Looking Back to the Future

Sometimes, there can be winning in losing. As I wrote following Iowa’s loss at Ohio State on Saturday, the Hawkeyes possibly revealed a good deal in their effort as it relates to the rest of the season.

It appeared as though Iowa may have stumbled onto an offensive identity with their three-tight end sets and the offense looked pretty good in that first half against the 4th ranked team in the nation, gaining over 100 yards rushing in just two quarters.

The second half, not so much but Iowa was still able to hit a home run against a team that is typically fast enough to overcome such things.

Iowa is now 4-3 on the season, 1-2 in Big Ten play. That’s not ideal and it’s also one game behind the pace I had them on before the season when I pegged them 6-6; I had them 5-2 at this point in time, 2-1 in Big Ten play. That said, I actually think Iowa is in a better place right now than I did back then as it relates to getting to that six-win mark, or beyond.

I will get to that in a bit, but first, let me tell you about another team who was 4-3 overall and 1-2 in the Big Ten; the 2008 Iowa Hawkeyes.

This isn’t the first time you’ve seen someone attempt to draw some parallels to that team; it began before the season started as equal parts wishful thinking (coming off a bowl-less winter to see a big turnaround) and similar circumstances (young-ish quarterbacks, a running game that would lead the way).

Through seven games, the 2008 Iowa Hawkeyes were 4-3 overall and 1-2 in the Big Ten. That team went on to finish 9-4 overall and was actually one of the three or four best Ferentz era teams in my opinion, but they didn’t start out that way. Through seven games, they were still finding their way. They turned a big corner in game eight at home against Wisconsin and lost just one more game the rest of the year. Here is what some of their key statistics looked like through seven games, with the 2013 Iowa Hawkeyes through seven number beside it in parenthesis:

Yards Per Game: 386.9 (410.9)
Rushing Yards Per Game: 187.0 (196.4)
Points Per Game: 28.6 (28.9)
Third Down Conversions: 35% (50%)
Third Down Defense: 32% (33%)
First Downs: 153 (149)
Total Plays: 459 (517)
Sacks Against: 14 (5)
Red Zone TD’s: 17-32 (14-28)

At quarterback, Ricky Stanzi and Jake Christensen accounted for nine touchdowns to six interceptions at that point and had thrown for 1,389 yards. Jake Rudock has thrown 11 touchdowns to seven interceptions and has thrown for 1,447

I was surprised by the yards per game stat, as this year’s Iowa team is producing more in that department. I was also surprised that this year’s team has more rushing yards through seven games than that 2008 Iowa team, though that pace will be challenged the rest of the way as Shonn Greene broke out against Wisconsin in game eight. The point’s per game numbers are nearly identical as is the third down defense, first downs and red zone touchdown percentage.

This year’s Iowa team is much better on third downs and given how many more passing first downs Iowa has this year than at the similar point in 2008 (as well as the eyeball test) Jake Rudock is the answer there; he is converting 42.3% of his passes for first downs on 3rd and between seven to nine yards. Conversely, Ricky Stanzi had a quarterback rating of less than 80% in those situations with a better offensive line and better weapons around him. I don’t need numbers to tell me that sophomore Rudock is ahead of sophomore Stanzi in most areas.

Through seven games in 2008, Iowa knew it had a weapon in Greene as he was averaging over 133 yards per game and had tallied over 100 in each of the seven contests. However, they really ratcheted up their identity in game eight as Greene ran through, over and around the Badgers for more than 200 yards. That game catapulted him into the nation’s conscience and was the signature line during his run to the Doak Walker Award.

The 2013 Hawkeyes come home to face a wounded opponent this week against Northwestern. I am hoping Iowa found its identity for this year via its usage of the tight ends this past weekend. I don’t expect them to go three tight end sets every down (though I am not against it) but I think this needs to be the staple of the offense for the rest of this year. Minnesota gained 176 rushing yards against Northwestern this past week and Iowa can play the muscle game better than the Gophers.

Northwestern missed quarterback Kain Colter and running back Venric Mark in that game, as both sat out the contest with ankle injuries. Without those two, Northwestern won’t win another Big Ten game this year. Without those two at 100 percent, the same might be said given the schedule they have remaining.

Colter was not medically cleared to play against Minnesota and the Chicago Tribune lists Mark as ‘day to day’ in their gamer following Saturday’s game.

Given how Northwestern has tormented Iowa through the years, I fully expect both players to suit up and be at all world level this Saturday, but in reality I doubt either is at 100%. It’s tough to be at 100% on a bum ankle when you were not cleared medically seven days prior. Even then, it’s not about seven days as he’ll need to practice this week.

Before the season began, I felt Iowa would split with Northwestern and Wisconsin and a I picked the Wisconsin game as the win. I’d flip that now and I’d also add this; Northwestern is a must win game for Iowa this year if it wants to make it to a bowl game. Without Mark and Colter, Northwestern might be worse than Purdue. Iowa has to beat Northwestern and Purdue, then they have their six wins. The game against Wisconsin will be a bear, as will the game at Nebraska but Michigan is much more beatable than I previously thought.

The Hawkeyes can return home this week and at least look themselves in the eye following their gutty effort at Ohio State. It’s a far better feeling than everyone had after the Michigan State emasculation and I’m feeling much better about the rest of the year because of it. I believe they’ll get to bowl eligibility, but that begins this weekend with Northwestern.

It probably won’t be easy, as Pat Fitzgerald has his own personal hate week anytime the Iowa game comes on the schedule. This link to Huddle Pass shares some x’s and o’s thoughts on why Iowa has struggled in this game, from former Northwestern QB C.J. Bacher. This anecdote is pretty much all you need to know, in addition to the fact that Fitz broke his leg against Iowa, causing him to miss the trip to the Rose Bowl for the Top Five rated Cats and possibly limiting his chances at making it in the NFL (at least in his mind):

When Fitz was a player, after breaking his leg, an Iowa fan sent him a stuffed animal monkey as if to say that Iowa was the monkey on his back. To say that Fitz remembered the gesture would be an understatement. He brought out the stuffed monkey in the locker room before our game against Iowa in 2008, told us the story, then ripped the monkey’s head off; that’s how we hit the field. I think it’s a safe bet that Fitz circles Iowa on the schedule every year.

So for those counting at home, who hates Iowa? Well, Minnesota hates Iowa. Fitz hates Iowa. Once the Illini come back on the schedule next year, we know they hate Iowa (or used to, as it’s been so long since the teams have played). Wisconsin hates Iowa. I’m really looking forward to the Western Division when five of Iowa’s six foes share a border with the Hawkeye State.

  • jeffbuck

    Boy, I couldn’t agree more about the Western Division rivalries coming into place next year. Can’t wait. So much pure hatred. To hell with ratings and bowl assignments. What’s the difference? What matters is Hate the Goofers, Hate the Badgers, Hate the ‘Cats, Hate the Illini (yes, haven’t seen them for awhile, but it’s like riding a bike), Hate the ‘Huskers. Gee, I feel so much better, so cleansed. And Purdue, whom I don’t hate for some reason, would have been my pick to make seven.

  • Broiler

    #1 – In 2008, we had Shonn Greene.
    #2 – In 2008, we didn’t have to play Nebraska.
    #3 – In 2008, Wisconsin as not nearly as good as Wisconsin is this year.

    • HNStaff

      At that point in the year, Iowa had yet to play #3 Penn State, either.

      • jeffbuck

        I don’t think this Wisconsin team is so unbeatable. We played Ohio State better.

    • HNStaff

      and through 7 games 2008 v this year, this year’s team runs the ball better, on the macro. Now, I’d take Shonn Greene over the entire Iowa backfield because he can hit a home run.

      • jeffbuck

        Moreover, Jake Rudock is better than Ricki Stanzi. I think he will be significantly better before he’s done. He’s a better passer, especially long, and he’s cooler under fire. He makes better decisions.

  • Tom Ksobiech

    You see 2008 Iowa. I see 2001. They’re starting to get it, but I don’t know that we’ll see the lightswitch moment that we had in ’08. I think it will be more up and down than that.

    • westsidebill

      Well put. We don’t have the defensive playmakers/stability that we had in 2008. Our offenses are pretty similar, with Rudock being better than Stanzi but our running game a little more questionable without a true bell-cow.

  • coachjonnelson

    I pegged Iowa at 7-5 this year but NOT losing the Northern Illinois game and going 3-5 in Big Ten play. I still believe now that Iowa will go 7-5 at minimum. They will win this weekend against Northwestern, Badger game is a toss up with the edge to Wisky, then Purdue is a MUST win since they are coming off a bye week, then Michigan is VERY winnable, and then I think if the OHIO StATE Iowa shows up they can beat Nebby in Lincoln. That being said…there is a lot of upside for this Hawkeye team and I am proud to be a Hawkeye after that effort last Saturday! GO HAWKS!

  • Larry Flint

    There’s no way that Northwestern is worse than Purdue when they are without Colter and Mark. Not unlike Iowa, they have a tendency of playing up or down to their competition. Not unlike Iowa, they have a ball-control philosophy and a bend-but-not-break philosophy on D. On pretty much any given year, both teams have been pretty even, at least in terms of match-ups. Northwestern has the better record against Iowa because they’re one of the few teams that has an offensive style that matches up perfectly with our D. Our bend-but-not-break D has tended to be weaker against the pass than the run … and we specialize more on stopping the run in order to force opposing Os to get off schedule. Furthermore, Iowa’s D always tries to keep everything in front of them, force Os to remain patient, and they try to exploit it when opposing Os get “greedy.” In contrast, Northwestern’s O is almost always patient, it’s regularly been able to use its short-passing game as an extension of its running game, and they’re exceedingly good at taking what the opposing D gives them.

    Even without Colter and/or Mark, Northwestern presents many match-up difficulties for Iowa’s D. Furthermore, against Iowa, they invariable play up to the competition. Northwestern is a team that is reeling … and with a team that has plenty of talent, that also makes them VERY dangerous!

    That game is definitely “winnable” but by no means a “given.” I’m nervous about this one. If the same Northwestern O that played against Ohio State faces Iowa … Iowa’s going to have all sorts of difficulties defending against it.

  • cjcoty

    This game IS the GAME for the Hawks. Led by Morris and his backer brothers… Chris and Hitch, the defense needs to make a statement now…

    I believe they will and will do.

    Jake leads the way with some help on the other side of the ball. Just do what you’ve been doing. It’s now about scoring more points. Do it.

  • louie

    with this coaching staff I wouldn’t be surprised if we even see the 3 TE set again.They usually go away with what works.It’s funny you bring up 2008.I was telling a friend that was the worst coaching year Ferentz has had.We should have had 1 loss that year ,and we were a top 5 team at end of year when we made South Carolina look like a women’s lingerie team.Paki was still getting 10 ten carries in Pitt game.Ferentz handling of QB’S that game was a joke.If Stanzi plays whole 2nd half like he should of we win by 2 td’s.At Mich. st. we don’t call TO before 4 th and 1 play we get first down easy and win game.Played not to lose at Illinois so we lost.All 3 of those games were all coaching.So hopefully Ferentz doesn’t lose 2 more for us with Northern Illinois already chalked up.udcock plays 8 qtrs. last year we win that game by 2 td’s.

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