The Iowa-Rutgers Total Could Be Historic

By RossWB on September 22, 2022 at 9:43 pm

How low
How low can
How low can you
How low can you go? 
How lowwwww can youuuu gooooooo????

Iowa is headed to the birthplace of college football to take on Rutgers under the lights this Saturday night -- and in the eyes of Vegas, the final score line for this game is likely to resemble something from those early "birthplace of college football" days. The total for Iowa's game against Rutgers this weekend opened earlier this week at a comically low 35.5 points, easily the lowest total on the board.

Any total under 40 points in college football is pretty eyebrow-raising. This total has zoomed below 40 points for some truly rarefied territory. Totals this low happen rarely in college football, a sport where offenses seem to grow more creative and more prolific each week. Well... most offenses. We certainly aren't going to see an offense like that on the field on Saturday night. And yet, incredibly, the total for the Iowa-Rutgers game keeps dropping. It hit 34.5 and 34.0 earlier this week and even hit 33.5 earlier tonight. 

33.5 lmao

(via Action Network)

If that 33.5 total holds until the game begins, it would be the lowest total for a major college football game in decades. Courtesy Action Network, here are some of the other absurdly low totals that we've witnessed in recent years: 

2021 Iowa vs Wisconsin 34.0 27-7
2015 Missouri vs Vanderbilt 34.0 10-3
2004 Ohio State vs Penn State 34.0 21-10
2016 Wake Forest vs Boston College 34.5 17-14
2019 Northwestern vs Michigan State 35 31-10

It's perhaps surprising to see Iowa only on that list once -- although it's definitely not surprising to see three Big Ten games on that list. B1G life, B1G stage, B1G unders. One of the most remarkable things about that list is that despite those absurdly low totals, four of the five games still went under (or pushed, in the case of the Iowa-Wisconsin last year). Sometimes there are just games where points fear to tread, where the box scores bleed and the scoreboards weep bitter tears. 

The reason the total for Iowa-Rutgers keeps dropping? Because the oddsmakers can't (yet) seem to find a number that's low enough to generate action on the other side (the over). Per Action Network, a staggering 89% of public bettors have taken the under in this game. No one thinks these teams can combine for even a meager 34 points. Five touchdowns? From these teams? LOL. 

And it's easy to see why that's the case. The Hawkeyes have hit the under in all three of their games this season (usually with ease), thanks to a stifling defense and an offense that's seemed mostly allergic to touchdowns and first downs. Rutgers also has a defense that's put the clamps on opponents thus far this season, and while their offense generally rates as "bad" rather than "horrifically terrible" like Iowa's offense, the numbers behind those rankings are deceptive. 

Rutgers is 90th in total offense with 369.3 ypg and 5.51 yards per play. 90th in total offense is obviously not good, though it is a whole hell of a lot better than Iowa's dead-last ranking (131st). But that number doesn't pass the smell test -- Rutgers waxed something called Wagner 66-7 in their second game of the season. (It might have just been one dude named Wagner, who knows.) The Knights gained 585 yards in that game, well over half of their season total of 1108 yards. In their other two games, against Boston College and Temple, the Scarlet Knights amassed 523 total yards -- that per-game average of 262 yards per game would put them 127th in the country. 

Even numbers goosed by Wagner can't make their passing numbers palatable. Rutgers is averaging 142 passing yards per game, "good" for 119th nationally. A 59.4% completion percentage ranks 93rd nationally. And those numbers include the stats from the Wagner game (15/25, 257 yards, 4 TD, 1 INT). Without those stats, Rutgers has 169 passing yards (total), a 59% completion rate, 0 TD, and 1 INT. Rutgers has been without presumed starting quarterback Noah Vonleh all season; getting him back would certainly help their passing game. It's unclear if he'll be healthy enough to play on Saturday against Iowa, though. And sending a half-fit quarterback against this Iowa defense may not be a wise move. 

The one area of Rutgers' offense that isn't entirely fool's gold is the run game; the Scarlet Knights have 682 yards (227 yards per game) and eight touchdowns through three games. They went off against Wagner -- 328 yards, 5 TD -- but they were also impressive against Boston College (212 yards, 3 TD). They did only muster 142 yards (3.5 ypc) and 0 TD against Temple last week, though. And, honestly, a one-dimensional running team? I'll take my chances with a Phil Parker defense against an offense like that every day of the week. Iowa's defense doesn't often get outmatched in the run game and when they do it's often because the opposition has some overwhelming physical characteristics (behemoth offensive linemen, lightning-quick running backs) and/or mobile quarterbacks or more unusual offensive systems. Those teams also usually have a passing game that forces at least some respect from the Iowa secondary. I'm not sure that any of that applies to this Rutgers offense. 

The shortcomings of the Iowa offense are well-known at this point and hardly require belaboring. Despite showing a few glimmers of competence last week, it's still a rock-bottom unit struggling to find playmakers and get consistency from every unit (but especially the quarterback and offensive linemen). They would be the underdog in virtually any match-up, but even moreso against a Rutgers defense that's ranked in the Top 10 in several categories, like total defense (240.3 ypg, 10th) and run defense (32.3 ypg, 2nd). 

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to analyze this game. You've got two defenses that have been very good-to-excellent so far and make it exceedingly difficult for opponents to gain yards, let alone score points. You've got two offense that (against non-Wagner opposition) struggle mightily to move the ball, let alone score points. That is obviously not a recipe for much offense, or scoring. The overriding theme in most of those low-total games noted above is the presence of smothering defenses. Combine that with wildly inept offenses? Hello, record-low total.

Barring a shocking reversal of form for the offenses and defenses in this game, the total is only likely to be threatened by unconventional scoring plays -- i.e., defensive or special teams touchdowns. We can't rule those out, of course, but special teams scores figure to be difficult to come by as well. Kick return scores (mostly) require the other team to also score and set up a kickoff opportunity. Punt return opportunities should be (much) more plentiful -- but this game is also going to feature two of the very best punters in college football (more on them tomorrow), both of whom specialize in booming punts that are difficult (if not impossible) for opponents to return. That leaves just defensive scores and while those are very unpredictable, we certainly probably can't expect three or four defensive touchdowns in this game. 

Everything -- every stat, every match-up, every tendency -- points to this game being an absolute rock fight and quite possibly one of the rock fightiest games in recent memory. And considering Iowa just played games that finished 7-3 and 10-7, uh, that would be saying something. But this looks like a game where points have been outlawed and offenses go to die. It's going to be terrible and honestly? We kind of can't wait to see it. 

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