This season has been underwhelming. Since the third game, the Iowa Hawkeyes have looked anemic on offense and porous in rush defense. It would be more palatable if the Hawks had not just come off of a historic, 12-win season. It might even be acceptable if it felt like just one aspect of the game was holding them back. But it feels like everything is coming apart. And it might feel survivable if Iowa’s recruiting class didn’t seem to be coming off the rails right in front of social-media-starved eyes.
Let’s start with the offense. Thus far the whole thing has felt like an exercise in futility. Even against teams like Purdue and Rutgers, the Hawks have failed to look as if they are executing as a unified unit. And while many had hoped that offense would start to gel halfway through the season, the mid-way mark has come and gone and there is little evidence to suggest that the team has figured things out. In fact, I took the liberty of plotting Iowa’s offensive metrics from the first 8 games, looking specifically at efficiency. Bear with me, this is a bit of a complicated picture.
So the first things to look at are the blue dots and dashed line. These represent Iowa’s rushing yards per carry for the first 8 games. Despite a few bright spots in games, Iowa has struggled to move the ball efficiently on the ground. Even with Akrum Wadley’s monstrous YPC, the running game in general has had a difficult time finding consistency. The story is slightly different for the passing game (the red dots). C.J.B. and company have have been fairly consistent through 8 weeks, but are not moving the ball nearly enough through the air, averaging well below 8 yards per pass attempt. Now, the most distressing thing about this is that the one thing that is consistent is that the overall trend in both passing and rushing yards per play is in decline. Looking at the red, blue and green lines on the right side of the graph.
This essentially means that based on the first 8 games, Iowa has consistently slowed with each passing week. Even more worrisome is the predicted tempo. The orange line above represents the total number of Iowa offensive plays. Through the first eight games of the season, H.A.W.K.E.Y.E.S. has noticed a downward slide in Iowa’s total time on the field on offense. Now, it could be reacting to Iowa’s last performance against Wisconsin, but that game was not even the worst example. All combined, the outcome predicted by the computer is grim. Iowa is running fewer and fewer plays for fewer and fewer yards per play.
Now, a few caveats. The sample size here is eight, which means that these predicted results are not statistically significant, and the uncertainty of the predictions is higher the further out we look. In an attempt to compensate for the lack of data, I drew up the same graph for every season since 2002, looking only at the first 8 games and predicting the trends for games nine through 12. In none of these seasons were the results similar. In fact, by game eight, all Ferentz-led Iowa teams had no trends to speak of, let alone negative trends in all categories. I am usually the optimist around here, but this analysis is not really making that easy. Hopefully, things look better on the defensive side.
It looks a lot more manageable on defense. Iowa’s rush defense seems to be improving, holding opponents to fewer YPC as the season progresses. They are, however, allowing more yards per pass attempt, but this is to be expected as teams have been forced to go to the air more since game 5, indicated by the total yards per play allowed by the defense staying essentially flat. The only thing to worry about here is the tendency to allow teams to stay on offense for longer periods. This was already problematic early in the season, and has not been solved. In fact, the model predicts that the next few games are going to be brutal on the defense. The offense needs to step up to keep from forcing the defense to be on the field for 75-80 plays per game.
The same caveats apply here on defense as on offense. The sample size is limited. But, when looking at previous seasons, this year does not stand out the same way on defense as it does on offense. The short version of the overall story is a bit bleak, though. Iowa’s defense has stood its ground thus far, but is unlikely to get any help from a flailing offense. I can only hope that this defense doesn’t break under that kind of pressure.