Iowa-Iowa State: The Campbell years (so far)

Iowa State lost to the University of Iowa 42-3 on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016, at Kinnick Stadium.

Noah Rohlfing

The gloves will come off once again on Saturday.

The 66th edition of the Iowa Corn Cy-Hawk Series will take place in a crowded, hostile Kinnick Stadium. The atmosphere, as with any college football rivalry game, will be a mix of trash talk, respect and excitement.

Junior offensive lineman Josh Knipfel, a native of Hampton, Iowa, said the game always means more. 

“Obviously, this being the ’Super Bowl‘ of the state, it’s really exciting and a lot of fun,” Knipfel said.

The faces in the series have changed over the years, but since the resumption of the series in 1977 following a 43-year-long hiatus, one thing has been a constant for the Cyclones: change.

Since 1977, the Cyclones have had eight different head coaches. In that same time period, Iowa has only had three: Bob Cummings, Hayden Fry and Kirk Ferentz.

Iowa’s constant state of organizational stability is a part of the Hawkeyes’ domination of the series since it resumed play, winning 26 of the past 40 meetings, including a run of 15 straight wins during the Hayden-Fry years.

With Iowa State’s third-year head coach Matt Campbell trying to establish Iowa-like stability and beat the Cyclones’ heated in-state rivals for the first time during his time at Iowa State, it makes sense to rewind and take a look back at the past two seasons of the in-state rivalry game.

2016: Iowa 42, Iowa State 3

Campbell’s first season with the Cyclones was littered with close losses and near misses. This game, however, was not one of them.

Iowa dominated from start to finish, gaining 435 yards on offense compared to Iowa State’s 291. The Hawkeyes averaged more than 6.5 yards per play and only allowed the Cyclones a solitary field goal from Cole Netten in the second quarter.

The Cyclones had 165 passing yards on 35 attempts, a paltry 4.7 yards per attempt. Now-redshirt sophomore Kene Nwangwu led the Cyclones in rushing with 31 yards on seven carries, while LeShun Daniels Jr. ran for 112 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries for the Hawkeyes.

Absolutely nothing went right for the Cyclones.

Campbell called the game a “learning experience” in his press conference on Tuesday.

“When you get in the heat of the moment, and you’re not prepared, you’re going to get exposed,” Campbell said.

2017: Iowa 44, Iowa State 41/OT

This is one Cyclone fans say the team should have won.

Iowa State led with less than two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. The Hawkeyes were at the Iowa State 46 and sputtering, and Cyclone fans could taste a first defeat over Iowa since 2014. 

Then Akrum Wadley happened, and the rest is history.

Iowa State’s defense would become a strength and guiding force for the team over the course of the season, but the Hawkeyes’ offense gashed the Cyclones consistently, gaining 497 yards of offense on 82 plays and scoring 40-plus points for the second straight year.

“I think what last year taught us is the value of 60 minutes plus of playing with consistency,” Campbell said. “If you want to beat consistent, really good football programs, and you want to become that, then you have to understand what it takes to win games like that.”

While the defense was below its season average, Iowa State’s offense was just as potent as Iowa’s. The now-departed Jacob Park threw for 347 yards and four touchdowns and now-junior David Montgomery had 112 yards on 20 carries and a touchdown. 

In light of the past two games, redshirt senior linebacker Willie Harvey Jr. said the Cyclones have to leave the heartbreak in the past. 

“We gotta move on, and focus on this year,” Harvey Jr. said. 


Who knows?

Campbell’s teams made large improvements from the first game to the second. The team is maybe as hyped as any Iowa State team in school history. 

This could be one of the closest games in the rivalry’s history, if the current trend continues and the Cyclones show an improved defense. 

The lead-up to this year’s contest has been largely cordial on the coaching side of things — notorious rivalry-igniter and Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz was very complimentary of the Cyclones’ staff this week — but all that goes out the window come 4 p.m. on Saturday. 

Matt Campbell has, by all accounts, put Iowa State in a position to rise from its perennial status as a bottom-tier Power Five program. 

A win over arch-rival Iowa would be another step in the right direction. Whether he can make it happen or not is yet to be seen.