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Iowa’s Inability to Score Feels Hyperbolic But Isn’t

The numbers on Iowa’s offense the last three years are ugly.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 17 Iowa at Illinois Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

When I wrote my matchup to watch this week, the stat I latched onto was 11 conference games in 20, the Iowa Hawkeyes offense has failed to score more than 20 points. After their 17-12 loss to the Penn State Nittany Lions, that statistic is 12 in 21.

In these 21 games, Iowa has averaged 24.4 offensive points a game. And that number kind of feels livable if you’re scoring exactly 24 points a game within the confines of Kirk Ferentz football. In fact, Iowa would be 13-6-2 in such a world. And this is without the borderline historic defense & special teams touchdowns we’ve seen since 2017.

But that isn’t the world we live in because Iowa is, instead, 10-11 in conference games over the last 21.

In the comments, I broached the subject of what Iowa’s boom-or-bust scoring meant in the context of the greater Big Ten but it frankly deserves it’s own post because it’s been so bad over the last two years and change.

Literally only Rutgers (20 out of 22) and Illinois (13 out of 21) have had more games where their offense has scored 20 points or less. Michigan State matches Iowa’s 12 (in 22 games) but Mark Dantonio at least pretended to address the problem in their offseason.

If 20 is too high of a standard - and who am I to set a standard but some guy on the Internet with my spreadsheets - then let’s go ahead and pick a random number like...12. The list of teams with more bad offensive games grows with Maryland’s addition but really, when your offensive ineptitude is using Rutgers, Illinois, Maryland, and Michigan State as reasons to say it’s fine, it really isn’t fine.

And sure, Iowa’s putting up points in games against Nebraska and Illinois and, in the outlier of outliers, Ohio State. But that’s exactly what they are: outliers. Those games are not about who Iowa is. They are about who their opponents are.

“Break the rock” has been Iowa’s motto for as long as I can really remember and in the context of Iowa football, it feels like that is more the offense’s job than the defense’s. I find myself continually viewing the Hawkeye defense as Sisyphus pushing the rock up the hill because his colleague is gonna do the breaking at the top of it. God forbid Sisyphus’s colleague opens his rock breaking studio in the village where the rocks are but that’s just the world everyone lives in. Anyways, instead of breaking the rock, this guy just decides to push the rock back down the hill only to have Sisyphus bring it up again.

There’s only so many rock-hauling treks one can make before their body gives out or they just decide to find someone else with a more efficient rock breaking studio.

And if we want to make this a referendum on Kirk instead of a referendum on Brian, I’m happy to do that, too. From 2012-2016 (when Iowa’s offense was as maligned as I can remember), the 24 PPG stat more or less holds, though Iowa allowed 24 or more points in 18 of 40 conference games.

The conference games of scoring less than 20 offensive points resembles what we currently see. Illinois, Purdue, Minnesota, & Northwestern were all tied or higher than Iowa’s 17. Rutgers also had 16 in three years, which is borderline unconscionable. Iowa does look better when reducing that bound to 10 points, but again, 10 points is hardly a standard for an offense.

But 7 of those 17 happened in 2012. 5 more happened in 2016. None of that is fun to recall, though Iowa went 3-2 in those 2016 games. And this was without Iowa’s defense/special teams scoring like they have since 2017.

Ultimately, I know I don’t have the answers. And really, Iowa was already thisss close to beating Penn State if Keith Duncan makes another 40+ yard field goal and the offense converts its first two-point conversion of Brian’s playcalling tenure or Nate Stanley just hits Brandon Smith on a freaking slant route.

But this isn’t about another missed field goal or errant throw or failure on another high-leverage play from the 3-yard line.

It’s about a bunch of unbroken rocks.