A lot of things have gone right for the Iowa football program over the past three seasons. Between 2017-2019, the Hawkeyes won a combined 27 football games, swept the Cyclones, Huskers, and Golden Gophers, produced six All-Americans, and won three bowl games.
One of the few things Iowa’s football team has failed to do during this period of sustained success is convert a two-point conversion. Iowa has failed to convert on each of its past ten two-point attempts, and hasn’t seen one of these plays work since this happened:
No, your eyes aren’t deceiving you- that clip is of CJ Beathard handing the ball to LeShun Daniels for a successful attempt all the way back in 2016. Iowa failed on its next two attempts that season, only to go 0-3 on conversions in 2017, 0-2 in 2018, and 0-3 in 2019, with the most famous miscue being Iowa’s 2019 failure to tie Wisconsin on this ill-fated QB draw.
2-pt conversion web extra
One foot short. That's how close Nate Stanley and the #Hawkeyes came to tying the score late in the 4th at Wisconsin. Here's what the Iowa QB and Kirk Ferentz have to say about the 2-pt play in another Hawkeye Headquarters web extra.Posted by Hawkeye Headquarters on Sunday, November 10, 2019
Iowa’s two-point problems might be easy to dismiss as a weird anomaly, but the above clip illustrates why failing to convert these plays has been a real problem for the Hawkeyes. Iowa’s failure to score on two-point conversions has cost them in a number of games over the past few years. Iowa failed on two separate conversion attempts in both a 21-19 loss to Penn State in 2017 and a 38-36 loss to Purdue in 2018. Had Iowa converted 50% of their two-point attempts in each game, they could have sent the contests to overtime and given themselves a chance to win the game. Even more maddening, Iowa could have tied each of these games simply by kicking the extra points instead of attempting two-point conversions.
Iowa is far below the national average when it comes to succeeding at two-point conversion attempts. Considering that FBS teams converted on nearly 43% of their two-point attempts in 2018, one would expect Iowa to have successfully executed roughly four of its tries since Daniels last punched the ball into the endzone in 2016.
Why is Iowa so bad at two-point conversions? Let’s start with the play-calling, which likely hasn’t been what fans might expect for a play that is executed from only three yards out.
Iowa’s 2-Point Tries Since November, 2016
Not only has Iowa passed on 80% of its two-point attempts since its last successful conversion, but each of its past two running attempts were both quarterback draws. Considering that Iowa has run the ball on over 50% of its plays in each of the past three seasons, it’s odd that the coaches have chosen to go to the air so frequently on two-point attempts instead of putting the ball in the hands of their running backs. For what it’s worth, the last two-point conversion Iowa made before Daniels’ fateful 2016 run was on a handoff to Jordan Canzeri against Wisconsin against 2014, so good things tend to happen when Iowa runs the ball in these situations.
One can understand why Iowa’s coaches want to trick their opponents by going against tendency, but the Hawkeye offense is built around its power running game and its ability to grind out a few tough yards on the ground when they need them the most. After years of failure through the air, it might be time for Iowa to rediscover its identity, bring in some fullbacks and tight ends, and run the ball down their opponent’s throats.
Furthermore, Iowa’s players have never looked particularly comfortable going for two. While the Hawkeye coaching staff usually inserts a handful of conversion plays in the practice rotation each week, Iowa so rarely attempts two-point conversions that its players can be forgiven for being taken aback when they are actually called upon to execute them in a game.
Still, Iowa has shown some success in pulling of inventive gadget plays in recent years. One need only to look at Iowa’s special teams highlights from 2017 and 2018 to see what the Hawkeyes are capable of when a unit is adequately practiced at executing a few specific creative plays.
12 Days of Hawkeye Headquarters: Iowa punter Colten Rastetter throws a touchdown to defensive lineman Sam Brincks on a fake field goal in a @piesmantrophy nominated play. #Hawkeyes #FootballinParadise pic.twitter.com/SL8lCMhHm2— Hawkeye Headquarters (@HawkeyeHQ) December 30, 2018
One potential solution might be to have a special “two-point conversion unit” that works heavily on executing these plays throughout the season. This could give Iowa’s two-point plays the surprise value its coaches are looking for while also putting the ball in the hands of a unit that has done considerably more reps on these plays than some of the starters have. If Iowa doesn’t want to simply pound the rock on every two-point attempt, why not get a bit more creative with things?
The possibilities for these plays are endless, as are the potential benefits. Want to find a way to keep your young, talented backup quarterbacks happy and engaged while they sit behind Spencer Petras? Drill them on 5-10 conversion plays starting day one of fall camp with the expectation that they will be called upon to execute them at some point in the season. Want to throw Ihmir Smith-Marsette in the wildcat? Go for it! Want to keep the ball on the ground, but afraid of getting stuffed by attempting yet another halfback dive play? Put Samson Evans in at quarterback to run the read-option and blow everyone’s minds.
Many coaches would balk at the prospect of taking the ball out of the hands of their starting offensive skill players in such important situations, but not only have Iowa’s coaches shown they are willing to do so (see Colten Rastetter’s career throwing the ball at Iowa), but the team’s lengthy record of futility at executing two-point conversions means they have literally nothing to lose by trying it. Any football team that goes 0-10 on two-point conversions over the course of 3+ seasons isn’t looking at a streak of bad luck, they’re grappling with a trend of systemic failure that demands a different approach.
75% of Iowa’s losses over the past three years have been in one-score games, and with talent the Hawkeyes are returning next year, one has to think they’ll probably be in a number of close battles with the other top-tier teams in the Big Ten in 2020. If Iowa wants to improve their chances of beating these teams and competing for a conference title, finally fixing its two-point conversion problem should be one of the coaching staff’s top priorities this spring. Every point counts in college football, and it’s time for Iowa to stop leaving two points on the field.