AMES, Iowa — Iowa made it painfully obvious how far Iowa State had fallen behind its Big Ten rivals last season, whipping the Cyclones by 39 points.
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Iowa State and second-year coach Matt Campbell are eager to show the visiting Hawkeyes (1-0) on Saturday that they've closed that gap.
The Cyclones (1-0) have won three of their last four games dating back to the end of last season. And although those wins came against struggling Kansas and Texas Tech, and Northern Iowa of the FCS, the Cyclones are markedly improved since being embarrassed 42-3 in Iowa City a year ago.
"They were trying to understand us, and we were trying to understand them," Campbell said of his 2016 team. "I don't think there's any hiding. We weren't a very good football team a year ago — especially early in the season."
Iowa's defense led the way in a 24-3 win over Wyoming last weekend, overcoming three turnovers from new starting quarterback Nate Stanley — though he also threw three TDs passes in just 15 attempts.
The Hawkeyes might have the best front seven that Iowa State will face all season, putting pressure on its rebuilt offensive line to help establish a running game and free up space for Jacob Park, who was 27-of-35 passing for 271 yards and two TDs last week.
Here are some keys to consider as Iowa State and Iowa prepare to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the series' renewal in 1977.
There was a lot to like about Stanley's performance against Wyoming, which included long TD strikes to Noah Fant and Nick Easley. But the 6-foot-5 Stanley might be headed back to the bench if he keeps giving his opponents the ball. "You have to realize, things close down quickly, and those guys in the other-colored jerseys are always going to be reaching for the ball and trying to knock it out. I think it's just more of a mental thing," Ferentz said.
Iowa State senior receiver Allen Lazard caught eight passes for 108 yards, Hakeem Butler had seven for 75 yards and Trever Ryen caught six balls for 55 yards in last week's 42-24 win over Northern Iowa. The Cyclones' ability to spread the field in the passing game will be taxing for an Iowa secondary with three new starters. "They have some really nice wide receivers. They're tall, they're athletic. They move around well," Iowa linebacker Josey Jewell said.
Iowa State's struggling offensive line was a big reason why last year's game was such a blowout. But that unit, which featured four Iowans as starters in the opener, has vastly improved since then.
"All four of those guys are playing good football, to be honest," Campbell said. "They're still young and have a lot of growth (left)."
Iowa leads the series 42-22. But Ferentz is just 9-9 against the Cyclones despite typically being favored. The Hawkeyes are a 2 ½-point favorite Saturday. ... The road team had won four straight in this series until Iowa won convincingly last year in Iowa City. ... The Cyclones and Florida were the only schools to open the season with two interception returns for scores in the same game.
HE SAID IT
"It's almost like you don't care. That's really insulting to say to anybody that competes in anything. I don't know, I guess I haven't jumped up and down. Have to do some jumping jacks or something, be a little bit more demonstrative out there," Ferentz when asked about the notion that he and the Hawkeyes don't care as much about the rivalry as Iowa State does.