We all saw the magic this year from Drew Tate. He is next to impossible to get a good hit on, his footwork is fantastic and though he doesn't have the biggest arm in the world, he always keeps his eyes down the field and can beat teams deep.
I wrote the following in the April 2004 issue of Hawkeye Nation:
"Tate did not see a lot of action in 2003, but when he did play he showed Flutie-like grit and endeared himself among the Hawkeye faithful."
Though we only got a glimpse of Tate in 2003, mainly in Iowa's blowout win against Illinois, I just felt as if there was something lurking beneath the surface. We all saw that on display in 2004.
We saw a truly remarkable season out of Tate, all the more amazing when you consider that Iowa averaged just 72.6 rushing yards per game, the lowest total in school history and the 2nd worst total in Division 1 college football this year.
Being that I am a statistical geek and that I love to ponder such things, I was intrigued with a post in the HN Clubhouse that asked if Iowa fans would trade Drew Tate for any other quarterback in America. To read the interesting post and follow up comments, CLICK HERE
The post caused me to go off in a different direction and look at Tate's numbers on a national level, comparing his stats and adding in the degree of difficulty he had to face due to Iowa's anemic running attack.
No team in the last four years won 10 football games with an offense that gained fewer than 100 yards rushing per game. I don't have data that goes back any further, but I doubt you will find many teams in the last 25 years that won 10 games with such a weak rushing attack.
In doing that research, the question came to me; Did Drew Tate just have the best season an Iowa quarterback has ever had?
I recall doing this exercise a few years back when Brad Banks had his Heisman Runner Up 2002 campaign, and feeling that Banks' season was on par with the best of what Chuck and Chuck put up (Long and Hartlieb).
Let's take a look at the question from a statistical and analytical point of view.
First off, this comparison is not necessarily about championships. Matt Rogers was solid in 1990, helping Iowa to a share of the Big Ten title, but his performance that season was not one of the best seasons an Iowa quarterback has ever had. And by no means do I think that my list is the definitive opinion. It can't be, because I never saw Larry Lawrence play, nor did I see Randy Duncan play, nor do I have much of a comparison between different era's of football.
What I can say is that today's quarterbacks are different than they were in the 1950's and 1960's. They are asked to do more with their arms than they were ‘back in the day'.
So, with those numerous caveats in place, here goes nothing.
CHUCK LONG, 1985: For some Iowa fans, Long's 1985 season is the standard by which all Iowa quarterbacks are measured. He had one of the most productive careers in college football history and he was recently inducted into College Football's Hall of Fame.
His 1985 season might have been his best, as he was 260 of 388 (.670) for 3,297 yards and 27 touchdown passes (8.5 yards per passing attempt). He led Iowa to a 7-1 record in Big Ten play, a Big Ten title and a Rose Bowl appearance and a season ending Top 10 ranking with an overall record of 10-2. Iowa lost the Rose Bowl to UCLA.
Long had a talented supporting cast on both sides of the ball, as well as one of the best kickers in Iowa football history playing with him. Iowa's vaunted 1985 defense allowed just 13.9 points per game, with All American Linebacker Larry Station patrolling the middle of the field in Iowa's 5-2 defensive set. Iowa averaged 158 rushing yards per game that year and allowed 120.5, both solid numbers. Long was +11 in TD passes to INT's that season, and had a passer rating of 153.1. Ronnie Harmon gained more than 1,100 yards on the ground that season.
CHUCK HARTLIEB, 1987: Hartlieb was 217 of 334 (.650) and threw for 3,092 yards. He threw for 19 touchdowns in a year where three different quarterbacks started games. Hartlieb had a 9-1 record as a starter that year, but three Hawkeye passers split time in the early going. Hartlieb averaged 9.25 yards per passing attempt, a great number, as well as producing a passer rating of 156.7.
Iowa averaged 141.3 yards per game on the ground that year and the defense yielded 116.5 per game. Iowa's scoring defense that year allowed 19.2 points per game, and Rob Houghtlin was one again the place kicker, just as he was in 1985. Iowa won 10 games that year, including come from behind win in the Holiday Bowl. Tony Stewart was Iowa's leading rusher with more than 1,000 yards on the season.
HARTLIEB, 1988: Hartlieb's passing numbers in 1988 continue to stand the test of time; 288 of 460 for 3,738 yards. All three of those numbers are Iowa records. No Iowa quarterback has thrown more than 400 attempts, save Hartlieb's total in 1988. Iowa averaged 133.9 rushing yards per game, with Kevin Harmon leading the way with 715 yards.
Iowa was ranked in the preseason Top 20 that year, but they lost several close games and had three ties, to finish with a 6-4-3 record. Their four losses came by an average of 5.5 points, and three of those losses were by an average of 3.6 points and none worse than five points. You could say that the bounces did not go Iowa's way in 1988 the way they did in 2004.
BRAD BANKS, 2002: Banks was 170 of 294 for 2,573 yards and 26 touchdowns. His passer rating of 157.12 is believed to be the best in school history for a full time starter, and he had just five interceptions all season. Iowa's defense was dominating in 2002, allowing the 2nd lowest rushing yards per game total in school history at 81.9, while also racking up 214.2 rushing yards per game.
Banks' efficient season puts that year in this company, as well as him being under center for Iowa's first ever 8-0 Big Ten Championship and Iowa's first New Year's Day bowl bid since the 1990 season.
Banks benefited from playing behind arguably the best offensive line in school history, and Fred Russell nearly gained 1,300 yards on the ground. He finished 2nd in Heisman balloting.
Also worthy of mention…
GARY SNOOK, 1964: Snook threw for 2,062 yards in 1964, a single season record that stood at Iowa until Chuck Long came along. Throwing for more than 2,000 yards back in the 1960's was not your standard fare. Much like Iowa in 2004, Snook did not have a running game to help him, as Iowa averaged just 81.7 rushing yards per game and their leading rusher gained just 284 yards. Snook threw for 11 touchdowns, but that team finished with a record of 3-6.
Now, on to DREW TATE, 2004: Tate led Iowa to its third straight New Year's Day Bowl game and second Big Ten title in the last three years with the worst rushing ‘attack' in school history, as Iowa gained less than 73 yards per game. There have been eight instances in Iowa football's recorded history where Hawkeye teams failed to average at least 100 yards per game on the ground, and three games was the most any of the teams won, prior to this season.
Tate was 233 of 375 for 2,786 yards and 20 touchdowns. He had a passer rating of 134.67. Tate joined the Chuck's as the only quarterbacks in Iowa history to top the 2,700-yard mark for one season, and he joined Long and Banks as the only quarterbacks to throw for 20 or more touchdowns in one season.
Tate did have great defense and special teams in 2004, to be sure.
Tate also led Iowa to it's third ever New Year's Day bowl win, and his 54-yard pass to Warren Holloway as time expired to win the game will go down as one of the most amazing and important plays in Iowa football history.
Tate's single season numbers are impressive across the board, but they are all the more impressive when you consider that teams schemed to limit and harass him, as he was Iowa's only hope for victory each and every week.
I don't have any mathematical formula for degree of difficulty, but when you look at the numbers that Tate put up, and you see that standing on their own, they were among the best statistical numbers ever put up by an Iowa quarterback, then factor in the lack of a running game and the fact that Iowa won a share of the Big Ten title and won seven straight league games, plus the New Year's Day bowl win and how that happened, I believe that a person could argue that Tate's performance in 2004 might have been the best ever by an Iowa quarterback.