Sunday, January 2, 2011

The 2010 Iowa Hawkeyes Football Team: What Happened?

The 2010 season did not go as many had hoped it would. Iowa had a huge returning senior class, a two year starter at quarterback, a wide receiver on the verge of almost every Iowa receiving record, and a dominant defense returning most of its starters. The first eight games of the season went about as planned. Iowa looked like one of the best teams in the Big 10. Their only two losses came on a just missed comeback against Arizona and a last minute loss to Wisconsin. Iowa then went on to blow out an undefeated Michigan State team, and suddenly they were in control of their own destiny. The next four games though did not go as expected. Iowa won in week ten versus Indiana, but it took a last second dropped pass. They then finished out the season with three straight losses and finished 7-5. So what was the difference in those first eight games compared to the last four games? Let's find out.

First, lets take a look at the passing game:

This is Stanzi's completions and pass attempts by game. For the most part the gap between Stanzi's completions and attempts seem to be the largest in Iowa's losses. But, notice how the gap between the two gets larger and stays larger after Michigan State. Meaning, that over the last four games of the year Stanzi's completion percentage took a dip.
Here's Stanzi's yards per pass attempt:

 I also added Iowa's opponent's yards per pass attempt to the graph to compare Stanzi's performance. Notice how in the the first six wins of the year, Stanzi's lowest YPA was 9.96. In Iowa's two losses he was considerably lower. In Iowa's last four games of the season Stanzi's YPA fell every game. In fact, Stanzi went from consistently outperforming opposing quarterbacks to performing equal to, or in some cases, worse than opposing quarterbacks.

Next Stanzi's QB Rating:

Once again, the opponent's QB Rating is there to compare. In the first eight games Stanzi never had a QB Rating lower than 149.2, in the last four games he never was higher than 144.4. Actually, in the last three games of the year he was in the 120's. I'm not trying to single out Stanzi because football is team sport, I just feel that Stanzi is a good example of what happened to this team as a whole.

Let's now look at the team as a whole because Stanzi didn't do this by himself:

Here, we are looking at yards per play. In the first eight games of the year Iowa averaged 6.36 yards per play. Over the last four games they averaged 5.5. Big 10 average during the regular season was 5.58. So, Iowa's offense went from way above average to below average in picking up yardage. Defense only slightly got worse in this area going from 4.64 to 4.97. Big 10 average during the regular season was 5.5 on defense. Which means the defense was stingy in giving up yards all year.

Moving onto points:

The graph above shows Iowa's offensive points per play and the points per play allowed by Iowa's defense. This is strictly offensive points, so Arizona's kick off return touchdown and DJK's kick off return touchdown against Minnesota aren't included. What do you notice? Iowa's offense collapsed after the Michigan State game. The defense also started allowing more points. These two things come together to basically intertwine the lines on the graph. Not good.

Okay. Let's transform points per play into points per game:

As I said above, Iowa slipped up on both sides of the ball. However, the offense looks worse than the defense. Iowa's defense went from allowing 12.75 points per game in the first eight games, to allowing 17 points per game. A five point shift is nothing to sneeze at, but take a look at the offense. They went from averaging 30.38 to 17.25 points per game. They almost halved their points per game average. What the hell happened?

Now, let's look at turnovers:

More sizable drops on both sides of the ball. The defense went from taking the ball away from the opponent once every 29.76 plays to once every 58.8 plays. On offense, Iowa went from giving the ball up once every 102 plays to once every 59.5 plays. The defense halved their takeaways per play and the offense doubled their turnovers per play.

What about third down conversions?

Iowa's offense converted 51% of their third down conversions in the first eight games. Over the last four games Iowa only converted on 34.04% of their third downs. Same thing happened on defense. Iowa's defense only allowed opponents to convert third down on 32.43% of their attempts. Last four games? Opponents converted 51.67% of the time. There seems to be a trend here. Not good.

Finally, here is a look at three and outs:

Here, the defense choked. They went from forcing a three and out 40.43% of the time to only 16.67% of the time over the last four games. Gigantic drop. The offense had slightly more, but clearly this was a bigger problem for the defense.

I'm sure I could probably dig in my spreadsheet and find more things that went wrong over the course of the last four games, but I think you get the point. Overall, the whole team performed worse over the last four games. The thing that bothers me the most about it, is that I still have no idea what happened to all the points being put up by the offense. They started out averaging 0.48 offensive points per play , which was in the top four in the Big 10. They averaged 0.28 to close out the season. That collapse gave them a total of 0.42 at the end of the season, which was exactly Big 10 average.

The defense's increase in points allowed and increasing inability to get off the field is probably more explainable. They fought injuries. Especially, with the linebacker shuffle that happened as the season went on. They lost Tarpinian and Nielsen, which was a huge blow to pass coverage. This might explain why teams were converting on third down more regularly. I mean, if it's third down and I'm the opposing coach, I'm targeting Troy Johnson in coverage too.

But, there is no question that this team underachieved. All the more frustrating, is that Iowa's first eight opponents finished the season with a 0.540 winning percentage. Iowa's last four opponents of the year finished with a 0.531 winning percentage. If you look at the first four Big 10 teams Iowa went 3-1 against, those teams finished the season with a .692 winning percentage. There is no doubt that this team was better than the 7-5 regular season record they put together. This season will haunt Hawkeye fans for a long time. But, now the season is over, and at least they ended the it on a good note. Beating a good Missouri football team, I think, raised the team's and the fans spirits. Still, the thought will always linger. That this season could have been so much more.

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