Meme Combat, or How to Fight Futilely Against Anecdotes with Data

First off, let me say that I'm a strict social constructionist and I'm as skeptical about objective reality as the next guy.  That debate is for another day.  The fact is that there is a general agreement in our culture that data based on observation is valid and is sound grounds for debate.  In fact, in bureaucracies both private and public, these facts are required to be the basis of daily decisions to a certain extent.  So I think we can all agree that our society is based on an objective reality that can be measured and used to make decisions.

However, this "agreement" is often violated in debates.  Political debate, civil discourse (or uncivil discourse if you prefer), and, most importantly to this post, internet chatter are driven by compelling anecdotes.  Those who try to argue counter to an anecdote based meme are chastised by people who "can't quite put their finger on it" or those who grant the validity of the overall data but still like to argue about a certain instance that goes counter to the overall trend.

Ok, for those of you who are still with me: What is the point of this post?  My point is to argue about the effectiveness of the 2010 Iowa offense.  A meme has developed on BHGP and elsewhere that is quite frankly starting to irritate me.  That meme is that the 2010 offense was bad, that Ricky had a bad year, and that Ken O'Keefe and Kirk Ferentz continue to cling to an offensive system that is outdated and makes it difficult to win football games.  My concession is that comparatively the Iowa offense isn't anywhere near as successful as the Iowa scoring defense (which is also outdated and needs to be replaced apparently).  A 50th ranked scoring offense and a 7th ranked scoring defense speak for themselves in relation to the other FBS schools.  Fine, we aren't Tulsa or Boise State on offense.  We don't run the spread and we don't innovate new offensive schemes, and we really haven't since Evy literally wrote the book on the Wing T in the 50s.  But the fact remains that the 2010 Iowa offense, with all the returning talent, with a senior QB, with a fairly green offensive line, was a better offense than 2009.  Let me say that again, the 2010 offense improved over the 2009 offense.  This is what you would expect to see with a bunch of returning starters.  Unfortunately, it seems that many people have turned their backs on Ricky and crew and the facts just don't support the anecdotes.  Specifically hkobb7 posted a comment that inspired me to write this post:

A prime example would be this year, when Iowa had an offense with serious production problems in spite of returning nearly everyone (forget the offensive line, they performed well all year, save for [Southwestern state redacted]) except for a single running back (who was replaced by an arguably better back by November)

We'll address this after the jump.


So here's a breakdown of many offensive statistics showing the change from 2009 to 2010.

Iowa Hawkeyes Offensive Statistics Comparison




Points per game




Yards per game




Rushing yards




Rushing yards per game




Rushing yards per attempt




Rushing touchdowns




Longest rush




Passing yards








Completion percentage




Passing yards per game




Passing yards per attempt




Yards per completion




Passing touchdowns




Longest pass








Source -

Nice table egghead, what does it mean?  It means that the only offensive statistic that saw a large regression in 2010 was the longest pass completion.  No McNutt for 92 yards down the sideline this year, which is really more anecdote than trend since n=1.  What you do see is an offense that improved production in every meaningful category, including a large increase in rushing even after the wrath of AIRBHG was exercised in August and September.  I'm not going to break down the table line by line, you are all smart enough to understand what a positive percentage change means.  And if you aren't: for everything in this table except interceptions, a positive change is good, the bigger the change the better.

Now that the data is out there, let me try to tackle some of the counterarguments that will inevitably be made to the overall season statistics.

First up, "je ne sais quoi".  Sure Ricky had a great statistical year, but he was just missing a certain something a je ne sais quoi, a gunslinger mentality that made him so thrilling in 2009.  While he was more exciting in 2009 it was often because you felt like you were flying down the highway on a motorcycle at 100mph with no helmet when he had the ball in his hands.  I love adrenaline, and I'm a risk taker, but that thought is a bit too much for me.  This year I think he was going 5 miles over the speed limit with proper safety gear.  He decided that if a mistake was going to be made, at least it wouldn't result in splattering his grey matter all over I-80.  Also, I tend to think that the je ne sais quoi that Ricky was missing was a defense that could make a stop in the final 5 minutes of the game.  

Second, there were no late game drives to come from behind and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat like in 2008 or 2009.  How many times did the offense have late game drives in those years that resulted in a win?  Once each year.  2008 brought us Daniel Murray's knee slide after the PSU-crushing field goal, and 2009 brought us "7 got 6" (okay, taking a break because I'm welling up writing about those two events in one sentence).  If I remember correctly, the question about the 2009 offense early in the season was that they didn't need late game drives because the defense just didn't give up leads in the 4th quarter.  What would happen if the defense broke and it was all on the offense?  We found out in East Lansing.  How many times did Ricky lead late game heroics to salvage victory in 2010?  None, you say?  WRONG!  Am I the only one who remembers a certain 88 yard, 3 play drive capped off by a 52 yard strike to McNutt streaking down the middle of the field to take an 18-13 led with 2:50 left in the 4th quarter against Indiana?  Don't you even think about saying that the ensuing Indiana drive and its fortunate drop by Belcher in the end zone is the offense's fault for scoring too quickly, because you can't blame the offense for a general lack of production and then blame them for being too productive when they do score while trailing late in a game.  Yet too many people focus on the inability of the offense to regain the lead after watching it slip away with under 2 minutes against Arizona, Wisconsin, Northwestern, and Ohio State.  Ok, only 20% of the time that Iowa needed a late game quick score did they get one in 2010, much lower than the 100% in 2009 but the raw number of late game scoring drives was the same in both seasons, one.  How many of you think that the 2009 offense would have gotten points on all of those final drives?  The 2008 version of Stanzi led game tying or winning drives in 2 of 3 chances, but the defense gave up a late Illinois field goal to lose that game (I'm counting MSU, Illinois, and PSU since JC6 was the QB in the second half of the Pitt game).

So a quick summary to finish it out.  We expected the 2010 offense to improve over the 2009 offense if the offensive line gelled quickly.  The line gelled quickly and the production by the offense improved measurably from 2009 to 2010.  Ricky pretty much eliminated the stanziballs of 2009 and was a more calm and collected player on the field.  This loss of a gunslinger mentality was troubling to some, but not all of us.  The inability to score touchdowns in less than 2 minutes at the end of the game resulted in a few games ending with the Iowa offense on the field down by less than a touchdown.  But it wasn't like the offense had made a habit of winning a ton of games with last minute scores in the previous years.

Ok, fire away, but please do so without resulting to compelling anecdotes.  They're cute and get your attention, but you won't change my mind with them.  Also, let's try to disagree without being disagreeable.

Unless otherwise expressly indicated by BHGP editors, this FanPost is strictly the viewpoint of the author and is not endorsed by BHGP in any way.

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