The Hawkeyes are 2-2 through four games in 2004. They were 3-1 through four games in 2003, with one additional non-conference game in 2003. Iowa lost its Big Ten season opener at Michigan State last year, and they desperately needed a win against Michigan at home in their second league game, as a bye week would follow and the defending national champion Ohio State Buckeyes waiting in the wings as their next opponent. An 0-3 Big Ten start was staring them right in the face. They trailed Michigan 14-0 to start the game last year, and if you would have been talking Outback Bowl to any Hawkeye fan at the time, he would have said, ‘No, the bathroom is inside. Has been for about 60 years. What are you talking about?'
The Michigan State game in Iowa City next week becomes the most important game of the year, period. Win it, and you take some momentum into the bye week and a chance to get healthy, evaluate your tendencies from the first half of the season and prepare for an Ohio State team that is STILL looking to find itself on offense.
As mentioned in our Michigan Breakdown story, this year's Iowa offense is actually putting up WORSE per game rushing statistics than any team of the Ferentz era. That is hard to believe right there, in year six under Ferentz. Ferentz has been saying in recent weeks, including on Saturday' Learfield post game show, that if Iowa can just hang in there, they will be OK. He said that a lot at this time last year.
Iowa's offensive line was not exactly in tune four games into the 2003 season. Iowa's fourth game was a home win against Arizona State where the defense pretty much carried the day.
While comparing teams year to year is not scientific and no guarantees can be drawn, it is interesting to look at the 2003 Hawkeyes in relation to this year's team. I think it also underscores acknowledged areas of weakness, as well as providing some explanations and new questions altogether.
-Iowa is scoring 14.5 fewer points per game, allowing 14.6 MORE points per game, a 29.1 point per game swing, have committed four more turnovers and have forced three fewer turnovers.
-Iowa is averaging 127 fewer rushing yards per game this year on 28 more attempts. There is an adage about a man doing the same thing over and over again yet expecting different results…the Hawks are averaging 3.0 fewer yards per carry. Iowa is averaging 63 more passing yards per game in 2004, partly due to talent and partly due to lack of a running game.
MAGNETIC FIELD IN KINNICK?
We already know that the Iowa offense is ‘putting up rushing numbers' at the lowest pace of the Kirk Ferentz era, gaining just 85.0 yards per game with some pretty stout defenses still on the schedule.
Did you know the last time an Iowa offense ran the ball for fewer than 85 yards per game was in 1971 (81.5), the year that I was born?
The opposing end of magnets have opposite and opposing charges. The Iowa Hawkeyes couldn't be more opposite
Just as this rushing offense is historically poor, this version of Iowa's run defense is historically great, through four games.
The all time records for rushing defense in a single season goes as follows:
#1: 1981 - 79.7
#2: 2002 - 81.9
#3: 2003 - 92.7
The 2004 Iowa Hawkeyes are allowing just 55.5 rushing yards per game, 38.5 fewer yards per game than the 2003 pace through four games and with just one team, the Minnesota Golden Gophers, left on the team as a monster running threat. Wisconsin also has the horses to run, when healthy.
Yes, Iowa has given up more yards through the air this season; 241.0 yards per game, an increase of 44.2 yards per game. But add it all together, and the defense is allowing just 5.7 more yards per game through four games in 2004 than they were in 2003, and their yards allowed per play is nearly identical. We considered last year's defense to be one of the nation's best, and this year's group is off to a very good start, even factoring in the Arizona State game.
There is one stat that is alarming: through four games, Iowa's opponents have six more first downs via the penalty than they did at this time last year. On the whole, Iowa's opponents have gained eight fewer first downs through four this year v last year. So this defense could even be better.
Back to the polar opposites…the Iowa offense is +63 yards passing per game, as one would figure due to the lack of a running game. The Hawks have completed a much higher percentage of their passes this year, as Tate is proving to be quite accurate. But Iowa has also thrown four more INT's through four games this year vs. last year and they are +4 in turnovers on the whole from year to year.
The defense has also forced four fewer INT's and three fewer turnovers on the whole.
Through four games in 2003, the Iowa offense line, which was still young and learning, had allowed just five quarterback sacks. Now, a sack is not always just on the line, as the quarterback can share in some of the load. One thing that Nathan Chandler was good at was recognizing when to throw it away. Or if not good at that, he is ahead of where Drew Tate is right now in that department.
Tate took some more bad sacks again on Saturday, making three straight years of that.
But he is a second year player who is running for his life more often than not. Iowa has allowed 16 sacks through four games this year, or a pace for 48 on the year.
In 1999, Iowa's quarterbacks were sacked 29 times all season. That mark jumped up to a stratospheric 57 in 2000, and back down to 20 in 2001 and then just 12 in 2002. Drew Tate is not a big guy, and he nearly had his head taken off last week against Michigan. If Tate can get through this year in one piece, the line will be better next year and the Iowa offense should be much different, just as long as Tate does not suffer the lingering effects of Post Traumatic Sack Disorder….
THERE IS A FLAG ON THE PLAY
Through four games, Iowa has a mind blowing 16 more penalties in 2004 than in 2003, for 153 more penalty yards. That's another 39.3 yards per game over last year's ‘pace'.
Folks, we are talking about a lot of trends that have to be reversed, starting this week against Michigan State. Because you can't win football games when you are:
-upside down 29.1 points per game from last year
-averaging 127 fewer rushing yards per game from last year
-turning the ball over more and forcing fewer turnovers from last year
-giving up nearly 40 additional yards per game in penalties from last year
-scoring eight fewer touchdowns from last year
-allowing 11 more sacks from this time last year
Yet, the Hawks were very much in the game on Saturday at Michigan.