The Future of Iowa's O Line: Look to the Past

Several Hawkeye football recruiting prospects, namely the offensive linemen, have said in recent months that they consider Iowa to be ‘O-Line University'. Some fans have expressed some concerns as of late as to the future of the position and Iowa, and what to expect after this season. They are hoping that Kirk Ferentz can wave his magic wand and get Iowa's 'big uglies' back to prominence. We thought it might be fun to look Inside the Numbers and tackle some of those questions.

Several Hawkeye football recruiting prospects, namely the offensive linemen, have said in recent months that they consider Iowa to be ‘Offensive Line University'.

Some fans have expressed some concerns as of late as to the future of the position and Iowa, and what to expect after this season.

They are hoping that Kirk Ferentz can wave his magic wand and get the Hawkeyes back to being a respectable team when it comes to running the football.

We thought it might be fun to look Inside the Numbers as we tackle some of those questions.

It's time to go Back to the Future.

# # # # # # #

Remember the 2000 Iowa football season? Iowa finished 3-9, as Kirk Ferentz was getting the program back on its feet.

I think one can draw some comparisons to that season as we look at this years team, at least on the offensive line.

Now, the program in 2004 is in much better shape than it was in 2000, but the Hawkeyes have had to replace some of the best offensive linemen in school history over the past two seasons.

At the end of the 2002 season, Iowa lost Eric Steinbach, Bruce Nelson, David Porter, Ben Sobieski and Andy Lightfoot to graduation. Steinbach and Nelson were drafted in the 2nd round and Sobieski is on the Buffalo Bills practice squad. Everyone but Lightfoot has been in an NFL camp the past two summers.

At the end of the 2003 season, Iowa lost Robert Gallery, Eric Rothwell and Sam Aiello to graduation. Gallery was the 2nd overall pick of the NFL draft, Rothwell was a solid and versatile player for Iowa and Aiello was a long time contributor to the program.

But those players were not always playing as veterans.

Here was the final two-deep roster for the 2000 season on the offensive line:

LT: Alonzo Cunningham, Robert Gallery
LG: Bruce Nelson, Kory Borchers
C: A.J. Blazek, Pete Traynor
RG: Eric Steinbach, Andy Lightfoot
RT: Robert Gallery, David Porter

Two of those starters (Steinbach & Nelson) were sophomore's while Gallery was a freshman. Porter would be granted an additional year, so seven of the nine players on the final 2000 two-deep had at least two more years of playing time at Iowa.

The point: It was a very inexperienced group. Yet, they grew into a solid group in 2001 and a great group in 2002.

Fast forward to this season.

Just one member of Iowa's current two-deep roster on the offensive line was on the final two-deep roster of the 2002 season; Pete McMahon.

Eight different linemen have started games for Iowa this season and five of those eight have made the first starts of their careers in 2004; Lee Gray, Ben Gates, Ben Cronin, Mike Elgin and Todd Plagman. David Walker, who was expected to be a key contributor and who might be the best offensive lineman on the team, took fewer than 20 snaps in the Arizona State game before being lost for the season with a triceps injury.

Iowa's offensive line has been disrupted due to injuries since last February. There has been little time for them to get on the same page, as a unit. Couple that with the plague of injuries at running back, and it should come as no surprise that Iowa has struggled on the ground.

The similarities between the offensive production in 2000 to that of this year's offense is quite interesting, when you go Inside the Numbers.

FIRST DOWNS PER GAME

2000: 16.6
2004: 16.9

RUSHING YARDS PER GAME

2000: 90.8
2004: 74.8

YARDS PER RUSH

2000: 2.7
2004: 2.1

TOTAL OFFENSE

2000: 305.8
2004: 315.6

THIRD DOWN CONVERSIONS

2000: 40%
2004: 38%

TOUCHDOWNS SCORED

2000: 23
2004: 26

SACKS ALLOWED

2000: 57
2004: 33

PASSING: ATTEMPTS/COMPLETIONS/INTS/TDS

2000: 404-230-11-16 (.569 completion percentage)
2004: 329-204-9-15 (.620 completion percentage)

Interesting data, wouldn't you say?

The 2000 team when 3-9, and this year's team is 8-2. The difference between the two teams is that this year's Iowa defense is lights out, where the 2000 defense was on par with its offense.

The 2000 Iowa defense allowed 194.2 yards rushing per game, where this year's team allows just 95.1. The 2000 defense allowed 440.9 total yards per game, where this year's defense is allowing just 299.4. The 2000 defense allowed 17 rushing touchdowns compared to just six this season.

Nate Kaeding was 14-22 that season (his true freshman year), while Kyle Schlicher is 17 of 22.

So does the data tell us anything?

It DOES NOT mean that the 2005 offensive line is going to be like the 2001 or 2002 offensive lines, but I think one can assume that next year's trenchmen will be better than they were in 2004, and that Iowa will not see the attrition at the tailback position next year.

The data also tells us that though this group has allowed a high number of sacks, it was much worse in 2000. It tells us that Drew Tate is pretty darn good, as he is facing the same type of attack fronts that Iowa faced in 2000.

In my opinion, these numbers should give Iowa fans a good degree of optimism as they think about the potential offensive attack in 2005.

An average running game, say one that averages 120 yards per game, is going to allow next year's offense to be incredibly dangerous. They will score more points. In fact, I think they could lead the league in points per game next season.

They will have to be all of that, because Iowa loses all of it's starters on the defensive line. However, they return six of their back seven.

So take heart, Hawkeye fans; Kirk Ferentz and his staff have been here before.

With another off season of training and teaching in front of them, the 2005 offensive line should be vastly improved over this year.

BOWL CHARTER: If you are thinking about heading to Iowa's bowl game, then HawkeyeNation.com has you covered. Join us on our third annual bowl charter flight. We are taking reservations right now, and the plane is filling up. We have contingencies in place for the Outback, Capitol One and Alamo Bowls, depending on where Iowa plays. For more information, CLICK HERE


Hawkeye Insider Top Stories