Last season, as we know, Iowa won 10 games with the second worst rushing attack in Division I-A football. What aided it greatly in this accomplishment was that it ranked sixth in the country in turnover margin at 1.08 a game.
In fact, the Hawkeyes rated 43 nationally in 2003 and 12th in '02. This season, they've fallen to 67th. Their (-).25 turnover margin would represent their lowest number since the (-).27 posted in ‘01.
Luckily, there are three games to play to change that figure.
"It's going to be extremely important for us to keep our offense on the field as much as possible," Iowa Cornerback Jovon Johnson said. "The only way to do that is to get three and outs, or get turnovers. Whenever you do that, the offense's time of possession is sky high. That's good. Any time the offense is on the field for the majority of the game, you know you're doing something successful."
Iowa recovered 15 fumbles and intercepted 17 passes for 32 takeaways in 12 games during '04. This season, it recovered 5 fumbles and intercepted six passes through eight games. Those numbers projected to 7.5 fumble recoveries and nine interceptions in 12 games or about half of what it had a year ago.
The Hawkeyes replacing their defensive front four from a year ago certainly has played into the drop-off so far this season.
"With more pressure, it hurries throws," Iowa Linebacker Chad Greenway said. "The tighter coverages create more interceptions. But a lot of it really is luck and guys just being careless with the football and fumbling it and things like that.
"Last year, we were really fortunate for that reason. But a lot of that comes from getting great pressure on the quarterback and making him move around in the pocket and playing good zone defense. We've done that this year. It's just a matter of getting that luck back in our hands."
Iowa's 11 turnovers gained ranks 98th in the country. It's 63rd nationally in sacks with 17. The Hawkeyes ranked second nationally in takeaways last season with 32 and third in the Big Ten with 30 sacks.
Iowa is performing well in holding onto the ball offensively. Its 13 turnovers places it 34th in the country. The Hawkeyes' opponent this week, Northwestern, ranks seventh nationally with a 1.25 turnover margin, having recovered nine fumbles and intercepted 15 passes. That plays well into the hands of a Wildcat offense that ranks 20th nationally in points scored (34.63 PPG).
"With an offense like that, if our defense stops them and we get the ball, we have to do something," Iowa Running Back Albert Young said. "Punts are better than giving them a short field to work with because they can strike in a second. That's nothing against our defense. That's how good their offense is."
Johnson said the main contributing factor in Iowa's takeaway drop-off comes from the opposition.
"A lot factors into what the other team does," he said. "We're going to hit guys and we're going to do what we do. At the same time, last year they weren't as consistent as they are this year at holding onto the ball. The quarterbacks weren't as consistent throwing the ball. Everybody stepped their game up a notch."
Greenway said that in doing what the defense did last year it created a reputation for others to concentrate on holding onto the ball.
"This year, I know Northwestern is good on takeaways," he said. "I know it's something that our offense is going to be looking for to take care of the football and knowing they have a knack for getting that ball out."
Iowa also has built a reputation for hitting hard on defense. That has created turnovers in the past.
"I think we've been as physical (this season)," Greenway said. "And when we get to the point of attack, we're being physical with people, finding the ball and tackling well. I don't think that's an issue."
Despite the cautious nature of the opponent, Johnson also remembers he and his defensive mates missing opportunities presented to them.
"There have been situations where there was a play to be made and we didn't make it," Johnson said "Being in a bad situation in terms of body position and things like that goes along with it. There have been plays out there where we needed to make plays. We still got to be able to go out and execute."