Can Iowa 2013 Be Like Iowa 2008?

The comparisons have begun, at least internally.  2013 is reminding some of Iowa’s 2008 scenario.

Rick Brown of the Des Moines Register has an article where the 2008 v 2013 comparisons come out, which you can read here.  Included is this quote:

“In 2007 we did have a young team, a little bit like last year,” Ferentz said. “Young in a lot of areas, and we knew we were going to have some challenges that way. We had a lot of off-the-field issues going on, guys making dumb decisions. And then not going to a bowl and basically losing that opportunity on our home field in the last ballgame. That left a bad taste.”

There’s a line early on in that article, from Brown, that says:

The 2008 team rebounded with a 9-4 record, including a late-season upset of No. 3 Penn State, and won the Outback Bowl. That team holds a special place in the heart of coach Kirk Ferentz because of its off-season attitude and work ethic coming off a bowl-free season.  This team reminds Ferentz of that 2008 group. And he didn’t need to make a rah-rah speech for that happen.

I never got the feeling from any of the quotes Brown used that Ferentz was drawing any strong comparisons to 2008, other than the fact that both the 2007 and 2012 teams were ‘young’ and that this year’s team is unsettled at quarterback.

I would love to look back on the 2013 season and say ‘Wow, that really was like 2008’ because that would greatly exceed my expectations for this year.  Could it happen?  I guess it’s possible.  However I would bet strongly against it.

The 2008 Hawkeyes:  At the start of the season, we didn’t realize how dominant this team would become.  In my opinion, it became the  third best Ferentz-era team and if you put together a bracket of the Top Eight Ferentz era teams, if they could play each other at the end of their respective seasons, I’d put the 2008 Hawkeyes #2 behind the 2002 Hawkeyes, who might have been playing the best ball of any Iowa team at the end of any season since the 1950’s.

That’s an incredibly high bar, but for the sake of this exercise or comparison, one has to try to block out what the 2008 team became; at the end of that year, I wrote that the 2008 roster may go own as the best in Iowa history as it related to draft picks over the next five classes, and it did become that.   One also has to remember what the 2008 outlook was coming off of the incredibly long 2007 offseason (something else the summer of 2013 has in common with the summer of 2008).

2007 Hawkeye Offense:  Here is where Iowa ranked nationally out of 119 schools in some key areas:

Total Offense: 109th
Scoring Offense: 110th
Rushing Offense: 92nd
Passing Offense: 94th
Sacks Allowed: 114th

Until last year, this might have been the worst offense of the Ferentz era, considering the program wasn’t in start up mode the way it was in 1999 and 2000. It was atrocious in 2007, just painful to watch on third downs…and it was better than the 2012 group was in nearly every facet:

2012 Hawkeye Offense

Total Offense: 114th
Scoring Offense: 111th
Rushing Offense: 101st
Passing Offense: 99th
Sacks Allowed: 55th

Jake Christensen was tough to watch in 2007, yet he threw for 17 TD’s to 6 INT’s and 2269 yards passing and he had a passer rating of 116.94, 84th ‘best’ in the nation. The 2012 season for James Vandenberg was much worse, as he threw for a nearly identical 2249 yards but seven touchdown passes and eight interceptions. His passer rating was 107.72 and he didn’t crack the top 100. Still, the 2012 team was over 36% on third downs where the 2007 team was under 32%.

Either way, the spring and summer of 2008 did not find Iowa fans brimming with confidence…

-Iowa’s two top rushers, Albert Young and Damien Sims, had exhausted their eligibility.

-The top returning rusher was Jevon Pugh at 40 yards (similar to last year’s with Damon Bullock’s career total before the start of the year)

-DJK had a solid freshman year in 2007 as did James Cleveland, but Cleveland was no longer with the team and Marvin McNutt was still a quarterback. Iowa did have a promising tight end corps, with a young Tony Moeaki and senior to be Brandon Meyers in the fold for 2008.

-The offensive line was not expected to be as good as they would become. Rob Bruggeman supplanted Rafael Eubanks at center, Bryan Bulaga was a sophomore starter as was Julian Vandervelde, Seth Olsen was a senior at right guard but hadn’t played up to some expectations in his career and Kyle Calloway was the starting right tackle as a junior. While this group would play at a very high level, especially Bruggeman and Bulaga, nobody saw it coming in the out of season.

Now, onto the defense…

2007 Defense: Here is where that team ended the season, statistically

Total Defense: 36th
Rushing Defense: 24th
Scoring Defense: 12th

And…..we can pretty much call a TKO right now and stop writing. I’m not wired that way; we’ll finish it out.

2012 Defense:

Total Defense: 49th
Rushing Defense: 63rd
Scoring Defense: 33rd

The 2012 defense wasn’t horrible. Through six games, they were pretty salty but that was a function of the schedule as much as anything. They were challenged against the run, as challenged as any Iowa defense had been against the run since the 2000 Iowa team. However, they were on the field a lot with and offense that could not convert third downs. Then again, the defense had little to no pass rush, certainly not a consistent pass rush nor did it have a player you have to scheme around.

Going into next season, I don’t think you can give me a player that Iowa’s opponents are staying up late at night worrying about right now. Heading into the 2008 offseason, that to be 2008 Iowa defense had several of them; seniors to be Mitch King and Matt Kroul to name two. Adrian Clayborn and Christian Ballard were just ready to make their presence felt in 2008 as they were soph’s in that season and not really on anyones radar outside of Iowa City at that point. AJ Edds had made a name for himself by that time and Pat Angerer hadn’t done that as of yet.

Any attempt at connection between 2008 and 2013 has to stop dead cold when you get to the defense…the defensive outlook heading into 2008 was significantly brighter than what it is right now. The 2008 group delivered, turning in one of the best statistical performances of any Iowa defense in school history: 12th in total defense, 9th in rushing defense, 5th in passing efficiency defense and 5th in scoring defense allowing just 13 points per game.

Here were some of the names on the two-deep roster heading into the 2008 Iowa at Minnesota game: King, Kroul, Clayborn, Ballard, Angerer, Edds, Tyler Sash, Bradley Fletcher, Amari Spievey, Jeff Tarpinian, Jordan Bernstine, and Karl Klug; all of these names have taken snaps in the NFL. Also on that two deep was Brett Greenwood, Broderick Binns, Tyler Nielsen, Jeremiha Hunter and Shaun Prater.

Find me an Iowa defense that had more talent on it than that one.

2013 is not likely to have a 2008-style season because it does not have the horses on defense to stem the tide until the offense gets its legs under it; Iowa scored just 67 points over a four-game stretch in 2008 where it went 1-3 and the defense allowed just 64 points in that stretch. The 2013 offense may be just as challenged early on and the Hawkeyes would be very fortunate to start the season 4-0; I don’t think it will happen.

Are there stars in waiting on the defensive line? Is Carl Davis going to play to his size and be consistent? Will Darrian Cooper become a force to be reckoned with on the inside? Will Jaleel Johnson and Faith Ekakitie play beyond their years? Will LTP take off to another level? Will the defensive line keep blockers off the linebackers?

Too many questions there…far too many questions.

Then again, the Iowa rushing game outlook heading into 2008 was frightening (but similar to what Iowa faced last year) and Shonn Greene burst on the scene with the best season in school history. I doubt this coming year’s offensive line will play at the level of the 2008 line, but the offensive line should be solid.

So no, I don’t think the 2013 Hawkeyes can be like the 2008 Hawkeyes. I don’t think they will ever get to the point of dominating their opposition the way the 2008 team did, but 6-6 is possible.

  • Ted1980

    Impossible to predict

    • JC

      Agree. I trust they are working as hard as they can to get better and hopefully it results in more wins. Hopefully JM is as wrong about his 6-6 prediction as he was about his undefeated prediction a few years ago.

  • kp

    I like this offensive line. If healthy I think they will be very good but not great. They may appear great though this season as the Hawkeye’s eleven FBS opponents field a TOTAL of 15 returning defensive line starters. Seven opponents have one or fewer returning starters on the d line. If you look at the mock drafts for next year the experts aren’t spotting many high draft picks in the population. Will someone like Ohio State turn their inexperienced line into stars? Probably, but I like the odds that many of them will not.

  • hawki5120

    If you’re saying you saw the 2008 defense doing what it did coming into the season I bow to your skills. I doubt we will see a great defense this year but if Johnson and Ekakitie take off you have solid linebackers kind of like 2008 and a solid to possible very good secondary depending on if they can step up. I really like Nico Law in particular to do that. I see a lot of resemblance to things going into the 2008 season on defense.

  • Larry Flint

    While the ’07 D fared admirably with regard to raw numbers, you also need to account for the fact that the ’08 D had A LOT of unknowns entering the season.
    – The Hawks has lost multi-year starters in Iwebema and Mattison … although I’ll concede that that the greater Hawkeyenation already had a suspicion that Clayborn and Ballard would be “pretty good.”
    – Coleman was entering the ’08 season as the incumbent at MLB … however, Angerer had really surprised the coaching staff during spring ball. The problem at this spot was that Coleman showed great promise … but he was still a bit 1-dimensional. As for Angerer … he was still a bit of an unknown at that point.
    – The WILL spot was a huge unknown. Norm had spoken really highly of Tarp … but, at that juncture, both Tarp and Hunter were largely unproven.
    – Dalton was terrible at the strong safety spot … and during the prior spring, I recall hearing that Sash was still a 3rd stringer behind Tillison. The ascent of Sash was a very rapid phenomenon.
    – Fletcher had a lot of back-up experience and even some starts … but he got burned so often that he was simply painful to watch. The improvement that Fletcher demonstrated from his prior seasons to his SR season was one of the most impressive Hawkeye transformations I recall observing. Great credit goes to him for all his hard work … and a heck of a lot is also due to Phil for contributing to his development.
    – Spievey was a huge unknown … although he really seemed to tear things up at the JUCO level. Bernstine seemed poised to nab the starting CB spot opposite Fletcher … but then an injury hit him and Spievey got the spot without facing much competition.
    – Greenwood played pretty solidly in ’07 … however, he still was a young player in ’08 (only in his 2nd year of starts).

    Frankly, the only thing going for the ’08 D that was readily apparent to those outside of Ft. Kinnick was that King and Kroul were known quantities. Kroul was very adept at taking on double-teams … and King was pretty uncanny when it came to getting penetration. All the same, a long-time criticism that folks had of those guys was that they were rather undersized (it’s one of CAARHawk’s favorite pet-peeves).
    The one thing that Ferentz continued to speak about the ’08 squad (prior to the season) was that the group had a surprising amount of experience for still being such a young group. Part of this was due to the fact that so many young guys had a chance to get their feet wet in ’07.
    If you look for causal relationships as to WHY the ’07 D was statistically better than the ’12 D … I’d say that 2 major factors really stick out.
    – First off, the ’07 DL was MUCH more experienced … each starter on the DL was a multi-year starter. Furthermore, each of the starters on the DL had played side-by-side their entire career … thus, they knew how to play together as a unit quite well. Lastly, the experience that the starters had allowed for Clayborn and Ballard to provide a few “sparks” as backups.
    – Secondly, the ’07 D benefitted from having Norm at the helm of the LBs. Norm really knew how to tweak the LB play to the opponent AND he was great at teaching the guys the fundamentals. While I think that LeVar will develop into a very good coach, he simply doesn’t compare to Norm … he just doesn’t have the breadth of experience and knowledge to even be in the same ballpark as Norm. While I think that LeVar helped the LBs to definitely make some strides … there were still holes in their game that were readily apparent (just look at how poorly they defended against TEs in ’12). Thus, I think this is a huge reason why Ferentz brought in Coach Reid. Like Norm, he’s a wiley veteran who specializes in LB-play. My guess is that Coach Reid will help the LBs to continue to make strides in their game.
    I think that the ’13 D has the potential to be excellent. However, it certainly needs plenty of guys to “up their games” if we’re going to have a chance to speak of them in the same breath as the ’08 group. But, such stories have not been uncommon since Ferentz took the helm.

    • HNStaff

      The 2007 defense was ranked 12th in the nation in scoring defense, folks. 12th. That’s what I look at. This was a Top 12 in the nation scoring defense with an offense that was below 32% third down completions! The 2007 defense was a good group. Their ascension in 2008 to an elite defense is not as big a stretch as the 2012 defense becoming a Top 25 defense.

      • Larry Flint

        Upon what form of deduction do you draw such an inference? With Norm at the helm, Iowa always had the base of knowledge to be excellent. However, performance on the gridiron is not played out by stats … but rather by players and players executing particular strategies.


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