clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Iowa Football Returning Production: Special Teams

New, 2 comments

PUNTING IS WINNING

NCAA Football: Michigan at Iowa Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

Everyone knows Iowa is a developmental program, but does returning production mean a better team? We’ll tackle each aspect of football over the next few weeks in an attempt to see how last year’s stats might impact this year’s team. First up: Special Teams.

All stats were gathered using sports-reference.com/cfb unless otherwise noted

Return Game

In Desmond King and Riley McCarron, Iowa sees their two primary returners depart from last year. In fact, Desmond King’s 750 kick return yards were the most by a single player in the Kirk Ferentz era, though others averaged more than King’s 27.8 yards per return. Riley McCarron had a larger impact in returning punts, where his 148 yards occurred on only 7 tries. Looking through the seasons, the 33 punt returns between the two showed a distinct departure from the 2009-2015 vintage of Kirk Ferentz, where the team averaged 20.7 returns per season following Andy Brodell’s departure in 2008.

As such, they’ll bring 0% of the yards off of kicks or punts from last year with no clear frontrunner. Though Matt VandeBerg returned a 14 combined kicks and punts in 2014, it seems unlikely that Ferentz would allow his only reliable receiver - with a broken/rebroken foot - back as a returner. 2011 is, unfortunately, the likely template for 2017 when Micah Hyde was deployed as the “returner,” though he only returned 13 punts for an average of 8.2 yards. In both 2011 and 2012, Hyde served a role more akin to a defensive rebounder in basketball, simply securing possession after opponent fails to score.

The 2012 comparison further develops as it was the lowest percentage of kick return yards (4.5%) since 2003. Here are the season-by-season numbers:

Percent of Prior Year Yardage Returning

Year Kick Return Yardage Returned Punt Return Yardage Returned PPG Wins
Year Kick Return Yardage Returned Punt Return Yardage Returned PPG Wins
2000 83% 85% 16.9 3
2001 95% 89% 32.6 7
2002 31% 35% 37.2 11
2003 2% 87% 28.7 10
2004 9% 6% 24.3 10
2005 58% 51% 30.0 7
2006 59% 7% 23.8 6
2007 37% 47% 18.5 6
2008 59% 96% 30.3 9
2009 30% 7% 23.2 11
2010 64% 66% 28.9 8
2011 22% 0% 27.5 7
2012 5% 95% 19.3 4
2013 68% 0% 26.3 8
2014 11% 2% 28.2 7
2015 67% 10% 30.9 12
2016 97% 100% 24.9 8

Interestingly, an increase in returning yardage does not mean an improvement in points, or wins:

Kick Return Yardage

  • 0 - 33%: 8.6 wins, 26.9 points per game
  • 33 - 67%: 8.0 wins, 27.1 points per game
  • 67 - 100%: 6.5 wins, 25.2 points per game

Punt Return Yardage

  • 0 - 33%: 8.7 wins, 26.3 points per game
  • 33 - 67%: 8.0 wins, 28.7 points per game
  • 67 - 100%: 6.8 wins, 25.5 points per game

Regarding the kick return thirds, there isn’t much to glean since 2015 rounds right under the 67% demarcation. Flipping it to the upper band would have both sets average 7.6ish wins on 26.3ish points. Lies, damn lies, and statistics, amiright?

Similarly, the punting numbers don’t tell a whole lot. The two worst seasons since the turn of the century (2000 and 2012) had experienced punt returners with Chris Oliver and Micah Hyde, respectively. Yet 2000 differed in that Ferentz was much more willing to let a playmaker make plays with Kahlil Hill. Such is to say he did not allow much playmaking with Hyde.

Not having a bona fide returner is not ideal, but not a death kiss to this program. Perhaps having no entrenched starter will allow Ferentz and company the opportunity to play the guy with the highest upside, since they will need to swing as many games as possible with these hidden yards.

Kicking

With Keith Duncan and Miguel Recinos both returning, Iowa returns all of their extra points, field goal attempts, and field goal makes. While they attempted only 14 field goals, the least since 13 in 1999, it was reflective of a change in philosophy following 2013 where Iowa began going for it on fourth down much more. They finished 11th overall in the statistic in 2016.

Percent of Prior Year Makes Returning

Year % XP % FG PPG Wins
Year % XP % FG PPG Wins
2000 0% 14% 16.9 3
2001 95% 100% 32.6 7
2002 100% 100% 37.2 11
2003 100% 100% 28.7 10
2004 7% 0% 24.3 10
2005 100% 100% 30 7
2006 100% 100% 23.8 6
2007 14% 13% 18.5 6
2008 67% 70% 30.3 9
2009 31% 32% 23.2 11
2010 0% 0% 28.9 8
2011 70% 100% 27.5 7
2012 100% 100% 19.3 4
2013 100% 100% 26.3 8
2014 2% 0% 28.2 7
2015 84% 100% 30.9 12
2016 4% 0% 24.9 8

This is a fascinating table as, outside of Ferentz’s second year and a rocky stretch between 2007 and 2009, Iowa has returned either 0% or 100% of their Field Goal Makes. One could argue that the kicker is the single most important player on the Iowa roster. Take a look:

Field Goal Makes

  • 0 - 33%: 7.6 wins, 23.6 points per game
  • 33 - 67%: No applicable seasons
  • 67 - 100%: 8.1 wins, 28.7 points per game

While there is limited bearing in terms of wins and losses with an entrenched field goal kicker, the added points are difficult to overlook. Every single offense which scored over 30 points came with multi-year kickers, often with 100% of the prior year’s kicks. It’s not a coincidence that the kickers flow from one into the other: Nate Kaeding to Kyle Schlicher, to Daniel Murray/Trent Mossbrucker, to Mike Meyer, to Marshall Koehn.

A good kicker allows Ferentz to play the game of football the way he wants to play it - conservatively. With an extended field goal range, there is less yardage for his team to gain before looking for points, which means less plays, which means less opportunities for error.

Ferentz playing Duncan last year hints that he is full go with Duncan as the kicker of the now and the future. While it might not translate to a high-powered offense next year (2012 had Mike Meyer, after all), it certainly bears well for the future.

Punting

While it has become a cliche, I can say, unironically, and with full confidence that punting is winning. And, looking at what exists on the punting depth chart, that winning will have to wait another year.

Percent of Prior Year Punts Returning

Year % Punts PPG Opp PPG Wins
Year % Punts PPG Opp PPG Wins
2000 99% 16.9 27.5 3
2001 0% 32.6 21.5 7
2002 100% 37.2 19.7 11
2003 100% 28.7 16.2 10
2004 98% 24.3 17.6 10
2005 0% 30 20 7
2006 86% 23.8 20.7 6
2007 0% 18.5 18.8 6
2008 100% 30.3 13 9
2009 100% 23.2 15.4 11
2010 100% 28.9 17 8
2011 2% 27.5 23.8 7
2012 0% 19.3 22.9 4
2013 79% 26.3 18.9 8
2014 100% 28.2 25.6 7
2015 72% 30.9 20.4 12
2016 0% 24.9 18.8 8

Punts

  • 0 - 33%: 6.5 wins, 25.5 points per game, 21.0 points allowed per game
  • 33 - 67%: No applicable seasons
  • 67 - 100%: 8.6 wins, 27.2 points per game, 19.3 points allowed per game

Iowa’s six best seasons under Ferentz occurred when there was a returning punter. Three of those six seasons also had returning kickers. The more I look at these numbers, the more I fully believe Ferentzian football - and a particular team’s season - is defined by its special teams play.

These punters from prior years - David Bradley, Ryan Donahue, and even Dillon Kidd - allowed Ferentz the ability to flip the field and pin opponents deep to maximize the yardage between possessions. Grad transfer and cult hero Ron Coluzzi was able to help Iowa achieve the most wins in a season returning 0% of its prior year punts.

Admittedly, this is more correlation than causation - I do not think the most important player in football is the punter - it is very interesting to see how Iowa’s best teams often benefit from veteran punting. 2012 looms large as the most recent season with none returning and I can’t help but think there will be growing pains in this phase of the game. If Colten Ratstetter had shown more potential in last year’s offseason, it’s unlikely we are ever graced with Coluzzi’s presence.

Can the redshirt sophomore step up after another season in the system or will Iowa turn to Ryan Gersonde (Iowa’s first Aussie! I think) as the punter of the future?

History shows it will be as important of a positional battle for 2017 and beyond.