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STIFF+ARM: The Inconvenient Truth Of Iowa Football

“The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.” ― Joe Klaas

It's not fun looking at your beloved football program and realizing they're not very good, but that just might be the truth of where we are today.

If a person doesn't believe in gravity and insists on jumping off the roof of a house, they'll crash to the ground and that's because gravity doesn't care if you believe in it or not. All truth operates in this way. Work against it and you're going to eventually experience pain. Work with it and you'll eventually experience contentment. As a result, truth has a cleansing effect.

Today we owe it to ourselves to confront the truth of this Iowa Hawkeyes football team.

pie chart

This season is 42% done. It doesn't feel that way because the Big Ten Conference season has only just started (it is only 22% complete), but what that figure tells us is that Iowa has shown quite a bit of who they are. We've seen Iowa at its worst and at its best. We've seen Iowa at home and on the road. We've seen Iowa playing patsies and we've seen...oh.

We'll the point is, we've seen more than just a little bit of this Iowa team and what we've seen was revealed versus the downy part of a mostly pillowy schedule. Once you are 42% into your season, the prior year, you would think, ceases to be a useful gauge of your present. The numbers we have to examine, from this already 42% of the season, are not very good. I've read many of Iowa's blog sites, digested much of the reporting on this Iowa team from the usually acquiescent Iowa media, and what I'm sensing from the Iowa football gestalt is this, "Iowa has an offense problem."

Certainly, it's true that Iowa with one of its best QBs in recent memory, a pair of running backs that would be the envy of almost any era of Iowa football, a tight end that almost too perfectly fits the bill of legacy Iowa tight ends, and a proven wide receiver who just a year ago literally caught everything thrown at him (now injured), was returning a compelling set of pieces to an offense that had just scored the most points per game since Shonn Greene was bulldozing his way toward a potential Heisman trophy. Expectations were justifiably high. But now criticism of that same offense is perhaps even higher than were those expectations.

I'm not going to try to defend the Iowa offense, it has been disappointing to be sure. But, I will point to some data for context:


2015 - 30.9 PPG, with 29.6 PPG in Big Ten play

2016 - 30.6 PPG, with 22.5 PPG in Big Ten play (so far)

It is not unfair to focus our attention on this offense as a culprit in Iowa's underperformance, especially after looking at that Big Ten scoring drop off compared to last year. However, it might be unhelpful to zero in on Iowa's offense. If you look with equal zeal at the Iowa defense I believe you will see a far more stark and dire picture. One that certainly could lead you to believe this season is heading -- because of that unit mostly -- in a truly awful direction.


When the 2016 season began the potential of the Iowa defense seemed high. Certainly, the digital ink suggested it was so. Conversations about Iowa's prospects were measured as all Iowa conversations are, but the tone was quasi-ebullient when the topic was the Iowa defense. Both cornerbacks were returning, one of which might be one of the best two or three in college football. The middle linebacker seemed capable of Iowa immortality. The interior of the defensive line was returning whole. No player on the top line of the two-deep chart was a newbie. The 2015 defense would return remarkably intact for the 2016 season, with every player having seen meaningful action in 2015. It was not hard to imagine a defense that could, indeed would, carry Iowa through any offensive rough patches. After all, the 2015 version had accumulated some pretty impressive statistics on a national level:

  • Top 20 scoring defense
  • Top 15 rushing defense
  • Top 10 interceptions
  • Top 10 passes defended
  • Top 25 total defense

But, the cracks showed right away with this 2016 version and without dramatic improvement it is likely to be the primary reason Iowa ends the season shattered. Consider that so far in the Big Ten portion of the season Iowa has played the two worst offenses in the conference. Rutgers is the worst, and certainly Iowa contributed to that and Northwestern is the second worst, and somehow Iowa has contributed to that as well.

Yet, despite playing the two worst offenses in terms of their Big Ten conference statistics, Iowa's defense is no better than:

  • 7th in yards per game allowed
  • 5th in yards per play allowed
  • 10th in rushing defense
  • 7th in points per game allowed
  • Not a single interception has been recorded (one of three B1G teams to fail to do so)

And now, with the exception of perhaps a blip in West Lafayette, the road gets a lot tougher from here. Starting with Minnesota. Minnesota is 4th in rushing in the conference at 228 ypg. The only game in which the Gophers ran for fewer than 225 yards was in their first game vs. Oregon State. Potentially an outlier performance. Minnesota runs power with tons of misdirection and options--think North Dakota State with more scholarships. Their QB is a senior, and he will run, he will improvise, and he will probe the squishy edges of Iowa defense until it bleeds, scabs over and bleeds again. I would not expect us to be able to stop their run game (or even slow it much), which I expect to be better than any we've seen thus far. Any win in Minneapolis is likely to come as the result of continued excellent special teams play and a breakout performance by our offense that leads to few touches for Goldy. My fingers are crossed.

Can a team get better as the season progresses?

One of the hallmarks of a Kirk Ferentz team, for many years, was that his Iowa Hawkeyes, forever in pursuit of perfection, were always building toward it game by game, practice by practice, play by play. No more. Iowa's record in its final three games of each of the last six seasons is a collective 5-13:


2010: 1-2 (won bowl game)

2011: 1-2 (lost bowl game)

2012: 0-3 (no bowl game)

2013: 2-1 (lost bowl game)

2014: 0-3 (lost bowl game)

2015: 1-2 (lost bowl game)

The days of season-long development resulting in crescendo performances at year's end have seemingly vanished. Iowa instead now limps to the finish as lack of depth and uber-predictability leads to a crash landing, sometimes of epic proportions. Fans and armchair types alike are confused and flustered. Because Ferentz has been at Iowa for so long, there is considerable history in which to claim this part of it or that is being repeated. The current fashionable explanation for Iowa's recent slide is Kirk Ferentz's contract voodoo. That once Ferentz is rewarded with financial and job security he turns into the football version of Pablo Sandoval. I don't buy it...completely.

I admit that I've recently found myself thinking like a cold case detective, wondering what earlier overlooked clues might have helped me see this coming. Did the 2015 magic carpet ride obscure truths about this team that time was certain to lay bare? Probably. Okay, yes. But as I prepare for Saturday's Battle for Floyd I am left to stew over what exists right now with this Iowa team. What exists is a team with a below average Iowa run defense, and that is the first domino for any team coached by Kirk Ferentz. We can hope for better coaching, but I am not sure we'll know if we get it (or if we even need it).

The truth is this Iowa team, 42% into the 2016 season, has accomplished very little other than beating a winless Miami (OH) team, a Rutgers team that's likely to go winless in the Big Ten, and an Iowa State team that despite its performance against a ranked Baylor team that wakes up daily to scandal and distraction, is likely to win only one more game this season.

Therefore, I think there is better than a 50/50 chance that once this season concludes Iowa will not own a single victory over a team with a winning record. But, if Iowa is to accomplish that modest feat, I believe this Saturday is their best opportunity. That's just the truth.