Iowa is off to a 5-0 start, the same way that the 2015 & 2009 Hawkeyes got off to a 5-0 start. The 2002 Hawkeyes didn’t start 5-0, but they went undefeated in Big Ten play and are the best team in the Kirk Ferentz era and in my opinion the best Iowa team of at least the past 60 years.
This 2021 Iowa team has a chance to do some elite things this year, now that they have started 5-0. They will host a top five ranked Penn State team next week and if they can win that, things really get exciting. Let’s take a look at the current Iowa team’s statistical profile and compare it to the four previous Iowa teams mentioned above:
Did you know that Iowa has been struggling on offense to start the year? Yeah, you didn’t need me to point that out. Iowa’s offense actually looked better than average against Maryland this past week. We all know that Iowa’s defense has been playing at an elite level and these stat rankings bear that out. To be 11th in rushing defense and 6th in passing efficiency defense is not a common thing. Add in the hidden yardage aspects like punting, kickoff and punting returns on top of it, and this is an exciting statistical profile. Also consider how many takeaways the Iowa defense is getting and how many points Iowa has been scoring off of turnovers. On Friday, Iowa’s average starting field position for the game was its own 46 yard line. Iowa had 14 possessions in the game, so the max yards available to gain was 756. That’s an insanely low number of possible yards to gain and Iowa is 4th in the country at 9.6 yards per point. Folks, I am not trying to say that Iowa’s poor offensive stats are a byproduct of short fields…we all have eyes. BUT…I am saying in the Maryland game, that is more how this offense has to look, and what I think it’s capable of looking like…and the defense has been consistently great. Shorter fields are going to be commonplace.
The 2015 offense was better than the current Iowa offense, but it was barely better than average. Barely better than average is what I am hoping this year’s Iowa offense can get to, as I have been saying for weeks. Frankly, it’s all that they need to be. The 2015 defense was a great unit in all phases. Punting was not great in 2015 while the return game was. On the whole, if the 2021 Iowa offense can get to average, you are talking about a team that is better than the 2015 Hawkeyes. But we have a long way to go, and the 2015 Hawkeyes ran the race and they are in the clubhouse.
That 2009 offense was probably not as good as your memory tried to convince you of, was it? The defense was once again very good, with punt returns lacking on the hidden yardage front. Rick Stanzi threw 17 touchdown passes in 2009 to 15 interceptions, and threw several pick sixes. That 2009 team needed to block two, last second field goal attempts by UNI to win a close one at home and also escaped with a 24-21 win over Arkansas State in game five of that year. After that close win in week five, Iowa had moved up to 12th in the AP Top 25 after being unranked to begin the season. After that, they beat a 5-7 Michigan team 30-28, a solid 20-10 win over a 10-win Wisconsin team and a 15-13 road win (7 got 6) at a six-win Michigan State team before trouncing Indiana and showing up on the cover of Sports Illustrated. They’d lose their next two (home against Northwestern and at Ohio State) after Ricky Stanzi got knocked out early against Northwestern, but they’d rebound to go to the Orange Bowl and win that game and finishing with 11 wins. All of this is to say, the 2009 Iowa offense was not average..they were below average. At times, they were their own worst enemy. But the defense was there.
This is the cheat code. The 2002 Iowa Hawkeyes are unlikely to be approached in my remaining lifetime by any Iowa team. They are the gold standard. 13th in total offense, 5th best rushing defense, 24th best scoring defense, 7th best scoring offense, 18th in punting, #1 in KOR and 12th in turnover margin. Don’t worry about the 110th in passing defense; teams had zero chance to run on them and typically stopped trying. The 2002 defense deserves mentioning in the pantheon of the greatest in school history, or at least the last 60+ years, alongside the 1981 Iowa defense.
The 2021 Iowa defense has a shot to push their way into the conversation of the Iowa greats. There are other greats, such as the 2004 Iowa defense wish is probably the third best in the last 60 years.
We are not even to the midpoint for this year, so an exercise like the one I just did is mostly for the stat heads out there who love looking at the stats. However, things are setting up for the 2021 Hawkeyes to have a special year. They have put themselves in this position by taking care of business. Sagarin ranks Iowa #4 in the nation and has their schedule as being the 18th toughest to date. Of the other teams he has in his Top 10, only Florida (3-2) has played a tougher schedule than Iowa.
If the Hawkeyes beat Penn State next week, Iowa fans won’t likely have to deal with any of the bull poop from 2015, such as the ‘Is America Ready for an Undefeated Iowa Football Team’ or the fake ID garbage.
Just win, baby.