The Epilogue 2019: How Bad Was the Offense?

By Mike Jones on January 9, 2020 at 10:21 am
Twirls fingers
© Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
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It was pretty bad.

Last May, we talked about Brian Ferentz’s sophomore season as offensive coordinator and how, overall, it was markedly improved from year one. Total, passing and scoring offense were noticeably improved. Rushing, while improved, was not where a Kirk Ferentz program should be. To close, I wrote:

In conclusion, thanks to a balanced schedule and questions at receiver/tight end, you’re probably looking at another below average offensive season. For Kirk Ferentz, that’s fine. The players are interchangeable in his system and long as they can manage to play the field position game, the Hawkeyes will always be competitive. Would it be easier if they adopted a running scheme that was more in line with this era of football? Yeah, probably. But when has an Iowa offense ever been easy?

Well.

Iowa did not have another below average offensive season.

Instead, Iowa had another bad offensive season.

Let’s talk about it.

Passing Offense

  Yards Per Game Yards Per Completion Completion % Interceptions Sacks Per Game Touchdowns
2017 190.2 (93rd) 12.43 (69th) 56 (93rd) 6 (8th) 1.92 (54th) 27
2018 226.6 (71st) 12.17 (75th) 59 (67th) 11 (70th) 1.23 (14th) 27
2019 228.9 (68th) 12.25 (66th) 59 (78th) 7 (25th) 1.77 (44th) 16

I hope you enjoy these middle of the road passing statistics because this is good as it’s going to get. Nate Stanley had several games where he surpassed 250 yards including Miami, Middle Tennessee, Michigan, Penn State, Purdue and Illinois. Unfortunately, high passing yardage and an average completion percentage didn’t translate to points, as he threw a career-low number of touchdowns.

Rushing Offense

  Yards Per Game Yards Per Carry Touchdowns
2017 139.2 (96th) 3.8 (104th) 17
2018 148.4 (94th) 4.0 (94th) 19
2019 137.6 (99th) 3.9 (86th) 17

So, this number continues to be disappointing. Iowa hasn’t averaged at least 4.5 yards per carry since 2016 when Akrum Wadley and LeShun Daniels each rushed for over 1,000 yards. No one is saying they should be averaging 5 YPC or anything. Hell, when Shonn Greene was on the team they still only averaged 4.8 YPC. But a “rushing team” should not be 99th in total yards and averaging a paltry 3.9 YPC.

Overall Offense

  Total Offense Scoring Offense Red Zone Offense % First Downs 3rd Down Conversion % 4th Down Conversion %
2017 329.5 (116th) 28.2 (66th) 79.6 (97th) 226 (106th) 34.4 (104th) 63.6 (23rd)
2018 375 (91st) 31.2 (43rd) 85 (50th) 261 (74th) 43 (30th) 68 (12th)
2019 366.5 (99th) 25.8 (88th) 95.2 (4th) 248 (90th) 40 (57th) 71 (9th)

Hoo boy. Alright. So, not only did Iowa take a step back in total offense, which honestly isn’t that big of a deal, they crashed and burned in scoring offense, scoring an average of 5.4 fewer points per game than last season. This is despite their stellar red-zone offense, which was so high due to the mighty Keith Duncan kicking all of those field goals. Iowa has not averaged fewer points since 2016, Greg Davis’s final season, when they averaged 24.9 PPG. This is despite the Hawkeyes once again having an excellent turnover margin of .69 per game (nice), good for 14th in the nation. (Iowa had a turnover margin of +9 for the season, meaning they forced 9 more turnovers than they conceded.)


So, what’s the deal? Well, I don’t think you can blame the schedule entirely. Sure, the Hawkeyes played some elite defenses like Michigan, Wisconsin and Penn State, only averaging 12.3 points per game in those three contests. But they also played five games against teams in the bottom half of scoring defense, including Very Bad defensive teams like Rutgers, Middle Tennessee State and Purdue. They should’ve boat raced those teams. Instead, they only averaged around 33 PPG. The only conference game Iowa scored at least 30 points in was against Rutgers when they scored… 30 points.  

Yet, as is always the case, Iowa won a good number of games because their defense was stellar and the offense did “just enough.” The Kirk Ferentz Razor’s Edge brand of football was very popular in 2019, with seven games being decided by seven points or less. This is the third time in the Kirk Ferentz era that Iowa has played in seven games decided by seven points or less; the other seasons being 2012 and 2010. You should remember those seasons well, as Iowa was immensely disappointing and went a combined 4-10 in those games. This year Iowa went 4-3, the first winning record they’ve posted when they’ve played in six or more seven-point games since, you guessed it, 2009.

It remains frustrating, though, that Iowa continues to consistently bolster one of the best defenses in the nation and one of the worst offenses. In the past five seasons, Iowa has averaged 356.42 yards and 28.2 points per game. If we hypothetically plugged those stats into 2019-2020 team rankings, they’d be ranked 105th in total offense and 70th in scoring offense. In those same five years, Iowa has given up an average of 330.26 yards and allowed 18.18 points per game. Hypothetically plugging those stats into this year’s team rankings, they’d be ranked 23rd in total defense and 13th in scoring defense.

At the most basic level, you’ve got a consistently top 25 defense (and top 15 scoring defense) with a bottom 25 total offense and bottom half of the nation scoring offense. What if Iowa had a competent (like, say, top 50) offense to match their defense? That, my friends, is a question older than the Great Sphinx.

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