In September 2009, 13 years ago, the Hawkeye special teams blocked back-to-back game-winning field goal attempts to defeat Northern Iowa. The final score was 17-16, an Iowa victory. Prior to the game, Northern Iowa entered that season off of a loss in the FCS semifinals to the eventual national champion. The Panthers visited Kinnick Stadium in 2009 as the fourth-ranked team in the FCS and nearly pulled off the upset.
Last weekend, South Dakota State played their first football game since losing in the FCS semifinals last season to the eventual national champion. The Jackrabbits’ preseason number three ranking makes last Saturday’s matchup nearly identical to the one 13 seasons ago. The Hawkeyes were, again, nearly upset by the FCS power in a football game where they were hardly world-beaters.
Although it was an impressive finish in 2009, the performance in the first game of that season was something to forget. Like every week, however, the Hawkeyes turned the page. The CyHawk game was on deck. The following Saturday in 2009, Iowa went to Ames and beat Iowa State 35-3. That victory at Iowa State contributed to nine consecutive wins for Iowa before finishing the season inside the top 10 with a BCS bowl victory. The Hawkeyes are in a strikingly similar spot this season, this time hosting the Cyclones.
Fresh Cyclone Offense
This Saturday, Iowa is looking for their seventh consecutive victory in the CyHawk series. Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell has yet to beat the Hawkeyes in his six seasons with the program. The matchup this week features a visiting team that had a lot of pieces to replace from last year. Iowa State returns just eight total starters, five of which come on offense.
Two of those five are wide receivers, and they combined for 14 receptions last week in their opening game. Xavier Hutchinson recorded three touchdowns on eight catches and over 130 yards. The junior college transfer was named to the All-Big 12 First Team in each of the last two seasons. The first game of his 2022 campaign puts him right on track for a third award.
The quarterback for Campbell’s unit is a new name for the first time in four years, after Brock Purdy has moved on to the next level. Hunter Dekkers is a redshirt sophomore and local quarterback of the dual-threat variety. He was a high four star recruit out of high school and brings a wave of freshness to this Cyclone offense. Dekkers saw the field as a backup last season, playing in four games including the top-10 matchup against the Hawkeyes. Last year, he threw for over 100 yards and a touchdown in the CyHawk game. Last weekend against Southeast Missouri, Dekkers completed 25 passes for just under 300 yards, four touchdowns and an interception.
Iowa State’s Advantage
Hutchinson was the second-most targeted wide receiver in the Big 12 last week, and his three touchdowns were the most in that group. He is the next installment of top-tier wide receivers who pose a threat to the Hawkeye secondary. Iowa’s defensive backfield has been incredibly efficient over the years, most notably last season. In 2021, they recorded a record 25 interceptions and allowed under six-and-a half yards per pass attempt. Their great numbers have had a tendency to be beaten when it comes to elusive playmaking pass-catchers.
Since 2019, Iowa has faced four highly-impactful receivers who are all now on NFL rosters. Each one of them exploited the Hawkeye defense for huge statistical days. The most recent of which was David Bell of Purdue. He faced Iowa three times in his career and averaged 186 receiving yards and 1.67 touchdowns per contest. He was the main reason for Purdue’s wins in two of those three meetings. Tyler Johnson for Minnesota recorded 170 receiving yards and a touchdown against Iowa in 2019. That same year in the Holiday Bowl, USC’s Amon-Ra St. Brown had 163 receiving yards on the Hawkeye defense. Jahan Dotson of Penn State tallied 139 yards and a touchdown in 2020 on Iowa’s defense.
Hutchinson is one of those guys who can do this to a defense even as stout as the Hawkeyes’. Last season, his numbers against Iowa were pedestrian at best. Purdy was limited all game, and was never able to get in rhythm with Hutchinson. This season, the new face under center could be the spark that the Cyclone passing offense needs to more heavily involve their playmaking receiver. For Iowa State to be successful in this game, they’ll have to get Hutchinson involved early and often.
Iowa’s Dramatic Discrepancy
The 2022 Hawkeye football team could be one of the more interesting products on a college football field. Last week, the defense earned an 87.8 overall defensive rating according to Pro Football Focus. That was good for sixth-best in the country during week one. The offense’s rating was a lowly 44.5, the second-worst in the FBS. Spencer Petras’ 1.1 quarterback rating was the worst in the nation last week, and the offense did not record a touchdown all afternoon. The discrepancy between defensive highs and offensive lows is one of the most unique situations for a college football team.
In 2021, Iowa’s defensive efficiency rating was number five in the nation. The offensive efficiency was 90th overall, and the unit still won 10 football games. As unsustainable as this may seem, it produced a division championship last year. The trend looks to be on pace to continue into this season as well. Because of the potent tendencies of Iowa State’s offense, one of the vastly different sides of the ball for Iowa will need to play a sound game in order to earn a victory this week. If the offense can take even a small step forward, Iowa can put itself in a position to win the football game. If it can move the ball enough to win the field position battle, the Hawkeyes will inevitably be in a position to score. As poor as the performance was last week, Iowa’s average starting field position was their own 42-yard line. They pushed inside South Dakota State’s 30-yard line on three occasions but came away with just three points.
Iowa Turns the Page to Iowa State
Defensively, the Hawkeyes will do their thing, likely allowing under 20 points and probably coming up with a turnover or two. If they can do that and shut down Hutchinson at receiver, that point total may be lower and really give Iowa an advantage. While the defensive success is the more likely outcome, a small step in the right direction on offense may be enough to earn a seventh victory against Iowa State.
Main Image courtesy The Gazette