Sunday, January 9, 2011

Comparing Iowa to the Rest of the Big 10 Under Kirk Ferentz

Kirk Ferentz became the Iowa coach in 1999. In the last 12 seasons Ferentz has had the same offensive and defensive coordinator. One of them is regarded as a genius of his trade, while the other is, well, not so highly regarded. The genius, and rightfully so, is Norm Parker who has given Iowa a reputation of great defenses. Ken O'Keefe is the not so highly regarded coordinator. Since O'Keefe has been offensive coordinator, Iowa has had some good offenses, but they've also seen some bad ones. Now, O'Keefe tends to get all the blame for Iowa's offensive strategy. I tend to believe that if Iowa had another offensive coordinator, not much would change because Ferentz is the boss and he tends to be very conservative.

Under Ferentz, Iowa has been a run first team no matter what. Ferentz is the kind of coach who has no problem late in games running the ball three times, punting it, and letting his defense win the game. He also is the kind of coach who will get up on a team by three scores in two quarters and then milk the clock the last two quarters (see 2010 Penn State). Iowa fans cannot complain too much, as Iowa has been successful under Ferentz. But, I wanted to look at how Iowa's offense and defense compared to the rest of the Big 10 in the Ferentz era to see if the praise of Parker and criticism of O'Keefe is warranted.


I looked at the teams Iowa has fielded from 2003 to 2010. I found offensive stats for 2002, but not defensive ones, so 2003 is as far back as I could go. I then looked at their stats on offense and defense and compared them to the Big 10 average. I broke them down into scoring (points per play), moving the ball (yards per play), passing (QB rating), rushing (average of yards per carry and touchdowns per carry), and turnovers (turnovers per play). I then took an average of how Iowa's offense and defense did that year compared to the average Big 10 team to get a total score for how good they were. Like in my basketball previews, 100 equals average. Big 10 average in this case. 90 equals 10% below Big 10 average and 110 means 10% above Big 10 average.

Scoring Offense:

Looking at points per play for the Iowa offense, we can see that in the last eight seasons Iowa has been above average in four of them, average in one of them, and below average in three of them. Iowa's best scoring offense compared to the rest of the Big 10 was in 2008 when Shonn Greene was running roughshod over opponents (poor Frank Duong). As you can see, the Hawkeyes worst scoring offense came the one year Jake Christensen was under center.

Scoring Defense:

While scoring on offense has been a mixed bag, the defense has had no problem keeping opponents out of the end zone. In five of the last eight seasons, a Norm Parker led defense has been at least 40% better than the Big 10 average in stopping opponents from scoring. Three times the defense has been 50% better and once 60% better. I mean, the worst Iowa's defense has been in this category was 2006 (I still have nightmares of James Hardy), when they finished 5% above average.

Offensive yards:

Looking at Iowa's yards per play, I was kind of surprised how many year's this team scored above the Big 10 average, but did not move the ball at an above average clip. Iowa has had four years of above average and four years of below average ball moving offense. Once again, Jake Christensen and the offensive line from 2007 come in as the worst at moving the ball in the last eight seasons. The 2005 team ties the 2008 team for the lead in yards per play.

Defensive Yards Allowed:

Iowa's defense hasn't been as dominant in stopping opposing teams from moving the ball, as they have in keeping them off the board. However, this makes sense with the "Bend, but Don't Break" philosophy. Iowa will give up yards, but force you to put together eleven or twelve play drives without making a mistake. Iowa fans get frustrated when opposing teams move the ball down the field with the short pass, but the defense has been clearly above average the last eight years in this category. The best team according to yards per play allowed, was the 2009 Orange Bowl team. The worst, was the 2006 team again.


I used QB Rating to measure passing because it takes into account touchdowns, interceptions, and yards thrown for, while taking into account how many attempts it took to accumulate those numbers. Iowa's quarterbacks have been a little more successful than the last two categories. Five years above average QB Rating, and only three years below average. Stanzi's season this year was easily the best QB Rating in the last eight years, and that is still with the stats he put up after the Michigan State game. If he could have kept it up, Stanzi would have been off the chart. Drew Tate's debut in 2004 came in second. Of course, Christensen in 2007 brings up the rear. Notice a trend?

Pass Defense:

Holy crap. Norm Parker is human. Iowa's defense in 2005 actually was just below average in opponent QB Rating. 2009's defense is, by far, the best pass defense. I mean, Spievey, Prater, Sash, Greenwood, Angerer, and Edds were amazing that year. They held opposing quarterbacks to a 90 QB Rating. 2008 was the only other defense to hold opposing quarterbacks under a QB Rating of 100.

Rushing Offense:

This is really interesting to me. Iowa's philosophy under Ferentz has been to establish the run no matter what. I took the average yards per carry and touchdowns per carry compared to the Big 10 average. This shows that Iowa has not ran the ball real well the last eight seasons. Shonn Greene, of course, was the best running back in the Ferentz era. I know Fred Russell was good, but Greene was a beast and that 2002 offensive line Russell ran behind was a brick wall. 2004 was the year of the exploding ACL's. Iowa's running game averaged 2.04 yards per carry (Sam Brownlee!). Overall, Iowa's running game has been below average the past eight years.

Run Defense:

Notice that I had to change the scale for this graph. It goes by 50. Obviously, this is Norm Parker's bread and butter. He will shut down your run, and force you to pass. 2009 was the best run defense, coming in at 105% better than Big 10 average. They had a 3.49 yards per carry, which is not the best of the last eight years. What carries this defense, is the fact that they allowed opponents to score the ball on the ground once every 89.28 plays. The Big 10 average was 49.61. 2006 was Iowa's worst run defense year, and they were still 9% above Big 10 average. This is what the Iowa defense excels at.


So, according to turnovers per play, Iowa's offense has given the ball away at a worse percentage than Big 10 average in five of the last eight seasons. However, in two of their above average seasons, Iowa never gave the football away. 2010 Stanzi, was much better than 2009 Stanzi in this category. For all of Jake Christensen's downfalls, he was good at not turning the ball over (probably because he couldn't complete a pass to his own teammates, let alone the defense. I kid!). The 2006 offense was the worst of these groups.

Turnovers Forced:

Iowa's defense had a bit of a rough stretch between 2005 and 2007. All three season they were below average at creating turnovers. They have been above average the last three years. 2004 was obviously the best turnover forcing defense of the last eight years. They were 64% better than Big 10 average. The 2005 defense was the worst, coming in 25% worse than Big 10 average.

Total Offense:

Averaging out Iowa's offenses over the last eight seasons, 2008 was the best. 2010 was a close second. However, the eight year average for the offense graded out to a 97, or an average of 3% worse than Big 10 Average. However, I think under Ferentz and O'Keefe this offense has been more close to average or a little above. This is because if I was able to go back to 2002 for every stat I wanted to look at, I'm sure 2002 would have made this average go up. So, I am going to call Iowa's offense average in the Ferentz era.

Total Defense:

The defense is a different story. Norm Parker's defense has never been below Big 10 average. His worst season in 2006 was still 2% better than Big 10 average. 2009 grades out as the best defense, averaging out 58% better than Big 10 average. Norm Parker's praise is definitely warranted.

Putting Offense and Defense Together:

I plotted each team based on their offensive and defensive score, and came up with the chart above. As you can see, the eight year average is slightly below average on offense (would be average if I had 2002), and above average on defense. Note that the vertical and horizontal axes, are on two different scales. That is because the defense has been really good, and the offense average. I wanted to show the spread between the two teams, so pay attention to where the 100's (Big 10 average) cross.

According to this, 2008 was Iowa's best team compared to their Big 10 opponents. They were significantly above average on defense and offense (thank you Shonn Greene). 2008's team lost 4 games, all by no more than five points. 2009 had Iowa's best defense, but the offense couldn't run the ball and Stanzi trademarked such terms as "Rick-6" and "Stanzi-ball." However, they did lose only two games all year, and won the Orange Bowl. The worst team has got to be 2006. The defense was only slightly above average, and the offense was 6% below average. 2007 was the worst offensive team, but the 2007 defense graded out better than in 2006, so 2006 looks like the worst team.

Over the past eight years, Iowa's offense has been below Big 10 average. However, if I could have gotten my hands on every stat I wanted for 2002, the total offense would have probably graded out as average or slightly above. The defense has been dominant. Norm Parker's defenses excel at everything, but they are especially good at limiting points and stopping the run. I'm not using this as an exercise to argue for O'Keefe's firing. Instead, I'm showing that the offense has at least been average under Ken O'Keefe, which is at least not bad. Iowa fans would really like to see their offense consistently be above average, but I believe the offense is Ferentz's philosophy and the system isn't changing. The offense will simply be good when Iowa has players like Shonn Greene, Ricky Stanzi, Drew Tate, DJK, Marvin McNutt, etc. The offense will be below average when they have a significant amount of young players, or incapable quarterbacks. But, for the most part the stats confirm what our eyes see. That, Iowa gives us fans a team that is competent on the offensive side of the ball, and downright nasty on the defensive side of the ball.

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