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Five stats that have helped define Iowa football in 2017

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Full disclosure: There’s a lot more than five stats in here.

Illinois v Iowa Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images

We’re halfway through the year and it’s as good of a time as any to take a look at what Iowa’s done on the field this year, statistically.

Originally I went at this piece with the idea that I’d find a couple things and share them with everyone else. Well, to be honest, I went down a rabbit hole and I’m still not sure I’ve reappeared yet. Enjoy, everyone.

Pro Tip: cfbstats.com is the single greatest resource for college football stats. Half its traffic over the past four years is from me. I’m not sorry about it. Shoutout Danny for telling me about it.

Iowa 40+ yard offensive plays: 5 (T-11th Big Ten)

The Hawkeyes aren’t exactly a big-play type team and never have been. But you know what’s really surprising? All five of those 40+ yard plays are passes by Nate Stanley.

The longest rushing play this year is a certain 35-yarder from Akrum Wadley. It was a pretty nice run though.

As a source of comparison during the 2015 and 2016 seasons, Iowa had 18 rushes of 40 or more yards. Passes of 40+ during those two years combined? 12.

So, midway through the season, Stanley is already on pace to average more huge passes than C.J. Beathard did during his two seasons as Iowa’s starter.

The yards per carry (3.67 — 12th B1G) and yards per attempt (7.6 — T-5th B1G) reflect this. In fact, the yards per attempt is the 3rd-highest Iowa’s had over the past 10 years, only topped by 2015 (7.8) and 2010 (8.5).

Despite the overthrows, Iowa’s trusting a sophomore quarterback to find targets down the field. Now this is skewed slightly by the fact Iowa has a pair of wideouts (Nick Easley and Matt VandeBerg) that are tremendous with picking up yards after the catch.

This is from before the Illinois game and I found it interesting.

It’s a shift and it’s not a minor one. The change in passing philosophy (as well as Stanley’s ability to carry out this philosophy) also seems to be in response to Iowa’s issues when it tries to run the ball.

The Hawkeye’s offensive line is simply struggling to open up holes for the the running backs. It can pass block. Iowa’s allowed just nine sacks this season (T-5th in the B1G) but has also allowed 37.0 total tackles for loss. If that pace was to continue the Hawkeyes would end up with about 80 tackles for loss on the year.

That mark would be the 2nd-worst of the past 10 years.

To counteract this, the coaching staff has done a couple things. First, Tristan Wirfs is now starting at tackle and Sean Welsh is back at guard — his natural position.

They’ve also been steadily increasing tight end T.J. Hockenson and Nate Wieting’s snap counts since Big Ten play started. They’re both better blockers than Noah Fant, who is being used more and more in obvious passing situations.

As they’ve done all year, Fant is being split out occasionally in four (and sometimes, though rarely, in three) wide out sets. In my opinion it’s a way to get him on the field, and for good reason: he’s an explosive playmaker and obviously has chemistry with Stanley.

Lastly, Iowa is starting to rotate its fullbacks more. Brady Ross has seen increased snaps which means Drake Kulick — who is still getting the majority — is on the field less than he was at the beginning of the season. I’m really not sure if there’s much more the Hawkeyes can do. Rotating the running backs is an option and it’s no secret James Butler’s injury has put Iowa in a difficult spot.

I firmly believe that if Butler was healthy Iowa beats Michigan State and quite possibly Penn State, too.

Yards per punt: 39.50 (12th Big Ten)

Colten Rastetter has punted 25 times this season, averaging 39.78 yards per punt. Ryan Gersonde has punted three times this season, averaging 37.67 yards per punt.

Is this an issue? Yes.

Now is it as big of an issue as people are making it? Well, that’s a tad more complex.

Six of Rastetter’s punts have landed inside the 20-yard line, while one of Gersonde’s three has. So you can throw seven of those out. Anytime you pin your opponent inside their own 20, that’s a good thing.

Iowa’s averaging just 14 first downs per game in conference play (ahead of only Rutgers) which means there’s been a lot of times where a drive has stalled. This isn’t exactly an excuse, but it’s hard to punt from inside your own 20-yard line and this was especially evident against Michigan State.

I went back and looked at the five previous seasons to see how Iowa had punted

Year Yards per punt B1G rank
Year Yards per punt B1G rank
2016 40.92 5th
2015 39.68 9th
2014 37.83 10th
2013 39.97 8th
2012 37.34 12th

As you can see, this isn’t a new trend and something the team has been struggling with for a while. It also doesn’t necessarily match up with win percentage either. Iowa went 12-0 in 2015 and only punted slightly better than they have this season.

Defense and field position when Iowa punts (think about punts inside the opponent's 20) as well as the rush the punter is facing also play a factor. Just something to think about.

Turnover margin: +0 (8th Big Ten)

Iowa’s fumbled this year — 14 times, to be exact — and lost nine of them. Both those marks lead the Big Ten in the wrong way.

The Hawkeyes have had a turnover in every contest this year with the exception of the Iowa State game. That’s certainly not great.

The big issue is, again, the fumbles. Stanley has thrown just two picks this year but has fumbled six times, tied for the fourth-most in all of Division-I football. Even worse? The four that he’s lost is the second worst mark of any player at an FBS school.

It’s gotten better as of late, but you’d be hard pressed to find any other Iowa quarterback, much less player, on that type of list under Kirk Ferentz.

The Hawkeyes haven’t posted a negative turnover margin since the 2014 season (-6.) This might be the season that streak ends.

Red zone scoring percentage: 72.73 (13th Big Ten)

This is one of those WEIRD OBSCURE STATS which I supremely adore.

Seriously, just look at this table. It’s fascinating.

PURDUE? PURDUE.

I love it.

Making this slightly better is Iowa’s TD% of 63.64, which is seventh in the conference. Here’s the game log so far this season:

In its two losses Iowa’s red zone screwups came on a blocked kick against Penn State (don’t think about it too much, it’ll piss you off) and the Stanley fumble/weird play versus Michigan State that we’ll probably never see again.

Sigh.

The Hawkeyes have been able to luck out in their other games by virtue of just being the better team (Wyoming, North Texas, Illinois) or not making any mistakes in the red zone (ISU). Iowa needs to be a bit better in the red zone and that’s just a fact.

Or, well, get TO the red zone more. That would be good too.

Total defense — 388.3 yards allowed per game (12th Big Ten)

As good as the Iowa defense has been this year it’s allowed a whooooole bunch of yards.

145.67 on the ground and 242.7 through the air, to be exact. Yes Iowa employs a bend don’t break defense. Yes Iowa is allowing just 18.7 points per game (7th B1G.) Yes Josh Jackson and Josey Jewell and the defensive line and hell, even Bo Bower have been pretty good.

They’re still giving up chunk yardage.

Iowa’s given up 76 plays of 10+ yards (12th B1G), 23 plays of 20+ yards (T-11th B1G), 11 plays of 30+ yards (T-12th B1G), and 6 plays of 40+ yards (last B1G). Compliment Phil Parker and the Iowa defense all you want, but take it with a grain of salt.

In the interest of fairness, Iowa’s possessed the ball an average of 30:18.83 per game, a mark that sits at 8th in conference. It’s a stat I usually despise, but in this case it says the Hawkeye defense — which doesn’t have a whole lot of depth outside the defensive line — is on the field quite a bit.

That means they’re playing more and there’s more opportunity for them to give up yards and/or points.

It still doesn’t tell the whole story. When Iowa is able to condense the field, they’re found success. It has the 3rd-best touchdown allowed in the red zone percentage (44.44) in the conference. The Hawkeyes are also only allowing opponents to convert on third down 32.56% of the time (7th B1G.)

With Iowa’s struggles to defend the pass, I expect the average yardage per game mark to stay about the same. Which is sad, because if it does, it would be the third highest of the Kirk Ferentz era — behind only the 1999 and 2000 seasons.