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Hawkeye Offensive Inventory

Current Iowa Offensive Coordinator Greg Davis is an easy target right now for Iowa fans wanting to assign blame for the 2012 Hawkeye football season. We all witnessed the futility of this season but when you look at the numbers a bit further, things sting even more.

That said, things haven’t been rosy on offense during the Ferentz era and being that Iowa changed coordinators this past off season and had arguably the worst offensive season of an offensively challenged Ferentz era, it does make you wonder how much influence Ferentz tries to have over his offensive coordinators.  That’s just one question.

Let’s dive in and look at some data from the 14 year Ferentz era.

First off, check out this tweet from our resident football analyst and scout HawkeyeGameFilm:

The picture you see above is photographic evidence of the LONE target CJ Fiedorowicz saw this year of longer than 20 yards.  Yes, the one and only.

Another tweet from HawkeyeGameFilm:

That last bit is staggering…less than 13% of the 65 targets that came Fiedorowicz’s way were beyond 10 yards..or to flip it, over 87% of the passing targets to the player Greg Davis referred to in August as the best tight end he has ever been around were longer than 10 yards.

How does that happen?  How in the world does that happen?  Football is a game of mismatches.  Iowa fans know this all too well, having seen teams try to get Iowa’s linebackers out in space against their four and five receiver sets.  The names are still etched into my mind; Derek Hagen of Arizona State, Anthony Gonzales of Ohio State, Philip Bates on Mike Klinkenborg in Ames back in 2007…etc, etc, etc.

CJ is a nightmare mismatch for opposing linebackers and safeties in the passing game.  I won’t sit here and suggest he is the most skilled blocker Iowa has had at the position in the last decade because he is not.  But in passing routes, he is a mismatch to be exploited yet Iowa barely scratched the surface there.

OK, let’s move on to the macro.  The following data set shows Iowa’s per game averages and national rankings in the listed statistics.  Year’s 2003 through 2012 show statistics in games against FBS teams only.  For instance, Iowa’s stats against UNI in 2012 are not reflected in the top data set, but I shared what they were including the UNI stats at the bottom of the chart. 1999-2002 data fields are all games, all opponents:

The spaces where there is a black background are very, very poor production numbers. I left the yards per pass attempt fields in clean space, but the two red numbered years of 2012 and 2007 were especially horrible with 2012 ‘taking the cake’.

This year was simply the most futile passing year of the Kirk Ferentz era. That’s hard to swallow in year 14 but even more unfathomable when you figure Iowa had a fifth year senior returning at quarterback who started the entire 2011 season, threw for over 3,000 yards and had 25 touchdown passes. This year? He was just over 2,200 passing yards and had just seven touchdown passes to eight interceptions.

The last year(s) where an Iowa quarterback threw less than seven touchdown passes was in 1998 and 1999; the end of the Fry era and the start of the Ferentz era. Before then you have to go back to 1978, the year before Iowa hired Hayden Fry, when they threw four as a team. Iowa threw just seven in 1981, but they had one of the best Iowa defensive units in school history and also had quarterback injuries to deal with as Gordy Bohannon and Pete Gales.

As long as I live, I doubt I will ever be convinced that Vandenberg was mostly to blame for this year’s passing game debacle. He had a hand in it, as did Iowa’s group of pass catchers…but the change in offensive coordinator and the attempted blend with the old and new is certainly at the top of my list.

The four full time FBS teams who had a worse yards per pass attempt than Iowa; Illinois (2-10), Kentucky (2-10), Hawaii (2-9) and Wake Forest (5-7).

Let’s move along to take a look at more data from more offensive categories from the Ferentz era. This next set is from all 14 Ferentz era years and lists Iowa’s national ranking in the offensive stats listed in the header line. Keep in mind that there are roughly 115-120 FBS teams in each year; this year there were 120 full time members with four schools in their last year of transition from FCS to FBS.

To repeat something from before, Iowa just finished up its worst passing year of the Ferentz era. 114 out of 120 puts Iowa in the bottom five percent. In 2007, they were in the bottom 8.4 percent. When you add the rushing and passing rankings together then divide by two, this year’s team ranked 100.5 which is the the worst total of any of Ferentz’s previous poor offenses. Add in Iowa’s scoring offense rank to those two totals then divide by three and you still come up with the worst offense.

What’s all the more startling is the raw yards numbers illustrated in the first data set. Iowa averaged 310.42 yards per game this year. That’s just 10 yards per game more than the 1999 team averaged and less than five yards per game than the 2000 team averaged.

Why does that stand out? The game of college football is drastically different in 2012 than it was in 1999 and 2000. In 2012, 65 teams are averaging over 400 yards per game through the Thanksgiving Weekend set of games. In 1999 that number was just 39 and was just 38 in 2000. Look at where Iowa finished last year, ranked 72nd in the nation in yards per game with 370.7 yards.

What I don’t have listed is points per game. In 1999, just 29 teams averaged at least 30 points per game. So far this year that number is at 56. Iowa averaged 19.33 this year which was 111th in the nation.

There is old man football and then there is dying old man in a nursing home football; Iowa has been on life support for a while now.

You can still win with old man football; Alabama does a nice job of it and Notre Dame is plugging away at it, too. Notre Dame will play for the national title this year and Alabama can join them if it wins the SEC title game this coming weekend.

However those two teams have something Iowa doesn’t right now which is stellar defense; Alabama is #1 in scoring defense and Notre Dame is #2.

As I have written before, in the six Ferentz era years where Iowa has won eight or more football games it has had either a scoring or rushing defense rank in the Top 10 nationally. When it hasn’t had a defense like that, the Hawks haven’t won more than seven games.

That is an amazing margin for error, something Iowa just can’t bank on year in and year out…or even once every two years. They won’t have a defense like that next year, either.

Here is one more set of numbers to chew on, this time from the Big Ten. Using the same offensive categories as the second image from above, I entered Iowa’s ranking in each statistic for each season from amongst it Big Ten peers, or the teams it will play more than any other.

What startled me most about this set of numbers is Iowa’s struggles running the ball. Some people would like to label Iowa as ‘Offensive Line University’. If that is the case, wouldn’t you think Iowa would do better than being in the bottom quarter or third in Big Ten rushing in five of the last six seasons?

Sure, Iowa has done a great job of developing talent and turning a few of them into NFL offensive line prospects. That looks great on the media guide but on the whole, this offense has actually been more challenged in the rushing game than it has in the passing game.

In eight of the 14 Ferentz era years, Iowa has finished 9th or worse in the league in rushing and up until 2010 it was an 11 team conference. That’s only happened twice in passing during those 14 years. It has an 8.3 ranking average in the Big Ten and a 7.0 average in the Big Ten 1999-2010, before it became a 12 team league. Seven out of 12 is below average.

Yes, Iowa has been hammered by running back injuries as we know all too well, but I still would have expected these numbers to be stronger.

If you look at the 2000 numbers, Iowa finished last in the league in total offense, rushing offese and scoring offense. This year, year 14 of the Ferentz era, Iowa finished 2nd to last in total offense and scoring offense and last in rushing offense.

These numbers are startling on the macro and were downright unbearable on the 2012 micro. Iowa has placed an inordinate burden on the defense during the Ferentz era as the game of college football is shifting more and more to the offensive side of the ball. The architect of those great Iowa defenses retired last year, too. That’s not a shot at Phil Parker, as I expected Iowa to struggle as long ago as March of 2012. It was earlier than that, as in the day after the 2011 Insight Bowl.

I thought Iowa might be looking down the barrel of defensive numbers like what we saw in 2000. Here is part of what I wrote back in March:

2000 saw 440 yards per game. It will not be that bad. Was 378 in 2011
2000 saw 27.50 points per game…I think it could be like that. It was 23.85 in 2011
2000 saw 194 rushing yards per game…I could see 175+ in 2012. It was 156 in 2011

In 2012, we saw:
381.58 yards per game, which was better than 2011
22.92 points per game, which was better than 2011
162.08 rushing yards per game, which was worse than 2011

On the whole, this defense held up better than I thought it would but those numbers are also a bit misleading as in Big Ten play, they were:

412.9 yards allowed per game
25.1 points allowed per game
186.5 rushing yards allowed per game

This year’s defensive numbers were the worst we’ve seen since 2000, which was the case for the 2011 defense. I think the 2013 Iowa defense will be better but there is still so much betting on hope as it relates to the defensive line.

Bottom line as I see it; Iowa is playing with fire by having placed so much weight on the defense, hoping it can bail out a less than average or worse offense who is risk averse in order to avoid committing any turnovers because if it did, the team has no chance. Or rather, it still has a chance but will continue to play in a lot of games decided by a touchdown or less.

As for the 2013 offense? As I have written before, if they don’t start attacking vertically more often they will not have a chance. Is Greg Davis the right coordinator for Iowa? Is Kirk Ferentz imparting too much of his offensive philosophy into things for this day and age of football? That doesn’t mean the ‘game is passing him by’, not at all. Kirk is a sharp cookie, but he’s also set in his ways.

Iowa doesn’t need to go all Oregon Ducks and they’d be foolish to change that much. At Big Ten latitudes, you still have to run and stop the run to be successful on the whole.

But what Iowa has been doing on offense hasn’t been working and this year was the worst of the worst. Some thing, or some things need to change.

Let me leave you with this shred of optimism: Iowa went from worst to first in scoring offense from 2000 to 2001 and backed it up again in 2002. So there’s a little bit of hope for you, right?

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