Iowa Football and the Post-Bye Week Blues

By RossWB on October 4, 2018 at 2:30 pm
A bad post-bye week game.
© David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

So let's talk about Iowa and games after bye weeks. There's a prevalent narrative that says Iowa is bad in games after bye weeks -- but how true is that? That narrative is supported by some pretty basic numbers -- Iowa is just 6-9 in regular games after bye weeks under Kirk Ferentz -- but let's dig into those games a little bit more to see what we can tell about Iowa's performance in post-bye week games.


BYE: Week 4 (9/25/99)
GAME AFTER BYE: #14 Michigan State 49, Iowa 3 (East Lansing, MI)

In Year One under Ferentz Iowa entered their bye week off a 24-0 win over Northern Illinois -- their only win of the season, as it turned out. This was a bad performance from Iowa from the jump -- MSU zipped out to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter and added two more touchdowns in the second quarter to lead 35-0 at halftime. As much as this was a bad post-bye week performance, it probably didn't matter all that much -- Michigan State was really good that year and Iowa was, uh, not. 


BYE: Week 2 (9/2/00)
GAME AFTER BYE: Western Michigan 27, Iowa 21 (Iowa City, IA)

Iowa had a strangely early bye week in 2000, coming during Labor Day weekend. Iowa played in the Eddie Robinson Classic in Kansas City the weekend prior, losing 27-7 to Kansas State. Iowa actually started this game alright -- Kahlil Hill returned the opening kickoff 55 yards to the WMU 41 and Iowa ended up scoring a field goal on their opening drive. And then Western Michigan outscored them 24-3 over the rest of the first half. Iowa's defense was absolutely helpless against the Broncos in that half -- WMU scored on their first four drives of the game and the only thing that stopped them was halftime. 2000 Iowa was not built to come back from a 24-6 deficit. Iowa still wasn't very good in 2000 and Western Michigan turned out to be a pretty good team (9-3 overall, 7-1 MAC), but this was still a pretty dismal performance. 


BYE: Week 3-4 (9/15/01 - 9/22/01)
GAME AFTER BYE: Iowa 24, Penn State 18 (Iowa City, IA)

Iowa ended up with a double bye week in 2001 as a result of the games postponed after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. 2001 was a turning point year for Iowa under Ferentz and that was immediately apparent: they blitzed Kent State and Miami (OH) by a combined score of 95-19. The extended bye week didn't seem to phase Iowa too much -- they scored a touchdown in the first quarter to go up 7-0 and had a 21-5 lead at halftime. They didn't do much in the second half, but were able to hang on for the win. As it turned out, this also wasn't a particularly good Penn State team (5-6). 


BYE: none

Technically Iowa's bye week in the 2002 season was in Week 13, but that made for a pretty pointless bye, since Iowa's regular season was already done by then. And what a regular season it was. Iowa played 12 straight weeks and the results were (Iowa State aside) pretty spectacular. 


BYE: Week 7 (10/11/03)
GAME AFTER BYE: #8 Ohio State 19, Iowa 10 (Columbus, OH)

Iowa's 2003 bye week came after probably their biggest and most emotional win of the season, a 30-27 upset of #9 Michigan in Iowa City. Did you know this was a Top 10 vs Top 10 game? It's true -- Iowa jumped up to #9 in the polls after the win over Michigan, making this game #8 vs #9. Iowa's offense couldn't do a thing in this game... but the defense kept OSU in check too. This ended up being prime #WeirdFootball because all three touchdowns were scored on special teams -- Ohio State had a punt return for a score and a blocked punt for a touchdown, while Iowa's touchdown came on a fake field goal involving a lateral to Nate Kaeding. Beating Ohio State in Columbus is a tough ask no matter what, so the "game after a bye week" factor probably didn't impact the result here too much. 


BYE: Week 6 (10/9/04)
GAME AFTER BYE: Iowa 33, #25 Ohio State 7 (Iowa City, IA)

Back-to-back post-bye week games against Ohio State! Weren't we lucky little Hawkeyes? The rematch went (much) better than the initial encounter, with Iowa jumping out to a 10-0 lead in the first half and adding two more touchdowns in the third quarter to make it 24-0. Before the bye week Iowa rebounded from two losses to pound Michigan State; the bye week didn't slow down Iowa's big turnaround that season. The big win over Ohio State only threw gasoline on the fire (although the offensive production didn't stick around -- Iowa's next game was the infamous 6-4 win over Penn State). 


BYE: Week 9 (10/29/05)
GAME AFTER BYE: Northwestern 28, Iowa 27 (Evanston, IL)

This is one of the most-cited bad post-bye week performances for Iowa under Ferentz, but it was a little more complicated than it gets credit for being. Before the bye week Iowa had a gutting 23-20 loss to Michigan at home. But they didn't come out flat and play uninspired football -- they actually jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter and led 24-7 at halftime. Then everything went pear-shaped in the second half and the game ended in heartbreak when Northwestern scored two touchdowns in the final two minutes. 


BYE: none

Iowa played 12 straight weeks in 2006, so there was no opportunity for a post-bye week letdown game here. The whole second half of this season was one big letdown anyway. 


BYE: none

For the second straight season Iowa played 12 straight weeks and had no bye weeks, so no post-bye week letdown game. 


BYE: Week 9 (10/25/08)
GAME AFTER BYE: Illinois 27, Iowa 24 (Champaign, IL)

This was one of the stupidest post-bye week losses of the Ferentz Era, and not just because it was the one and only time Iowa lost to a Ron Zook-coached team. Okay, not entirely because it was the one and only time Iowa lost to a Ron Zook-coached team. Before the bye week Iowa had broken out in a big way with a 38-16 mollywhomping of Wisconsin. The offensive mojo they had in that game didn't make the trip to Champaign after the bye week, though; six of Iowa's first 10 possessions ended in punts or turnovers and the other four ended in field goal attempts (one missed). Even the Iowa defense, usually excellent in 2008, gave up 27 points (the most scored by any opponent that season), including a game-winning field goal drive. 


BYE: none

Another season where Iowa played 12 straight weeks without a bye, but this campaign went more like 2002 than 2006 or 2007, thankfully. Would a bye week have negatively impacted the high-wire act Iowa was on for the first nine weeks of the season? Or would a bye week have given them a chance to rest and recharge for the season's final kick? We'll never know, although considering Iowa's 2009 season was ultimately derailed by a freak injury, it seems unlikely that a bye week would have fixed anything. 


BYE: Week 6 (10/9/10)
GAME AFTER BYE: Iowa 38, Michigan 28 (Ann Arbor, MI)

Feast your eyes on this truly rare sight: a post-bye week Iowa win on the road. This game was before the bottom fell out on Iowa's 2010 season; in fact, it was literally the game right before that happened -- the infamous 2010 Iowa-Wisconsin game came a week after this. Michigan scored early to take a 7-0 lead, but Iowa hit back with the next 28 points and led 28-7 entering the fourth quarter. Michigan mounted a comeback in the fourth with 21 points, but Iowa's offense scored enough to hold off Michigan. 


BYE: Week 5 (10/1/11)
GAME AFTER BYE: Penn State 13, Iowa 3 (State College, PA)

Iowa's second drive of the game ended in a field goal; it was the only points they'd score all game. This is how their next eight drives ended: punt, end of half, punt, punt, fumble, interception, interception, turnover on downs. This was a weirdly inept performance by Iowa's offense -- it was the only game in their first seven when they didn't score at least 31 points. Lackluster offense has been a recurring theme in Iowa's post-bye week losses, and this game is about as low as it's gotten for Iowa in a post-bye week scenario. 


BYE: Week 6 (10/6/12)
GAME AFTER BYE: Iowa 19, Michigan State 16 (2OT) (East Lansing, MI)

Iowa had alternated wins and losses prior to their bye week in 2012, with a 31-13 stomping of Minnesota immediately preceding the bye and coming a week after the still-incredibly stupid 32-31 loss to Central Michigan. In hindsight, this game was one of the most inexplicable wins of the Ferentz Era. In a driving rain, Iowa went down 7-0 in the first quarter and 10-0 in the second, but did manage to cut their deficit to 10-3 at halftime. Still that second quarter field goal was the only points they scored all game -- until the fourth quarter, when the offense somehow scraped together 10 points, including a game-tying touchdown in the final minute. Overtime was a field goal fest and, somehow, someway, Iowa was the team left standing at the end of it. I'm still not sure how. This game had all the usual symptoms of post-bye week malaise... and somehow Iowa won it anyway. 


BYE: Week 7 (10/12/13)
GAME AFTER BYE: #4 Ohio State 34, Iowa 24 (Columbus, OH)

Another post-bye week game against Ohio State in Columbus! I wonder how this one will go... That said, by post-bye week game standards -- and games in Columbus standards -- this was one of Iowa's better performances. Iowa ran an offense heavy on three tight end looks that seemed to keep Ohio State off-balance for much of the game. Iowa scored the first touchdown of the game and actually led 17-10 at halftime. After Ohio State scored two touchdowns in the third quarter to take a 24-17 lead it seemed like we were back to the usual "Iowa versus Ohio State" bullshit -- but tight end magic struck again with an 85-yard bomb from Jake Rudock to Jake Duzey. That tied the game at 24-all heading into the fourth quarter. Iowa couldn't close it out -- the defense wasn't able to force any stops and Iowa's only two offensive drives of the quarter ended in a punt and an interception -- but they did manage to push a good Ohio State team for three quarters. As post-bye week games go, this one is up there, even in a losing effort. 


BYE: Week 6 (10/4/14)
GAME AFTER BYE: Iowa 45, Indiana 29 (Iowa City, IA)

The 2014 season eventually curdled into abject misery, but it wasn't there yet; Iowa entered this game at 5-1 and feeling somewhat good about itself (aside from the horrendously dumb 20-17 loss to Iowa State). Iowa's usual post-bye week blues were nowhere to be found here; they leaped out to a 28-7 lead after the first quarter here and even after Indiana made it interesting by scoring two second quarter touchdowns to make it 28-21, Iowa was able to respond with 10 points before halftime to take a 38-21 lead into the break. The second half was pure cruise control. 


BYE: Week 8 (10/24/15)
GAME AFTER BYE: Iowa 31, Maryland 15 (Iowa City, IA)

Another post-bye week home game, another win. Funny how that works. This was during the magical 2015 regular season and for the most part things just clicked for Iowa that season, week in and week out. There were only a few games when they were truly pushed during that regular season and this wasn't one of them. Iowa jumped out to a 21-0 lead and Maryland never really threatened after that. They did have a drive to potentially cut the lead to 24-14 halfway through the fourth quarter, but it ended with an 88-yard Desmond King pick-six. Even if they had finished that drive with a touchdown, though, they still would have been down 10 points and kicking the ball back to Iowa with about seven minutes to go -- not optimal conditions for a comeback. Not-so-fun fact: this is the last post-bye week game that Iowa has won. 


BYE: Week 9 (10/29/16)
GAME AFTER BYE: #20 Penn State 41, Iowa 14 (State College, PA)

When we talk about Iowa's post-bye week struggles, this is another game that springs readily to mind, partly for its recency (just two seasons ago) and partly for how utterly awful it was. This is what coming out flat looks like -- and Iowa got absolutely flattened as a result. Penn State jumped out to a 7-0 lead with an early touchdown, but they didn't really pour it on until the second quarter. Iowa managed to force a missed field goal and a punt from Penn State on their next two possessions after that touchdown, but unfortunately Iowa's own possessions ended in a turnover on downs and two punts. Then Penn State's offense got going -- they went touchdown, touchdown, field goal on their next three drives -- and that was all she wrote. Penn State continued to bludgeon Iowa in the second half and this ended up being one of the worst losses of the Ferentz Era. Beating a good Penn State team in Happy Valley was always going to be a challenge, but Iowa lived down to their typical post-bye week self in this game and that absolutely doomed them. This game was also during Penn State's big come-up to end the 2016 season -- they were ranked #20 at the time of this game, but they ended up being ranked in the Top 10 and winning the Big Ten Championship Game before losing a thriller to USC in the Rose Bowl. 


BYE: Week 7 (10/14/17)
GAME AFTER BYE: Northwestern 17, Iowa 10 (OT) (Evanston, IL)

This game wound up being another classic example of Iowa's post-bye week malaise, especially on offense, where Iowa ended up mustering just 10 points and 312 yards. It actually didn't start out that way, though -- Iowa moved the ball on their first two drives, but they had nothing to show for it, ending with a turnover on downs at the Northwestern 28 and a missed field goal from the Northwestern 19. The game devolved into a puntfest after that, with the two teams trading punts on their next seven possessions (with the only exception being a Northwestern turnover on downs sandwiched amid all those punts). Noah Fant scored Iowa's lone touchdown of the day shortly before halftime, but there was no carry-over effect for the Iowa offense in the second half; they ran 13 plays for 21 yards and punted three times on their first three possessions of the second half. So, yeah, this game certainly fits the standard post-bye week narrative. 

What conclusions can we draw from this look back at Iowa's post-bye week games? One of the obvious issues with Iowa's post-bye week record is that thanks to the cruel whims of the Delanybot 9000, they've simply played a lot more post-bye week games on the road than they have at home. They're 4-1 in post-bye week games in Kinnick Stadium, but just 2-8 in post-bye week games played outside of Iowa City. Two-thirds of their post-bye week games have been away from home; this whole narrative might seem less pronounced if they'd had a more 50-50 split in home and away post-bye week games. Annoyingly, this trend is set to continue: in addition to this year's post-bye week game in Minneapolis, Iowa has road games scheduled after byes in each of the next three seasons. Thanks, Delanybot 9000!

So Iowa's post-bye week struggles are really centered on the road games they've had to play after bye weeks. They've been just fine in the post-bye week home games -- 4-1 -- so clearly playing after a bye week doesn't seem to have a negative effect when the game is in Iowa City. But what about that 2-8 record in post-bye week road games? Did you know that four of those eight losses have been against teams that finished the year ranked in the Top 10 (99 MSU, 03 OSU, 13 OSU, 16 PSU)? Post-bye week malaise or not, beating a quality team on the road was always going to be a tall order. (Iowa also didn't play badly in all of those games -- their performances against OSU in 2003 and 2013 were very respectable -- although they certainly did play horribly against MSU in 1999 and PSU in 2016.) 

Two of the other four losses came against teams that finished with either nine (2011 PSU) or ten wins (2017 Northwestern). They weren't as good as the Top 10 foes Iowa faced on the road in post-bye week games, but they were still pretty good opponents. Those games were two of Iowa's lousiest post-bye week performances, but their poor performance in those games probably just made the loss worse rather than turning possible wins into losses. That really just leaves two post-bye week losses that are pretty inexplicable: the freakish collapse against Northwestern in 2005 and the sputtering showing against Illinois in 2008.

Ultimately, I would say that that "post-bye week syndrome" hasn't really been a thing for Iowa in eight of their 15 post-bye week games -- all of the wins except 2012 Michigan State (that was definitely a shitty post-bye week performance; Iowa just happened to win the game) and the losses to Ohio State in 2003 and 2013 (where Iowa looked respectable in losing efforts to Top 10 teams). "Post-bye week syndrome" has been present -- to somewhat varying degrees -- in their other seven post-bye week games, the 2012 MSU win and all of their non-OSU losses. So there's about a 50-50 chance of Iowa crapping the bed after a bye week, although the odds are much higher for a post-bye week road game. 

Now what does all that tell us about this weekend's game against Minnesota? Well, it's a post-bye week road game -- that's bad, as the evidence shows. But we also know that 75% of Iowa's post-bye week road losses have been against teams that ended the season with at least nine wins (and half of them have been against Top 10 opponents). I don't think there's anyone that looks at this Minnesota team and sees them as a 9-10 win team.

Iowa's two post-bye week road wins came against teams that ended up idling around .500 -- 2010 Michigan and 2012 Michigan State both ended up going 7-6 -- and a season like that seems more likely for a team fitting this Minnesota team's profile. Granted, they've also lost post-bye week road games to teams like that (2005 Northwestern went 7-5 and 2008 Illinois went 5-7), but the 2005 Northwestern loss was an absolutely freakish collapse (the odds of a team scoring a touchdown, recovering an onside kick, and scoring another touchdown in the span of two minutes are not very high!) and Iowa turned the ball over four times in the 2008 Illinois game. You won't win many games against anyone turning the ball over that much. 

Iowa's performance in post-bye week games is definitely worthy of scrutiny and cause for some concern. It's true that they've come out flat in several post-bye week games and they've had listless offensive performances in more than a few post-bye week games (especially on the road). But it's also true that this week's game against Minnesota doesn't check many of the boxes that have resulted in so many of the post-bye week road games ending in disappointment. If Iowa can avoid doing anything truly stupid (like turning the ball over multiple times or not being efficient in the red zone or allowing a hugely improbable comeback involving a recovered onside kick), there's every reason to think that they can obtain an elusive win in a post-bye week road game. 

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