IOWA CITY — It would be unfair to say Iowa State doesn’t play a physical brand of football.
There is not a scribe daring enough to suggest Cyclone linebackers A.J. Klein and Jake Knott aren’t tough and/or play rough and tumble.
But in the Big 12 Conference, where ISU resides, weekly showdowns sometimes resemble a pinball game where the field is spread from sideline-to-sideline and nobody knows where the ball will fly next.
That is not the case in the Big Ten Conference, where black and blue is the fashionable style.
Saturday at 2:30 p.m. inside Kinnick Stadium, Iowa State will get a big dose of Big Ten football when it faces in-state rival Iowa for 60th time.
In order for ISU to maintain its hold of the Cy-Hawk Trophy for the second consecutive season and win inside Kinnick Stadium for the first time since 2002, the Cyclones will have to match the Hawkeyes in the trenches.
Iowa’s best offensive asset in a 18-17 season-opening win over Northern Illinois last Saturday was running back Damon Bullock’s 150 yards rushing on 30 carries.
ISU expects to get a large helping of Bullock behind a physical Hawkeye offensive line and the Cyclones have never felt more prepared for that challenge.
Klein and Knott are both returning all-Big 12 performers, and ISU head coach Paul Rhoads said he has never felt better about his depth at defensive line.
“There is a big difference in the guys we are putting out there and the production we are getting out of them,” Rhoads said. “I’ve watched the (Tulsa) defensive film again and to watch Nick Kron getting the sack, Rony Nelson in the game getting a sack. To see Cory Morrissey cause a fumble and see Ben Durbin apply pressure on the quarterback.
“Those guys are three deep on the two-deep and to be running them out there and keeping guys fresh ... it really helps your football team make steps forward to reach another level and we are getting there.”
The Cyclones played 12 men on the defensive line during their 38-23 win over Tulsa last Saturday.
“Every time I went out there, there was a new front four in front of me,” Knott said. “So when you can do that, you have complete trust in the guys that they’re going to do their job and they’re going to be fresh doing their job. It makes a huge difference.”
Against Tulsa, ISU gave up 160 rushing yards to the Golden Hurricane, but 77 of those came on a run by Trey Watts in the fourth quarter when there was a miscommunication on a defensive call. Taking away the 77-yard run, the Cyclones held Tulsa to 83 yards on the Golden Hurricane’s other 33 carries.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz is most impressed by the play of Knott and Klein.
“They play with great effort and that’s what linebackers are supposed to do, play with energy and effort,” Ferentz said.
Ferentz’s said that was no better illustrated than when Knott raced downfield after Tulsa’s Byran Burnham hauled in a 21-yard pass. It looked like a Golden Hurricane first down, but Knott stripped Burnham of the ball. The fumble was eventually recovered by ISU’s Durrell Givens.
That play sparked the Cyclones to rally from a 16-7 deficit to take a 24-16 halftime lead en route to their win.
“That play he made the other day, ... fairly far down the field and he hustled down there and knocked the ball loose,” Ferentz recalled. “That to me is kind of representative of the way he plays. He’s going till the whistle blows. He’s going to be involved.”
Rhoads waived aside Iowa’s struggles in its fourth quarter come-from-behind win over Northern Illinois in Chicago.
He says the Cyclones know exactly what they will be facing Saturday ... a well-prepared team that will be playing in-front of a pumped-up home crowd that is eager to get their hands back on the Cy-Hawk Trophy.
“They know how to win.” Rhoads said. “They are a very good football team at home. We haven’t won there since 2002. It is going to be a physical matchup in the trenches like it always is.”
Rhoads added that although Iowa has new offensive and defensive coordinators in Greg Davis and Phil Parker, the Hawkeyes don’t look all that different.
“Two new coordinators presents them knowing us better than us knowing them going into this second game of the season,” Rhoads said. “I think there is both similarities and there is differences.
“But I would say more similarities than there is differences. There certainly are wrinkles we will have to prepare for and some wrinkles we haven’t seen yet.”
Klein also says he expects Iowa to perform at a much higher level.
“It’s going to be great game as it always has been,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what happened last week for the both of us. We had a great win and they barely won.
“Last year it was the same, we barely beat Northern Iowa and they beat whoever they played fairly good.
“It is going to be two teams hyped to play no matter what, and both of us want to win bad.”
Who will you be cheering for?