Friday, June 24, 2011

James Vandenberg in 2011: What can we Expect?

 More of this. Less Nortwestern/Minnesota please. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images North America)
The 2011 season is only a couple of months away, and the Hawkeyes are breaking in new faces at a bunch of new positions this year. And, one of those positions just so happens to be quarterback. Which means, there will be a different guy under center this year, in place of Uncle Sam's favorite quarterback.

As Iowa fans, we had grown accustomed to seeing Ricky Stanzi line up under center for the last three years. But, his replacement, James Vandenberg, isn't a totally new face. Hawkeye fans know who he is. He has seen action in 7 games over his career, and started two of them. He already has a reputation built up around him, as he came ever so close to beating Ohio State at the Horseshoe back in 2009. He had a bit of an interception problem that game, but he completed 60.6% of his passes and averaged 7.1 yards per attempt. Pretty good against a team that allowed a completion percentage of 54.3% and an average of 5.4 yards per attempt on the season. Not to mention, that Vandenberg threw 20% of all touchdown passes allowed by the Ohio State secondary that year.

However, it wasn't all great in 2009. Vandenberg struggled against Northwestern and Minnesota. He didn't really take any meangingful snaps last season, so Iowa fans only have memories of that 2009 season to go off of.

After having another year and a half since his last meaningful pass attempt in a game, Vandenberg should be much more comfortable stepping in as the starting quarterback for the most popular team in a state of about 3 million people. So what are some realistic expectations for him this upcoming season?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Marvin McNutt and Iowa's Receiving Records

7 got 6. (Photo courtesy of AP)
At the beginning of 2008, no one could have predicted this. Marvin McNutt was the third string quarterback sitting behind Jake Christensen and Ricky Stanzi. In fact, I was at the only game McNutt made an appearance at quarterback in. His final stat line vs Florida International was: 1-3, 10 yards, and 1 interception. That season, McNutt and the Iowa coaches saw the writing on the wall. The quarterbacks ahead of him on the depth chart had multiple years of eligibility remaining. Iowa had also brought in two quarterbacks, Vandenberg and Weinke, in the last recruiting class, who were redshirting in 2008. Barring AIRBHG switching from taking out Iowa running backs to taking out Iowa quarterbacks, McNutt had little to no shot of ever seeing significant playing time if he stayed at quarterback.

Flash forward to 2009. Marvin McNutt impresses in the offseason, and moves all the way up the depth chart to starting wide receiver. Hawkeye fans had heard good things about him in the offseason, but had no idea what to expect come opening kickoff that year. Then, McNutt burst onto the Big 10 scene. He led the Hawkeyes in receiving touchdowns and finished second in catches and yards in his first full year at the position. He was a natural.

His amazing story has sparked this question for me? Could he graduate as the best wide receiver in Iowa Hawkeye history?

It's crazy that we can even have this conversation so soon, considering Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, who broke many of Iowa's receiving records, just finished his career last year. Many Iowa fans (those that haven't completely disowned him yet, for his personality and off the field incidents) consider DJK to be the greatest Iowa wide receiver of all time. So, leaving DJK's controversial personality out of the picture, how does McNutt compare numbers wise? Could he become the best wide receiver in Iowa history?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A Trip Down Memory Lane: 2006 Iowa at Syracuse, "The Stand"

Yeah. That seems about right. (Photo, obviously, courtesy of LIFE Magazine)
Every Hawkeye fan remembers this game. Which is funny, because the game was so bad, had it ended under normal circumstances, nobody would want to remember this game. Or care to reflect on it years later at all. Syracuse wasn't a very good team. They had lost 10 straight coming into this game, and would finish the 2006 season with a 4-8 record. Iowa was definitely the superior football squad. However, Iowa was also missing their three year starter at quarterback, Drew Tate. Tate did not play due to a strained abdominal muscle, that had been bothering him since before the season. As it turned out, this was all the Orange needed to make it this a game.

To reiterate my point about this game being ugly. Take a look at the drive chart:


Iowa's fourth drive ended in a touchdown, and their eighth drive ended in a field goal. That was it for regulation. Of their 9 drives in regulation that didn't end with a score, Iowa ended 4 of them with an interception, 4 with a punt, and 1 with a missed field goal. Yikes.

Syracuse scored a touchdown on their first drive, and didn't turn the ball over as much as the Jason Manson quarterbacked Hawkeyes did. However, they also didn't move the ball very much. In their 10 drives that did not end in a score, Syracuse only had 1 drive where they averaged above 4 yards per play. That one drive, the tenth drive, they averaged 6.71 yards per play, but then missed a field goal. They also had three drives where they went backwards, averaging negative yards per play. In other words, Iowa's defense was doing it's best to win the game, despite an offense that was doing it's best to give away the game.

In the end, the defense did win this game for Iowa. I mean, the offense got the winning touchdown in overtime. But, the defense put together an amazing 8 play goal line stand. The Iowa defense did give Syracuse every opportunity to tie the game, as they decided to get called for pass interference at the goal line twice. Nonetheless, the penalties ended up making this goal line stand even more special, and these 8 plays, are what made Hawkeye fans want to go from drinking to forget this game, to drinking in celebration of this game. So, let's reflect on those final 8 plays. Shall we?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

A Trip Down Memory Lane: 2009's Suffocating Pass Defense

Note: This is a series I've decided to put together to get us through the long months until football kicks off. It could be a season, a game, or one play. Hell, it could be anything that stuck out to me at some point in time about Iowa sports. Either way, just enjoy this trip back in Hawkeye history.

2009 was a special season. Though, it almost started off a nightmare, as Iowa needed two blocked field goals to beat the Panthers of Northern Iowa. The Hawkeyes started off the season 9-0 and made it as high as number 4 in the BCS. However, dreams of an undefeated season, and even a possible national championship birth, were shattered when Corey Wootton sacked Ricky Stanzi in the endzone, rolling his ankle underneath him. The Hawkeyes were still able to finish 11-2, and finished the season with a BCS Bowl win. 

The team may have finished with only 2 losses, but it was far from a balanced team. This was a defensively dominating team, with a below average offense. Want to see just how unbalanced this team was? Let's take a look.

(What is this chart?)

The offense was below the Big 10 average in every category. You name it, they were not very good at it. The running game was especially terrible, as they were 32% below the Big 10 average in yards per carry and touchdowns per carry. The offense, however, did have some special moments.  Namely, the Indiana comeback on Halloween and Stanzi to McNutt to beat Michigan State. But, make no mistake, this team was led by the defense.

The only category in which Iowa was below average on defense in, was tackles for loss ("Getting in the Backfield" on the chart), as I discussed in this post. Their 8.65% of opponent plays ending in negative yardage, was a solid number, that would have been around the Big 10 average in most years. There just happened to be a lot of teams that were good at bringing down their opponents behind the line of scrimmage that year. Other than that, Iowa abused their opponents on the defensive side of the ball in 2009. 

They were 40% better than the Big 10 average at shutting down the run. 37% better than average at not letting their opponents score. In fact, they allowed only 13.08 defensive points per game (Points allowed by the defense only. Does not include touchdowns given up by offense or special teams), which was 9 points per game better than the Big 10 average. They even forced 17% more turnovers than average. 

In other words, this defense ate opponents alive. The special part of the 2009 defense, though, may have been their ability to shut down opposing teams' passing attacks. Which is what these six long-winded paragraphs were leading into.

Visualizing a Football Team: Primer

If you've read this blog for a little while now, you've probably noticed that I like to use what Microsoft Excel calls "Radar Charts." Those would be those pentagonal charts that I used in all my game previews for basketball season. Well, I also use those for football too. I've gotten more readers lately, and I want to make sure that everyone who looks at these charts, knows what the hell I'm talking about. So, instead of breaking down how the chart works in every post that includes one, this post will serve as a primer to be linked to if you want to understand how they work. This will be the primer for football only. I will write a separate one for basketball later on down the road.

If you don't care about how I calculate these categories or what the categories actually measure, you can skip down to the "How to Read the Chart" section.

Anyway, let's get into it.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Looking at Tackles for Loss, and What that Could Mean for 2011's Defensive Line

People look at the roster for the upcoming football season, and everybody seems to come to the same conclusion: The biggest question mark is the defensive line. It's pretty clear to see why this seems to be the consensus, as Iowa lost three of their four starters from last year's defensive line to the NFL. Between the departed Ballard, Clayborn, and Klug, Iowa loses 43.86% of their tackles for loss from last year. If you look at just the tackles for loss by the defensive line, Iowa loses 62.50% of their tackles for loss from the 2010 season.

Iowa does get back Mike Daniels, who by himself, returns 19.30% of last year's tackles for loss (27.50% of last year's defensive line tackles for loss). Broderick Binns is also a year removed from a 9.5 tackles for loss season, with 5.5 of them being sacks. However, 2010 was a gigantic step in the wrong direction, as he came away with only 1 tackle for loss and no sacks. After those two, though, Iowa has some unproven guys with limited experience. Lebron Daniel, Dominic Alvis, and Steve Bigach only return 5.26% of last year's total tackles for loss between the three of them. So, you can see why people might be a little concerned about this year's front four.

Now, Mike Daniels could tear up the Big 10 and Broderick Binns could return to 2009 form. Iowa could also have a few of the guys with a little experience step up. For instance, someone like Carl Davis, Mike Hardy, or even Darian Cooper could prove to be Big 10 ready. But, how likely is that perfect scenario to happen? Well, if you look at Iowa's recent track record at dropping their opponent behind the line of scrimmage, probably not very likely.

The chart above shows the percentage of opponent plays that went for negative yardage in a season. Iowa struggled in this category last year, taking almost four more plays than the average Big 10 team to tally a tackle for loss. However, last year wasn't an apparition. Instead, it was part of a continuing trend for the Hawkeyes.