Cy-Hawk preview: Expect another close game

Cy and Herky play a friendly round of “rock, paper, scissors” during during the annual CyHawk football game Sept. 9, 2017. The Cyclones fell to the Hawkeyes 44-41 in one overtime.

Trevor Holbrook

The Cy-Hawk game tends to be tight with every point counting, and this year appears to be no different.

In the 2017 Cy-Hawk thriller, Iowa’s Nate Stanley and former Iowa State quarterback Jacob Park aired out nine combined touchdowns.

On the ground, former Iowa running back Akrum Wadley and Iowa State’s David Montgomery chipped in a rushing touchdown each.

Even with the explosive offensive production, the in-state rivals remained neck and neck. At the end of regulation knotted up at 38, Iowa and Iowa State headed to overtime.

On the first Cyclone drive, former Cyclone Garrett Owens knocked in a 30-yard field goal. On Iowa’s possession, a 5-yard Stanley touchdown pass to Ihmir Smith-Marsette sealed Iowa State’s fate.

Rewind to Iowa State’s opening overtime possession in 2017. Matt Campbell and his staff benefitted last season from Owen’s and his experience, but the Cyclones hit reset in the kicking game this year.

Iowa State penciled in redshirt sophomore Connor Assalley to fill the kicking void on Saturday.

Assalley received one crack at a live play, converting a point after an attempt against South Dakota State before the game’s cancellation.

Entering the Jacobson Building for his media availability debut on Wednesday, an Iowa State spokesperson steered Assalley in front of the media backdrop.

“It was great,” Assalley said quietly about the point after attempt. “Just a [repetition] of getting in front of the fans. Definitely, a little bit different than practice.”

One aspect Assalley plans to adapt to is the friendly atmosphere of Jack Trice Stadium toward Assalley compared to a rabid fanbase in Iowa City.

The 69,250 seats inside Kinnick Stadium are completely sold out, according to the Iowa Athletic Department, providing a lively environment.

“That was kind of the dream ever since I was a kid,” Assalley said about kicking in front of a passionate fanbase. “So I’m just looking forward to it, but it’s going to be a great atmosphere.”

Before a bulk of the pressure trickles down to Assalley, the other units need to put Iowa State in a position for a field goal attempt.

Under Campbell, the Hawkeyes’ offense trampled over Iowa State for 42 and 44 points in two years. Entering this season, Kirk Ferentz and company retained Stanley and tight ends Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson.

Whether it’s Dallas Clark, Tony Moeaki, George Kittle or a handful of other examples, the Hawkeyes churn out NFL-caliber tight ends.

Nothing changed this year.

Fant — a junior from Omaha, Nebraska — burst onto the scene in his sophomore campaign, reeling in 30 catches with 11 of them going for touchdowns.

“Really, really, really good,” said Iowa State defensive coordinator Jon Heacock. “I don’t know that I’ve seen too many like him. He’s very athletic. He can run, [he] blocks, [he] catches. They use him all over the field, which presents problems.

“He’s a very talented guy; he’s as good as I’ve seen.”

Slowing down Fant challenges the Cyclone defense enough, but preventing other opportunities after keying in on the tight end could decide the game.

Last season, Fant snared three passes for 30 yards, but the pieces surrounding him exposed the Iowa State defense.

On the flip side, redshirt senior quarterback Kyle Kempt trots into Kinnick Stadium as a starter for the first time in his career.

To hang with the Iowa offense, the Cyclone offense needs to reveal some wrinkles.

Iowa’s defensive front represents one of the best defensive lines Iowa State will play in 2018. To counter the solid defensive line, Iowa State may elect to use a similar strategy as it utilized against South Dakota State.

After a 21-yard strike to redshirt junior Hakeem Butler, the Cyclone offense jumped to the line of scrimmage for another play, resulting in a 9-yard run for Montgomery.

To shake up Iowa’s defensive line, up-tempo offense could be an option. With Kempt’s experience, he could be in the mix with play-calling, but the veteran hasn’t been to this point.

“It varies. We got to play five snaps [against South Dakota State],” said quarterbacks coach Joel Gordon. “We’ve done different things in the last three years here. That’s something [that] game-to-game could be under his wing or completely out of his control.”

If the Cyclone defense slows down the tight end attack and the offense supplies enough of a spark and the game comes down to the wire, it may revert back to Assalley.

In that scenario, Assalley feels prepared.

“Everyday at practice, coach is getting us ready for that,” Assalley said about high-pressure opportunities. “Today [Wednesday] he did a last-second field goal at the end of practice.”

Assalley converted.