Kyle Lichtenberg and Ethan Tuftee have combined to start 41 games during their Iowa State football careers, but Saturday’s game against Iowa is different.
For the Cyclones’ two senior offensive linemen from the Quad-Cities, this one is for keeps.
“When you grow up in this state, this is a game you dream about being a part of,’’ Lichtenberg said. “This will be the last time I’ll have that chance. I want it to end the right way, but I’m sure they have some guys who feel the same way.’’
Lichtenberg is expected to make the 19th start of his career in the 5 p.m. game at Jack Trice Stadium, opening at a tackle spot next to Tuftee, who returns to the Iowa State lineup at guard this week after filling a reserve role in the Cyclones’ season-opening loss to Northern Iowa.
Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads wants an offensive line that will open and maintain bigger holes to spark growth in an ISU ground game that accumulated 168 yards in its 28-20 loss to UNI, averaging 3.8 yards per carry.
Tuftee, a 6-foot-4, 314-pound Davenport Assumption graduate, wants to be part of the solution as he makes the 24th start of his career.
“I look at this as a great opportunity and I want to come out and help make our offense work,’’ Tuftee said. “It’s not just me. It’s about all 11 of us working in the same direction and playing the way we are supposed to play.’’
With center Tom Farniok sidelined with a knee injury, Lichtenberg and Tuftee are the only returning starters on an offensive line from past seasons that has helped the Cyclones collect two straight victories over their instate rival.
The 6-6, 296-pound Lichtenberg, a former Bettendorf prep, has joined Tuftee in a starting front five that has won very different games against the Hawkeyes the past two seasons, winning a 44-41 triple-overtime decision at Ames two years ago and a 9-6 game at Kinnick Stadium last fall.
“My experience with Iowa games is that no matter what the score is, they are going to be decided in the trenches,’’ Lichtenberg said. “It’s been that way since I’ve been here, it probably has always been that way and I doubt it will be any different this time.’’
Iowa State linemen are working with a new line coach this season. Chris Klenakis joined Rhoads’ staff in January after spending three seasons at Arkansas.
Lichtenberg said the transition has gone well.
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“I’ve been able to learn a lot from my position coaches throughout my time here and the change has been seamless,’’ Lichtenberg said. “We’re all on the same page and while we have a lot of young linemen in the mix, it’s a smart group that has a handle on what we need to fix from our first game and we’re working on it.’’
That work continues as Iowa State prepares for Iowa, a series that is filled with memories for both Tuftee and Lichtenberg.
They appreciate the opportunity to compete for a trophy and recall the postgame celebrations, but mostly they appreciate the opportunity to be part of a series that remains significant to people throughout the state.
“I remember the first time I took the field against Iowa. I hadn’t played real well up to that point, but I took a big step forward that week and we all need to do that as a team this week,’’ said Tuftee, who has earned ISU strength and conditioning honors as the program’s “strongest man’’ the past two years.
“A win makes it easier for those of us from the eastern part of the state to go home, but as much as anything, we need to show improvement as a team and as an offensive line and that’s the main thing.’’
“This is another chance for us to grow as a team and it is a chance that comes against an opponent where you want to be at your best,’’ Lichtenberg said. “We know that everybody will be watching.’’