On the ride home from the game, I began to wonder how the 2003 Hawkeyes compared to the 2002 version from a statistical basis.
Of course, that is certainly an inexact science and comparison, as we are not talking about controlled variables as there are different opponents and different players.
But when you look at the two schedules, I think that some comparisons can be drawn.
Through four games last year, Iowa played two outstanding quarterbacks (Ben Roethlisberger and Seneca Wallace) and two quarterbacks that were none too shabby: Utah State's Jose Fuentes (11th in the nation in passing at year's end with more than 3,200 passing yards and 20 TD passes) and Akron's Charlie Frye (19th in the nation passing with more than 2,800 passing yards).
None of those teams had much of a running attack to speak of.
If you put Akron and Buffalo on a similar plane, Miami of '02 on the road v Miami of '03 at home (better team in '03) on an even level and #16 ASU on the same level as ISU of last year when Iowa played them, I think it is fairly even. I don't think ASU will have the same swan dive that ISU had a year ago, but they don't have to play a schedule like the Cyclones faced last year, either.
Having said all that, let's go to the stats:
SCORING: 2002 has the 2003 Hawks by +6.7 pgg. But the 2003 D has the 2002 version beat handily. Teams are averaging just 8.2 ppg against Iowa this year compared to 22.0 ppg last year. So that is a net gain of 7.1 ppg this year over last.
RUSHING: The 2002 Hawkeyes were averaging 271.5 ypg on the ground through four games where the 2003 Hawks are averaging 212.0. Opponents were averaging just 46.8 ypg against Iowa last year through four where this year's average is 94.0. Teams attempted just 112 rushes against Iowa through four games last year to 146 this year; that is a combination of Iowa having a solid run defense, but more than likely it can be attributed to teams having a lot of success against Iowa through the air, something we will touch on next. Teams are averaging 2.6 ypc this year compared to 1.7 ypc last year through four games.
PASSING: Last year's offense had gained 364 more yards through the air by this time of the season than this year's Hawkeyes, but this year's team has allowed 436 fewer yards through the air. Iowa opponents were 167-108-3 through four games last year to 150-85-7 this year. Teams were completing 64.7% of their passes against Iowa last year to just 56.6% this year. Iowa has four more INT's this year. Teams were gaining 305.4 yards per game through the air against Iowa through four games last year compared to just 196.8 ypg this year. That is a huge turnaround by this Iowa defense who returned two of four starters in the secondary, plus a seasoned reserve in Jovon Johnson, a player that saw a lot of time in nickel and dime packages in addition to making two starts when DJ Johnson could not go.
Another key aspect of this year's turnaround on pass defense is improved speed at the linebacker spot. Steen, Worthy and Barr were much slower and weaker against the pass than Steen, Hodge and Greenway. A blind man could see that. Iowa has 10 sacks through four games compared to nine a year ago.
On the whole, Iowa is averaging 150.6 fewer total yards per game this year than last year, but they are allowing 61.7 fewer yards per game.
Special teams are also strong this year. This first stat is attributed to the defense: Iowa has only returned four kicks this year compared to 14 through four games last year. Teams have scored four TD's on Iowa this year and have made one field goal, so that would be five kickoffs coming back, plus one kickoff per game that will always take place. That makes a total of nine possible kickoff return attempts this year; none have gone out of bounds, so the other five have been touchbacks.
Iowa's kick return average this year is 31.2 yards per return compared to 22.4 a year ago. Iowa is averaging 15.8 yards per punt return this year compared to 8.2 a year ago. Teams are averaging 19.1 yards per kickoff return against Iowa this year compared to 15.5 a year ago, and 5.1 yards per punt return this year compared to 1.0 a year ago. Iowa has attempted 11 more punts this year and has forced their opponent to punt the ball six more times.
Iowa has been flagged two fewer times this year and the 2003 Hawkeyes are converting on 40% of their third downs compared to 50% a year ago. Iowa's opponents have faced 12 more third down chances this year and are converting just 32% of all third down chances. Iowa quarterbacks have been sacked five times this year compared to three times a year ago through four games.
Iowa started fast in their games in 2002, scoring 65 points in the first quarter through four games. This year's team has scored 38 points in the first stanza. Last year's team scored 52 points in the 2nd quarter compared to 48 this year; 36 in the 3rd last year to 34 this year and 17 in the 4th last year to 14 this year.
Iowa had allowed just seven points in the first quarter of games through four in 2002 compared to 12 this year. But the Hawkeyes have yet to yield a point in the 2nd or 3rd quarters of games this season compared to 31 and 37 in the 2nd and 3rd a year ago. Iowa has allowed 21 points in the 4th quarter this year compared to 13 last year.
On the whole, Iowa had given up 88 points through four games in 2002 compared to just 33 this year.
Iowa is averaging 59,665 fans per home game this year (three games) compared to 58,701 last year (three games). Games against Michigan, Penn State and Illinois are either sellouts or will be sellouts within the next few days. The Minnesota game still has tickets remaining but will approach a sellout as well. Iowa's attendance average should be above 65,000 per game by season's end, the best mark since Hayden Fry's final year of 1998.
Since the 199o expansion to the current 70,397 capacity configuration, Iowa has averaged just over 70,000 fans per home game twice.
One more number, just from the ASU game: they were committing nine men in the box at times, bringing their free safety up behind their linebackers with one on one coverage on the wide receivers. When Iowa snapped the ball, their free safety stayed put most of the time, he didn't start backpedaling.
That is advantage offense, period. If the free safety starts to backpedal, as he should, that is a different story. But on several occasions, their free safety just stayed put.
And Iowa exploited the deep middle part of the field in this game more than they had all season.