IOWA CITY — Iowa football players know what they’re walking into Saturday.
The 19th-ranked Hawkeyes don’t exactly expect the cardinal-and-gold welcome mat to be rolled out when the Iowa team bus pulls up to Jack Trice Stadium for the 3 p.m. match-up in the Cy-Hawk Series.
“It’s going to be a crazy atmosphere,’’ Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley said.
Running back Mekhi Sargent suggested the words pointed in the Hawkeyes’ direction might even get a little “nasty’’ before the first block and tackle of the in-state battle takes place.
“That’s all good though,’’ Sargent said. “It’s fans having some fun and it’s what a good rivalry is all about.’’
Iowa brings a 2-0 record into the game against ISU, which hasn’t played since defeating Northern Iowa in triple-overtime in its season opener.
The Cyclones haven’t beaten the Hawkeyes anywhere since 2014 and last won at home in the Cy-Hawk series, winning in three overtimes in 2011.
“There are always certainties in this game,’’ Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said Tuesday at his weekly news conference. “It’s going to be a really tense, competitive football game, always a challenge, and it’s going to be an excellent environment.’’
Ferentz is anxious to see how his team handles both.
The Iowa State game is the first in a string of tough road tests Iowa will face this season, followed by trips to Michigan, Northwestern, Wisconsin and Nebraska as the Hawkeyes work through their Big Ten schedule.
Ferentz needed one word to describe what separates successful road teams from those unable to meet the challenges of a rugged schedule.
“Maturity,’’ Ferentz said. “It doesn’t have to be that you’re a four-year player or a senior or even a junior, it’s just the ability to focus in on what counts and just ignore the rest of it because there is going to be a lot of the rest of it all this week, not just on Saturday.’’
Ferentz said teams with a good, mature approach seem better-equipped to deal with whatever crops up when they get away from the comforts of home.
“When you go out and travel to a lot of places, that’s just the way it goes, but it’s that way during the week, too,’’ Ferentz said.
“It’s the ability to focus on what is important and keep your mind there. If you are distracted by whatever, the surroundings, things that are being written, all that stuff is counterproductive to moving forward.’’
That starts on the practice field, where Sargent believes Saturday’s game will be won or lost before the Hawkeyes ever step on the team bus.
He called Tuesday’s workout a “win,’’ locked in on the challenges Iowa State and their multiple defensive looks will provide Iowa.
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“We’ll win this game at practice, with how we prepare all week,’’ Sargent said. “Our job on game day is to execute, but that starts with how we get ready. Today was a win. Everybody was on top of their game, getting ready to go out on the road and play well.’’
Crowd noise is being pumped into Hawkeye practices this week, simulating the volume of the racket Iowa expects Iowa State fans to make during Saturday’s game.
That’s all part of getting ready to play on the road.
“We go through a lot of situations on the road that are interesting and where the fans really get into it,’’ Ferentz said. “There’s going to be that moment typically in any game on the road. So, if you can’t weather that storm and regroup a little bit and refocus, it’s going to have a bad effect.’’
That’s especially the case in a rivalry like the one the Hawkeyes find themselves preparing for this week.
“The game on the field is really important to everyone involved,’’ Ferentz said. “When we win, it’s a really good thing. When we lose, it’s awful.’’
MERRIWEATHER OUT: A foot injury suffered in practice last Friday will force starting free safety Kaevon Merriweather to miss his second straight games.
Walk-on Jack Koerner will continue to start in his absence.
Merriweather’s sprain, along with injuries that kept cornerbacks Julius Brents and Riley Moss off the field last week, have impacted Iowa’s ability to have the personnel it wants to make effective use of its 4-2-5 defensive alignment.
“We’re a little thin right now on the back end,’’ Ferentz said. “There are some names on our two-deep right now that you would have to get out your program to figure out who’s who. We’re just a little thin back there.’’
Cornerback Matt Hankins also suffered an injury in the Rutgers game, but Ferentz said his injury is similar to many Iowa deals with on a weekly basis.
“We’ll just ride it out and see where it goes,’’ he said.
BANWART IN: After missing the first two games of the season, offensive lineman Cole Banwart is expected to be part of the rotation Iowa will again use on its front five.
Banwart, expected to start at a guard position in the preseason, has been dealing with a foot injury. He suited up for last week’s win over Rutgers, but did not play.
TROPHY REMINDER: The Cy-Hawk Trophy that has occupied space in the lobby of Iowa’s football performance center has been relocated this week.
It now sits front and center for the Hawkeyes to see as they head to practice, a reminder of the prize that will be on the line Saturday.
“Nobody owns it this week,’’ Ferentz said. “We’ve had it, but it’s a jump ball right now. That’s how it should be and that’s how it is every time you line up for one of those.’’