In Plato's The Republic the Greek philosopher Socrates is quoted as saying "As for me, all I know is that I know nothing." With regards to Iowa football last season I don't think that quote could have been any more accurate. The expectations were low and a general sense of anxiety was prevalent throughout the fanbase. A stunning loss to Northern Illinois at home did nothing to alleviate any concerns that 2013 was just going to be a continuation of 2012. But oh, how I was wrong...
On Last Season
The Good News...
Iowa nearly went full revenge tour. They reclaimed the Cy-Hawk trophy, won the Heroes Trophy for the first time and avenged humiliating losses to Michigan and Purdue (any loss to Purdue is humiliating). Plus, the Hawkeyes did something they hadn't done since 2008: they finished out November strong and won their final three regular season games.
How did they do it? Ferentzball. Average offense and stellar defense. The second year of the Greg Davis revolution wasn't exactly Art Brilesesque but at least it wasn't the train wreck that was 2012. The negatives: Iowa continued to struggle in the redzone, lacked explosiveness and turned the ball over too many times. The positives: they weren't really terrible in any statistical category.
On the opposite side of the coin was the stellar defense. Iowa was top 10 in the nation in passing yards allowed per game, first downs allowed per game, scoring defense and total defense. Overall, it was an excellent performance from the defensive unit and it seems Phil Parker is implementing that the late great Norm Parker taught him.
The Bad News...
Ok so I said that Iowa wasn't "really terrible" in any statistical category on offense but let's be honest: the red zone scoring was atrocious. Iowa averaged four red zone trips per game and only scored an average of 3.1 times. Doing the math, that's around 77%, good for 96th in the nation. Compare that to Northwestern who had a ridiculous 97% red zone scoring percentage. Iowa has never been an offensive juggernaut under Ferentz but 77%? That's either inept playcalling or a lack of playmaking from the skill positions. If it makes you feel better you can just blame Greg Davis.
On the defensive side of the ball there weren't too many issues besides the age old complaint: lack of sacks. Iowa was 77th in the nation and 8th in the Big Ten in team sacks. However, they were 5th in the conference in tackles for loss. So while they didn't get to the quarterback that often they were able to stop the ball carrier in the backfield. Perhaps the most deceptive statistic was Iowa's redzone defense. They were 87th in the nation when it came to holding a team from scoring in the redzone. Unfortunately, the statistic doesn't differentiate between field goals and touchdowns. So while it would appear that Iowa wasn't very good at stopping an opponent from scoring, it doesn't show that majority of that scoring was field goals. Bend but don't break.
On This Season (2014):
The Good News...
Iowa returns every skill position player: QB Jake Rudock, RB Mark Weisman, WRs Kevonte Martin-Manley and Tevaun Smith. Behind Weisman is the experienced "reserve" Damon Bullock and future starter Jordan Canzeri. Three offensive lineman also return including cow thief and greatest thing in the world since Michigan State's defense Brandon Scherff. CJ Fiedorowicz graduated but his production will be made up by the emergence of Jake Duzey and senior Ray Hamilton.
On the defensive side of the ball things aren't so bright. Iowa only returns five starters, though they return 3/4ths of their defensive line and half of the defensive backfield. Iowa's defensive line is anchored by massive senior Carl Davis, who has been projected as an early round NFL Draft pick and Louis Trinca-Pasat who has one of the "highest motors" in the Big Ten (he's white...kinda). My personal pick for the star of Iowa's defense is sophomore Desmond King who was one of the best freshman corners in the nation last season. King quickly went from "WHY IS THAT GUY BACK THERE" to "Is that Amari Spievey" in record time. It doesn't look like he's going to force too many turnovers but he will lock down a wide-receiver.
The Bad News...
Sure, Iowa returns nearly all of the skill position players but the offense still needs to be more productive. First, Jake Rudock needs to quit turning the ball over so much by limiting his throws into double coverage. 18 TDs to 13 INTs isn't terribly efficient. It's a plus that he's healthy this season (I assume) but I'm not sure his bum knee was forcing the throws. Second, Iowa needs to find a rusher that can average more than 5 yards per carry. Weisman rushed for 975 yards last season but only averaged 4.3 yards per carry. Damon Bullock wasn't much better at 4 YPC. Canzeri averaged 6.5 but why use him (GRRRRRRRR)?
Third, Iowa's leading receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley only had 388 yards receiving last season. It's true that Tevaun Smith and CJ Fiedorowicz were targeted more than 40 times but 388 yards? If anything that's Greg Davis in a nutshell: BIG PLAY WE DON'T NEED NO BIG PLAY.
Iowa fans clamored for Damond Powell to get more involved in the offense last season because he has the speed to make the big plays happen. But, naturally, he only seemed to the get ball in jailbreak screens (Iowa loves the bubble screen like Bill Gates loves the Zune. They just can't let it go) I'm sure there will be calls for Jay Scheel to also get more playing time but he's a freshman and we know how Kirk Ferentz feels about his freshman.
MOST IMPORTANT THING EVER: Iowa returns punter Connor Kornbrath.
WORSE THING EVER: Iowa loses kicker Mike Meyer.
On defense...yikes. Some statistics:
- Leaders in interceptions: James Morris, BJ Lowery, Tanner Miller.
- Leader in passes defended: BJ Lowery.
- Leader in tackles: James Morris.
- Leader in tackles for loss: James Morris.
- Leaders in tackles: Anthony Hitchens, James Morris, Christian Kirksey, John Lowdermilk, Tanner Miller.
Guess how many of those players return in 2014? One. John Lowdermilk. Iowa loses its entire linebacker core and their best secondary player in BJ Lowery. How much of the defensive production is that? Well, uh, a lot. Morris, Kirksey and Hitchens were probably the most complete core I've ever seen and Lowery was a playmaker. To say that their loss leaves a hole in the Iowa defense is an understatement. Iowa is fortunate to have someone experienced like Quinton Alston to step into the fold but presumed starters Travis Perry and Reggie Spearman have some big shoes to fill.
Iowa fans are probably happy to see Tanner Miller graduate but can Jordan Lomax stay healthy? Who replaces Lowery? Draper or Fleming? There are question marks across the board when it comes to the secondary and it wouldn't surprise me if Iowa struggles early on to find some solutions. By "struggles early on" I mean giving up 45 yard passing touchdowns.
On the Schedule
The schedule looks manageable but I'm a pessimist and can always find cause for concern. UNI always plays Iowa tough, Ball State will compete for the MAC despite looking for a quarterback (competing for the MAC means you can beat Iowa, apparently), the Cy-Hawk game is the Cy-Hawk game and Pittsburgh is at Pittsburgh. There are also road trips to Maryland, Minneapolis and Champaign. Sure, Iowa is supposed to be "better" than those teams but when has that stopped them from chalking up an inexplicable loss?
On the positive end, the games against the "best" teams (Wisconsin and Nebraska) are at home and they don't have to play Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State or Penn State. Thank God we don't have to play Ohio State. I mean, I'm tired of losing to Ohio State. Is it insane to think that they could enter the Wisconsin game undefeated? It's not crazy, but considering the thorn in the side that is Northwestern and the wildcard road games that are Minnesota and Maryland who knows what will happen.
Also, did you know Iowa was better on the road than at home last season? Weird, huh?
If You're Talking to an Iowa Fan...
Do Mention: The Hebrew Hammer, all of our traveling trophies, Jay Scheel omg Jay Scheel, punting is winning, bend don't break, NO OHIO STATE YAH, tenderloins, Hayden Fry is the greatest thing ever, the Greg Davis revolution.
Don't Mention: WHY DON'T WE HAVE THE BULL, all of the highly touted recruits picking every school that isn't Iowa, we don't have any linebackers :(, Iowa's awesome gameday experience (MOAR AC/DC), those years when we weren't so good, the Greg Davis revolution.