Sep 14, 2019; Ames, IA, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes defensive end A.J. Epenesa (94) leads the rest of the Iowa Hawkeyes to get the Iowa Corn Cy-Hawk trophy after beating the Iowa State Cyclones at Jack Trice Stadium. Iowa beat Iowa State 18-17. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — It has now been 1,463 days.
Not since Iowa State’s last win over in-state rival Iowa…
It’s been 1,463 days since the last time the Hawkeyes turned the ball over in this annual in-state rivalry that had the eyes of college football fans across the country on Saturday in Ames.
In that span, the turnover margin is 5-to-0. Iowa State’s record is 0-5 after losing 18-17 to the No. 19 Hawkeyes on the rain-soaked field at Jack Trice Stadium.
“You can take one simple stat and the stat is the turnover margin. This is the fourth year in a row that we lost the turnover margin,” Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell said. “Those are little things and that’s not to discredit our opponent. We know that they are a detailed football team too. That’s where I say it kind of comes back to me and my responsibility to continue to do the discipline and detail early in the season to be where we need to be. I think you take even that simple statistic over the last four years and it’s been a huge gamechanger in the game. It is details.”
Iowa has out-scored Iowa State 131-64 since Jordan Harris emerged from a pile at the Cyclone 10-yard line clutching the ball Hawkeye running back Jordan Canzeri had just lost. Kirk Ferentz’s team scored the final 14 points in that game, the first in its current string of five-straight wins in the rivalry.
The Hawkeyes probably could have turned the ball over four times and Iowa State still would not have won that game in 2016. The Cyclones were simply overmatched in every area that night in Iowa City.
The overtime loss in 2017 stung, but we still thought Iowa State was a year or two away from anything special. Last year, the Cyclones were simply over-powered playing their first real competition of the season in Kinnick Stadium.
This one was different. The Cyclones had multiple opportunities to blow the game open. They were never able to take hold of those chances.
Iowa did. It was the same thing we have been seeing in this game for five years. Regardless of the players on the field or the number of weather delays withstood, one team has been more detailed than the other.
The one that has been more detailed is the one that has won five in a row.
“They are a very disciplined team. Credit to them on that,” Iowa State star safety Greg Eisworth said of the Hawkeyes following his 15 tackle performance. “They run the ball. They take care of it. They don’t make a lot of mistakes.”
We all know the strides Iowa State has taken over the last several years. Those strides were built on playing harder than the other team, being tougher than every team that lined up across from them and not making self-inflicted mistakes.
You had to beat the Cyclones. They were not going to beat themselves. Sounds a lot like the other team in this rivalry.
Iowa State had two weeks to clean up those self-inflicted mistakes that had nearly derailed the festivities of Saturday as they had to escape a triple-overtime thriller with Northern Iowa. Whether it was continuing to play without a helmet negating a big run, a holding penalty bringing back a touchdown or missing a chip shot field goal in the second half, the Cyclones could look themselves in the mirror during their week off and get back to who they want to be.
Outside of two long pass plays and an offensive line that protected its quarterback, that looked like nearly the same team we saw two weeks ago against the Panthers. The only difference between the two games, Iowa State was more talented than Northern Iowa and that was enough — barely.
“My frustration even after that game was the same things. It’s detail and it’s the little things,” Campbell said. “As we continue to sort out who we are and what this team is, those are things we’re going to have to pound away if we want to be the best version of us by the time this season gets into Big 12 play. That’s going to be really critical for us.”
Iowa State had a 7-3 lead on Saturday when they lined up to go for it on fourth and three from the Iowa 37-yard line. Trevor Downing, the redshirt freshman offensive lineman making his first career start, flinched in his stance. Five-yards, send on the punt team and ultimately set Iowa up at their own 20.
Later in the first half with the same score, the Cyclones had pushed into Iowa territory again with a mix of solid pass plays. Brock Purdy, who finished 24-of-34 passing for 276 yards and a touchdown, tucked the ball to run from the Hawkeye 30-yard line, Iowa linebacker Geno Stone punched it loose and Jack Koerner was there to recover.
For the second time, Iowa State had a chance to build a two-score, or at least one full touchdown, lead. Instead, they shot themselves in the foot and 12 plays later Keith Duncan knocked in a 40-yard field goal to pull the Hawks within a point at the halftime break.
“You get down to second and long, third and short, just those situations where you have to execute and if you don’t, then momentum in the game can switch to the other team,” Purdy said. “I just felt like that happened a couple of times for us in this game when we could have taken over really and kept going. We’ll learn from it.”
Picking back up in the second half, just a few minutes after Purdy had connected with Tarique Milton for a 73-yard touchdown strike to make the score 14-6, the Cyclones had the ball again in Iowa territory at the 37-yard line before back-to-back incomplete passes.
Take a delay of game, punt, touchback, Hawkeyes take over at their own 20. Twelve plays, including a conversion on a third and 22, later Duncan makes it 14-9.
On the ensuing kickoff, Johnnie Lang made a poor choice and brought the kick out of the endzone. He was stopped just across the 10-yard line, but it was made even worse when Iowa State was called for an illegal block in the back forcing them to start at their own six-yard line.
They went three and out. Nico Ragaini returned Joe Rivera’s punt deep into Iowa State territory. Seven plays, 25-yards and 3:14 later, Iowa took a 15-14 lead on a Nate Stanley quarterback sneak.
“Special teams, we had a couple of errors in the football games. Our kickoff return was atrocious, cost us big time tonight in the football game. I think, again, tackling in some situations was tough for us,” Campbell said. “Just consistency in terms of I thought the offensive football we got in some really good flows and then shot ourselves in the foot a couple of times. Those are all things that for me are correctable. That’s why it’s way more on coaching than it is on any of those kids in the locker room. We’ve got to do a better job and it will start with me. “
Iowa State was able to drive deep into Iowa territory again on its next drive but sputtered out inside the 10, settling for a field goal to make it 17-15. It could have been the knock-out punch that has eluded Iowa State in this series during the last five years.
Instead, the Hawkeyes took advantage of Iowa State’s slip-up. They were able to convert on a third and four when Mekhi Sargent broke wide-open for a 17-yard gain. They drove down and Duncan knocked in his third fourth field goal of the night.
Every time the Cyclones had a chance to slam the door on Iowa, they ended up shutting their own hand in it instead. Heck, for once, the Hawkeyes actually kept the door open for them when Deshaunte Jones was interfered with down the field on a fourth and 13 play, but it was offset by an Iowa State holding penalty.
Still, some inexplicable play-calling gave the Cyclones a chance to get the ball back with 1:33 left, but Michael Sleep-Dalton’s punt bounced off the back of Datrone Young‘s head and into the hands of a waiting Hawkeye.
Iowa is never going to beat itself. When you have an opportunity, you have to slam the door again and again and again until you can squeeze a lock onto the door.
Every time Iowa State failed to do that, Iowa answered. It is the same thing they have always done. It is the same thing the last two Iowa State teams have been built on and is what this team hopes to be built on down the road.
Until they are able to own it in September, that trophy is going to stay in Iowa City. The same place it has lived for 1,436 days.
“We’ve gotten tremendously better with details and the little stuff, but there’s always room for improvement,” Deshaunte Jones said. “We can really do a lot of different things. With us, it’s been about taking care of the little things and doing the little things right. If we do those, the rest will take care of itself.”