College GameDay is making its first appearance in Ames, Iowa, for the 67th meeting between Iowa and Iowa State on Saturday. The Cy-Hawk Series has grown to become an exciting rivalry, and this season, the stakes are the highest they've been in some time.
The Hawkeyes have a 44-22 record in the series, winning the past four. But Iowa is going to need to rely on a thin and somewhat inexperienced secondary to stop Iowa State's offense.
The Cyclones will have their issues with the Hawkeyes' D-line and all-everything defensive end A.J. Epenesa (a 95 rating in the PlayStation Player Impact Ratings), but there's an opportunity to exploit injuries within the Iowa secondary that could help Iowa State move the ball against a typically stout defense.
Iowa safety Jack Koerner (a 37 rating) began the season as a backup but was thrown into the starting lineup against Rutgers after starter Kaevon Merriweather went down with an ankle injury in practice. Backup cornerbacks Julius Brents and Riley Moss already had dealt with injuries of their own prior to Merriweather going out.
On top of that, starting cornerback Matt Hankins (94) left the Rutgers game in the second half with an undisclosed injury and his status is up in the air.
Stone has told reporters he feels fine, and he still is listed as the starter against Iowa State, but coming into this game less than 100 percent is not ideal without very much experience behind him.
"There's some names in our two-deep right now that you'd have to get out your program to figure out who's who. So we're a little thin back there," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "I think one thing you want to try to do... you want to get your best guys out there and guys that can handle the situation the best. So I think first things first in that regard."
The good news for Iowa is that corner Michael Ojemudia (95) still is healthy and already has two interceptions this season, the most of any player in the Big Ten through two weeks. Iowa's secondary led the Big Ten last season with 20 interceptions, and over the past three seasons, no other school has more interceptions than Iowa's 44.
The dinged-up group fared well against Rutgers in a 30-0 rout in which the Iowa defense held the Scarlet Knights to just 47 yards passing and 78 yards on the ground. But now, the defense faces a different challenge against an Iowa State led by quarterback Brock Purdy (a 90 rating), who is fully capable of putting up big numbers.
Purdy threw for 278 yards and two touchdowns in Iowa State's first game against Northern Iowa, while the run game also got going, producing 185 total yards and one touchdown.
It's one thing to come in as a backup and play at home against Rutgers, but it's a whole different animal traveling to an in-state rival, in a hostile environment, trying not to make any mistakes while hoping no further injuries deplete your already thin unit.
There will be some other important matchups throughout this game, but Iowa's secondary playing its typical, sound defense could be a huge boost to the Hawkeyes' efforts to come away with its fifth straight win in this series.