Ugly but effective
Hawkeyes win fourth-straight over Cyclones, 13-3
IOWA CITY — This season’s iteration of the Iowa Corn Cy-Hawk Series was vastly different from the 2017 overtime thriller.
In place of the high-powered offensive game that led to the 44-41 victory for the University of Iowa last year was a knock-down, drag-out defensive struggle. But when the dust settled it was still the Hawkeyes who raised the Cy-Hawk Trophy for a fourth-straight year with a 13-3 win over Iowa State University.
“Some people will say obviously it probably looked ugly, and probably the film will say it was ugly, but we came out with a win and that was the biggest thing we wanted to do,” Iowa senior offensive lineman Keegan Render said after the game at Kinnick Stadium.
Hawkeye head coach Kirk Ferentz said it was a totally different feel from the 2017 version of the big game, but he is happy to come out on the winning side either way.
“Last year was a track meet up-and-down the field, and today was just a great defensive battle by both teams,” Ferentz said. “Thought both teams really played hard, competed hard, and that’s exactly what you’d expect in this kind of football game.”
Ugly is one way to describe the offenses that both teams put on the field. At halftime neither team had reached the end zone, and the Cyclones had barely broken 100 total yards while the Hawkeyes were stuck at 73 yards.
After halftime Iowa (2-0) came out with a much more consistent offensive attack, led by a running game that had finally figured out what Iowa State (0-1) was doing up front.
After just 47 yards on the ground in the first half, the Hawkeyes piled up 59 yards in the second with Mekhi Sargent scoring the lone touchdown of the game on a two-yard scamper.
“At first we were thinking, ‘hey they are doing this and this,’ but then the next play they would do something different,” Render said of the offensive line’s adjustments. “I think just kind of taking that mental stuff out of the game for us and coming off the ball and moving them was the biggest thing for us.”
It was a huge pass play from Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley to Brandon Smith that led to that score by Sargent, one that went for 30 yards for the second-longest play of the game by either team.
After Sargent scored the entire team gathered in the end zone to celebrate, but Stanley specifically was still fired up about Smith’s catch when he came over to rejoice with the team.
“Everybody was saying the same thing,” Smith said. “Everybody was saying ‘finally, finally,’ because we have been waiting on that moment for so long. You just don’t understand how long we’ve been waiting on that moment to happen in a game because it’s been happening all the time in practice. For it to finally happen in a game, you can’t even take the smile off my face.”
Stanley finished going 16-for-28 with 166 yards and no touchdowns, with that big completion to Stanley and a 45-yard hook-up in the third quarter to Ihmir Smith-Marsette that set up one of two Miguel Recinos field goals.
Iowa State couldn’t get anything going on the offensive end outside of the opening drive. On the first possession, the Cyclones reached all the way down to the Iowa one-yard line, but the Hawkeyes turned them away three-straight times and after a false start penalty Iowa State was forced into a field goal.
“I think we have a bend, don’t break mentality when we get down to the hot zone like that, the red zone,” Iowa defensive lineman Matt Nelson said. “We tried to keep them out and give them three instead of seven, that was big for us. Then just communication and get in the right fits after we made some corrections on that first drive.”
Nelson and the rest of the defensive line gave the Cyclones fits all night. They held David Montgomery, widely regarded as one of the nation’s best running backs, to just 44 yards on the ground.
Nelson said after such a high-scoring affair last year, the defense wanted to come out and really shut down anything Iowa State did.
“They kind of stuck it to us last year on the defensive side of the ball so we wanted to make sure we went out there and got 11 hats on the ball, our assignments and communication were tip top. It was just kind of extra emphasis this year,” Smith said.
Cyclones head coach Matt Campbell said while the Iowa defensive line played well, his offensive line has to be better moving forward.
“It is our first game, going against a very senior led, excellent defensive front,” Campbell said. “They need to get out and get that experience and play. A lot of guys playing different positions, some guys getting out there and being counted on for the first time. That group is going to have to grow. They need experience and need to go play.”
Iowa State was limited severely on big plays, with their longest being a 31-yard pass from quarterback Kyle Kempt, who left the game in the third quarter with an apparent knee injury.
Campbell said guys like Montgomery and receiver Hakeem Butler weren’t able to get going because the entire offense was stagnant.
“I think that for us where you have to have some consistency and allow those guys to open up,” Campbell said. “We never got into a flow and really kept finding ourselves behind the sticks and putting ourselves in really tough situations.”
The Cyclones don’t have much time to get right either, as they welcome in No. 6 Oklahoma next Saturday for the Big 12 Conference opener.
As for the Hawkeyes, they are now off to a 2-0 start, though the offense still has been shaky at points in each of the first two wins.
“We’re sporadic. We’re hit or miss right now,” Ferentz said. “We don’t have a rhythm. We haven’t showed sustained. So we’ll keep pushing. That’s usually the hardest thing to do. Hardest thing to establish. We’ll talk about the month of September, again, it’s really the task. It’s out there.”
Still, with a defense that has only allowed 10 points in its first two games, the Hawkeyes have one unit of the ball firing on all cylinders.
“We’ve got some veteran guys up front that I think are doing a good job of leading, and they’re setting tempo for us and we’re counting on that, but you never know how that’s going to go,” Ferentz said. ” I thought we played really smart defense today, or sound, or whatever the best word is there. We didn’t give up easy plays. As you know, last year, we made it a little too easy for them at times and it’s hard to win games doing that.”
Iowa 13, Iowa St. 3
At Iowa City
Iowa St. 3 0 0 0 — 3
Iowa 0 3 3 7 — 13
ISU–FG Assalley 23, 6:42
IOW–FG Recinos 31, 5:18
IOW–FG Recinos 48, 6:34
IOW–Sargent 2 run (Recinos kick), 4:47
First downs 11 14
Rushes-yards 25-19 36-105
Passing 169 166
Comp-Att-Int 19-31-0 16-28-0
Return Yards 24 1
Punts-Avg. 8-36.5 5-38.8
Fumbles-Lost 1-1 0-0
Penalties-Yards 7-65 6-55
Time of Possession 28:25 31:35
RUSHING–Iowa St., Montgomery 17-44, Croney 3-3, Noland 1-(minus 3), Kempt 4-(minus 25). Iowa, T.Young 21-68, Sargent 11-25, Stanley 2-7, B.Ross 2-5.
PASSING–Iowa St., Kempt 15-21-0-126, Noland 4-10-0-43. Iowa, Stanley 16-28-0-166.
RECEIVING–Iowa St., Butler 3-35, Milton 3-31, Eaton 3-18, Allen 3-18, Montgomery 3-15, D.Jones 1-31, Akers 1-11, Croney 1-10, Soehner 1-0. Iowa, Hockenson 6-33, Fant 4-31, Smith-Marsette 1-45, Smith 1-30, Easley 1-15, Groeneweg 1-5, B.Ross 1-4, Cooper 1-3.
MISSED FIELD GOALS–Iowa, Recinos 38, Recinos 50.