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.