film can only go so far. When it comes down to it, the atmosphere around the game is something that can only be experienced firsthand.

Not only will the atmosphere be a factor, but Iowa State will also have to be in peak condition to compete with Iowa. The defense showed great signs against Southeast Missouri State, but there were also some concerns.

Heacock talked about the fundamental issues that came to the surface in week one. It was clear by the way Southeast Missouri State easily moved the ball down the field at times that there was still some rust that needed to be shaken off.

“We left some tackles out there, we left some alignments out there, we left some fundamentals out there, but I was pleased with the way our guys played,” Heacock said. “We played extremely hard from beginning to end.”

Playing hard from beginning to end will be necessary for the CyHawk matchup. Heacock knows the high-motor capabilities of the defense and how important it will be for the team to play in its peak form.

However, the potentially biggest threat for the Cyclones won’t end up being their defense but rather Iowa’s defense. The Iowa defense looked better than ever against South Dakota State and has been a big factor in the outcome of the CyHawk game in the past.

Iowa’s defense outscored the offense in week one, thanks to the two safeties on the day. Not only that, the defense has a knack for being all over the field, making it hard to drive the ball.

“It’s really hard to find examples of them not being in the right place,” Iowa State offensive coordinator Tom Manning said.

When game planning against the tough Iowa defense, Manning will have to get creative in how the offense moves the ball. Big plays will be hard to come by, so every yard counts.

In the past, Iowa State hasn’t had trouble moving the ball. The real issue comes when the Cyclones get deep into Hawkeye territory. Games in the past have been close mostly because of how stingy both teams are with giving up touchdowns.

“They have the ability when you get down there tight to suffocate you in a lot of ways,” Manning said.

A big focus for the Iowa State offense is going to be the ball itself. Turnovers have killed the Cyclones in the past, as the Hawkeyes have a 9-0 advantage in turnovers in the last six games. All six of those games ended in a Hawkeye victory.

It can’t be understated how important ball security is in the CyHawk game, as it could be decided by which team makes the most mistakes. More times than not, the Hawkeyes aren’t finding ways to win; the Cyclones are finding ways to lose.

“You have to be disciplined, and you can’t turn the football over, and last year we turned it over a ton,” Manning said.

If the Cyclones can keep hold of the ball and make the most of the opportunities they get, the CyHawk game will be as competitive as ever.

Both teams have a lot on their plates when it comes to preparing for the other team.

It’s hard to know what might happen in a rivalry game as big as the CyHawk game, but one thing’s for sure. It’s going to be a great game to watch.

After his monstrous performance in week one, Xavier Hutchinson said it best.

“For all I know, they’re still 1-0. We’re still 1-0. Week two, it’s going to be a fun match-up.”

The CyHawk game is set to start at 3 p.m. on Saturday in Iowa City, Iowa. The game will air on the Big Ten Network and will be streamed on Fox Sports Live.