Turning Point: Iowa State

By RossWB on September 11, 2017 at 4:38 pm
Parker Hesse can't lose.

© Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports


Iowa's 44-41 overtime triumph over Iowa State on Saturday was a wild game. Although even that feels like a gross understatement of just how insane the action was in that game. It featured eight lead changes or ties -- before overtime. Iowa led by 11 points halfway through the third quarter and barely 10 minutes of game time later, they trailed by 10 points. Momentum seemed to flip on a dime in this game. Iowa was riding high after Akrum Wadley did his best Wegher-in-2009 impression to put Iowa up 21-10, but moments later Iowa State's offense was unstoppable and Iowa's offense was incompetent. This game made no damn sense. 

Which is a long-winded way of saying that I have no idea how to tease out a single "turning point" in this game. This game turned -- and then it turned again moments later, again a few minutes after that, and then again.. and again and again. If Iowa State wins, maybe the turning point is Jacob Park's pass to David Montgomery that went for 23 yards on 2nd and 10 from the Iowa State 25; that play featured Montgomery slipping out of several Iowa tackles and presaged much of what was to come from both the ISU offense and the Iowa defense for most of the second half (and overtime). 

Maybe it was the the defensive holding penalty on ISU -- one of just two called on the Cyclones all day -- on 3rd and 5 at the Iowa 25 yard line with Iowa trailing by 10 with 10 minutes to play in the fourth quarter. If Iowa doesn't get a first down there, they punt it back to Iowa State, still down 10 and with the clock tick, tick, ticking away. Maybe it was later on that same drive, when Stanley hooked up with Wadley for 19 yards on 3rd and 11 from the ISU 34-yard line. A play later Stanley connected with Ihmir Smith-Marsette for a beautiful 15-yard touchdown pass that cut Iowa's deficit to three with 6:25 remaining in the game. Without that first down by Wadley, Iowa either attempts a fourth-down conversion or trots out Miguel Recinos to attempt a long (40+ yards) field goal attempt. Recinos has been aces so far this season, but that would have been a very tense situation and a miss there likely would have doomed Iowa in this game. 

Or maybe it was Parker Hesse's clutch interception on one of the only egregious mistakes Jacob Park made all day, a snare that Hesse ran back to the ISU 5-yard line. It certainly seemed like the fickle fates were back to favoring Iowa at that point; Hesse's pick was literally the first play from scrimmage after ISM's diving touchdown grab. It was definitely a hugely consequential play, since it prevented Iowa State from running down the clock any further (or, worse, scoring more points) and it did still lead to three points for Iowa (which tied the game), even if Iowa's offense seized up on the cusp of the end zone. 

But the argument for that moment as the tipping point is hurt by the fact that two plays later Hakeem Butler hit a double move that left Jake Gervase eating turf and put Iowa State back on top 38-31. Maybe the tipping point was a Stanley pass to Noah Fant for nine yards on 3rd and 2 from the Iowa 33 with just over two minutes to go in the game? That kept the eventual game-tying drive ticking along, although Iowa was obviously in four-down territory at the moment anyway. Or maybe the tipping point was the moment that everyone will remember about this game for years to come, Akrum Wadley's 46-yard, defense-shredding, game-tying touchdown catch-and-run? That tied the game and set the stage for the overtime heroics, after all. 

Whichever play or moment you prefer, though, it's obvious that this was a game of huge ebbs and flows for both teams, especially in the second half. That whipsaw insanity is reflected nicely in the win probability graph for the game (via ESPN), in fact, so let's talk about. 

Iowa-Iowa State win probability 2017

Iowa's highest win probability in regulation came in the third quarter, after going up 21-10 and forcing ISU into an incomplete pass at 1st and 10 from their own 25-yard line. At that point Iowa had an 88.1% chance of winning the game. It was all downhill after that (mostly), as ISU's offense ran rampant and they retook control of the game. There was one notable break in that trend, though -- Hesse's interception. That play produced the single biggest change in win probability in the game (which is certainly a persuasive argument for it being the "turning point" in the game, I suppose): Iowa State still had a 73.7% chance of winning after Stanley's touchdown pass to Smith-Marsette made the score 31-28, but the win probability swung all the way to 67.2% in favor of Iowa after Hesse made that interception and returned it to the Iowa State 5-yard line. 

But the true scope of how crazy this comeback was -- and how incredibly improbable it was -- comes from the data a few minutes later. Iowa State had a 95.6% win probability with three minutes to go in the game, after Colin Downing's monster punt was downed at the Iowa 11-yard line. Iowa had to score a touchdown -- and they had to go 89 yards in three minutes with no timeouts to do it. The odds were stacked way, way against them. It was the second-most improbable comeback of the weekend (via ESPN Stats & Information): 

least likely winners

This game also ranks as one of Iowa's least-likely wins in recent history. ESPN's win probability charts only go back a few seasons but even their incredible comeback win to upset Michigan last year didn't feature win probability numbers quite as grim as what we saw late in the game Saturday (Michigan's win probability in the second half of that game peaked around 82%, although it was in the 90s after they went up 10-0 in the second quarter). Outside of last year's Michigan game, the last time Iowa had a comeback that even approached this on the improbable scales was maybe the Michigan game in 2013 (Iowa trailed 21-7 at halftime, although it was 21-21 with 12 minutes to go in the fourth quarter) or the Michigan State game in 2012, another game which featured Iowa scoring a touchdown in the final minute to tie the game and send things to overtime (where they won, just like Saturday). Although speaking of Michigan State games, I would love to see the win probability numbers for the 2009 game; the last several minutes of that game would just look like a series of very jagged, almost vertical lines, in all likelihood.

So yeah: this game was absolutely, unquestionably bonkers. In all likelihood we will not see another game like it for a long, long time. Hail to the Hawkeyes, conquerors of both the Iowa State Cyclones -- and those pesky odds. 

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