The in-state CyHawk rivalry is nearly here. Today, Landof10.com breaks down Iowa State, Iowa’s opponent on Saturday. Landof10.com Iowa beat reporter Bobby La Gesse spent nearly the last nine years covering Iowa State. So we had fellow Iowa beat reporter Scott Dochterman ask La Gesse all about the Cyclones.
1. It seems like Iowa State finds a way to lose games against FCS opponents almost every year. What happened last week against Northern Iowa, and can the Cyclones correct it in time against Iowa?
La Gesse: Iowa State put on a clinic on how to go about losing a game. The Cyclones did everything coaches preach not to do. The running game was ineffective, gaining only 51 yards. There were too many penalties, nine for 89 yards. They committed turnovers as quarterback Joel Lanning threw two interceptions. After a strong start, the defense wore down in the second half as Northern Iowa pulled away 25-20.
Losing to an FCS-team is never a good look for a Power Five conference team. It is something Iowa State can overcome. The Cyclones dropped a game to FCS power North Dakota State only to come around and beat the Hawkeyes 20-17 in 2014. Last week was the first time new Iowa State coach Matt Campbell saw his team play a game. His staff will likely learn more from that contest than any other this season and will be able to apply those lessons this week.
2. How good is Allen Lazard? Is he just the best player on an average team or is he among the best in the Big 12?
La Gesse: I expect Lazard to be a legitimate star this season. Right now, he is at worst the third best wideout in the Big 12 Conference, behind Baylor’s KD Cannon and Oklahoma State’s James Washington.
Lazard has everything a coach, and an NFL executive, would look for in a wide receiver. He is big, standing at 6-foot-5, 223-pounds. He is physical. He gets separation from defensive backs and is more than a one-trick pony when running routes. He’s shown the ability to get open on fades, slants over the middle and short routes. He also has a knack for making extremely tough catches.
Everything is set up for Lazard to put together a breakout season. Iowa State quarterback Joel Lanning likes looking in his direction. The Cyclones want to move him all across the field to create mismatches he can exploit. He possesses the talent to change a game with one or two big plays. Iowa State will try to get him the football as much as possible to maximize the impact he’ll have on the contest. That’s why the matchup with Iowa cornerback Desmond King is key in this contest.
3. There seemed to be a real energy around the Cyclones program with the hiring of Matt Campbell. How was that momentum affected by the loss, and what are his long-term prospects for success in Ames?
La Gesse: Campbell put together about as perfect of an offseason as a first-year coach could. He energized the fan base and boosters. He created a buzz around his program, thanks in part to his staff’s use of social media.
Most importantly, he landed recruits by the truck full. The 2016 class was one of the highest rated in program history. Scout had it as a top 50 class. The recruiting success continued with the 2017 and 2018 classes, where the Cyclones already have 20 commits. Campbell is landing players, like Sean Foster and defensive end JaQuan Bailey, that rarely signed with Iowa State before. Both newcomers are listed on the two-deep this week.
The opening-week loss doesn’t kill all the goodwill Campbell built up in the offseason. Expectations weren’t high for Iowa State this season. A string of losses to start the season would hurt it, but at the same time an upset of Iowa would resonate — especially on the in-state recruiting trail where both programs are offering recruits earlier than in past seasons.
4. Mike Warren was one of the Big 12’s better running backs last year and finished with 30 yards on 12 carries last week. What happened?
La Gesse: Iowa State is breaking in an entirely new offensive line this season. It’s not an ideal situation and the Northern Iowa game was a worst-case scenario. Warren struggled to find rushing lanes with the Panthers controlling the line of scrimmage.
Iowa State wants to get Warren more than 12 touches in a contest. Don’t be surprised if the Cyclones make it a point to feed him the football, especially early in the game.
Iowa State wants to run the football. Northern Iowa laid out a blueprint of how to stop the Cyclones. The Hawkeyes have the pieces up front to cause the same problems the Panthers did and make Iowa State a one-dimensional offense.
5. Iowa State gave up 232 yards to Northern Iowa and now the Cyclones face Iowa, which rushed for 212 yards last week. What can the Cyclones do differently from last week to have any shot at slowing down Iowa’s running attack?
La Gesse: Rush defense is a multiyear issue for the Cyclones. If Campbell is going to turn around Iowa State better rush defense is a must. I need to see the Cyclones play better rush defense before I will believe it. Defensive tackle Demond Tucker, the reigning Big 12 defensive newcomer of the year, can be a difference-maker inside, but the rest of the front seven can have problems stopping the run.
Iowa has found success with the ground game in recent victories over Iowa State. This could be another contest where the Hawkeyes lean on the run to put themselves in position to win this rivalry game.