Iowa Vs. Oklahoma, Insight Bowl 2011: Warm Feelings Vs. Cold Statistics

IOWA CITY, IA - NOVEMBER 5: Iowa Hawkeyes fans look on during the game against the at Michigan Wolverines at Kinnick Stadium on November 5, 2011 in Iowa City, Iowa. Iowa won 24-16. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Oklahoma has style and statistics on their side, but they limped through a mostly unimpressive November, they're still not completely healthy, and Iowa is unlikely to send defensive coordinator Norm Parker off with a less-than-stellar performance. Can the Hawkeyes pull one last magic act on defense, or will the Sooners roll?

NOTE: Confused? See the quick glossary at the bottom.

If Iowa and Oklahoma each play their normal game, with normal chemistry and effort, Oklahoma wins, probably by double digits. But the odds of "normal" are low. Oklahoma hasn't played a "normal" game in quite a while -- their defense was torched by Baylor, their offense disappeared against Iowa State (granted, in gale-force winds), and then both made only fleeting appearances against Oklahoma State. Injuries have wrecked the Sooners, there are rumors of chemistry issues, and they only twice played at an extremely high level over the last half of the regular season. Iowa, meanwhile, came and went all year but likely has an extra source of motivation: longtime defensive coordinator Norm Parker is coaching his final game Friday night. Circumstance seems to give Iowa a pretty decent chance, even if the statistics disagree.

Team Record AP Rank 2011 F/+ Rk 2011 Off.
F/+ Rk
2011 Def.
F/+ Rk
2011 S.T.
F/+ Rk
Iowa 7-5 NR 38 32 53 48
Oklahoma 9-3 19 9 14 11 53
Team Pace Rk Covariance Rk MACtion Rk Schizophrenia Rk
Iowa 99 79 86 58
Oklahoma 1 69 46 8

But I'm supposed to convince you to listen to what the stats have to say, so forget everything you read in that last paragraph.

Motivation issues aside, there are some interesting contrasts here -- Oklahoma is the most fast-paced team in the country, and Iowa is one of the 25 slowest. Oklahoma makes and allows a hefty number of big plays and ranks reasonably well on the MACtion scale; Iowa does not. Oklahoma is all over the map, and Iowa is not. There are quite a few contrasts at play here, and odds are good that this should be entertaining, for one reason or another.

When Iowa Has The Ball…

Team F/+
Rk
S&P+
Rk
FEI
Rk
Success
Rt+ Rk
PPP+
Rk
Rushing
S&P+ Rk
Passing
S&P+ Rk
Iowa Offense 32 32 38 50 28 45 30
Oklahoma Defense 11 8 15 3 17 7 12
Team Std. Downs
Run %
S.D.
S&P+ Rk
Pass. Downs
Run %
P.D.
S&P+ Rk
Iowa Offense 55.9% 32 35.2% 24
Oklahoma Defense 55.3% 5 41.3% 10
National Average 69.1% 30.9%

On paper, Oklahoma's defense looked stacked, experienced and outstanding. End Frank Alexander (18 tackles, for loss, 8.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, six passes broken up) had a lovely final season in crimson and cream, Travis Lewis and Tom Wort are rock solid linebackers, Tony Jefferson is an intriguing LB/safety hybrid, corners Jamell Fleming and Demontre Hurst (combined: two picks, 17 passes broken up, three forced fumbles) have incredible ceilings, and safeties like Javon Harris and Sam Proctor are seasoned and experienced after years of facing pass-happy Big 12 offenses. And their full-season rankings are certainly good -- 11th in Def. F/+, seventh versus the run, 12th versus the pass, etc.

So why, then, have they seemed to suffer so many glitches? For starters, injuries wreaked havoc on the OU defense. Lewis missed one game and hobbled through a couple more at the beginning of the season, Jefferson limped through much of conference play, end Ronnell Lewis was both hurt and suffering academically (he is ineligible for the bowl game), Wort missed two games, Fleming missed two games, etc. The defense was barely ever at full-strength. Plus, there is the Big 12 Effect on defensive stats (even good defenses are going to struggle to place high on total yardage lists). Either way, the OU defense showed plenty of holes, but it is unclear how many of those Iowa will be able to exploit, especially if the major players in the secondary are healthy.

The bad news for the iowa offense: running back Marcus Coker is suspended for the Insight Bowl; he will not be available to attempt a repeat of his awesome performance versus Missouri in last year's Insight Bowl. The good news (sort of): Iowa wasn't exactly an amazing rushing team with Coker. They ranked only 45th in Rushing S&P+, with Coker posting only a plus-4.4 Adj. POE to go with his 1,384 yards. He was a workhorse back (23 carries per game), and his backups are less than seasoned (De'Andre Johnson, Mika'il McCall and Jason White have combined for 32 carries on the season).

Clearly Iowa's ball-control efforts -- potentially key in keeping Oklahoma's fifth-gear offense off the field -- could take a hit with Coker's suspension. But on the bright side, Coker was rather unused himself when he exploded in the bowl last year; besides, Iowa's offense typically only truly clicks when quarterback James Vandenberg and receiver Marvin McNutt, Jr. (127 targets, 78 catches, 1,269 yards) are connecting repeatedly. If McNutt can take advantage of Oklahoma's occasional secondary breakdowns, Iowa may not miss Coker as much as expected.

When Oklahoma Has The Ball…

Team F/+
Rk
S&P+
Rk
FEI
Rk
Success
Rt+ Rk
PPP+
Rk
Rushing
S&P+ Rk
Passing
S&P+ Rk
Oklahoma Offense 14 15 16 9 22 14 27
Iowa Defense 53 57 44 77 53 36 95
Team Std. Downs
Run %
S.D.
S&P+ Rk
Pass. Downs
Run %
P.D.
S&P+ Rk
Oklahoma Offense 52.3% 18 16.7% 20
Iowa Defense 62.2% 69 35.7% 84
National Average 69.1% 30.9%

How much is effort worth to you? Because with Norm Parker's departure, Iowa should have loads of it. From a beautiful Parker post at Black Heart Gold Pants:

He joined Kirk Ferentz's staff in 1999 and has never left. More than anything else, his defenses have been the bedrock of Ferentz's success at Iowa, all predicated on the same philosophy: Don't give up the big play, make an offense string together a drive, and by God stop the run. There were the catchphrases -- "Six seconds of hell," "Death, taxes, and cover two" -- and there were the results. Iowa finished in the national top 10 in rushing defense four times from 2002 to 2009. In three consecutive seasons, from 2007 through 2009, Iowa finished in the national top 12 in scoring defense. He took unheralded recruits like Bob Sanders, Chad Greenway, Abdul Hodge, Mitch King, Matt Kroul, Pat Angerer, Amari Spievey, Tyler Sash, and a handful of walk-on safeties and turned them into all-Big Ten performers and NFL-caliber talents, to say nothing of what he could do with top-level high school talents like Matt Roth, Adrian Clayborn and Christian Ballard. Iowa has put the third-most defensive linemen into the NFL of any program in the last seven years. It has landed an absurd number of secondary players, as well, including guys who had no business being that good. He took a 5'8" kid with a couple of MAC offers and turned him into the NFL Defensive Player of the Year. He transformed an eight-man option quarterback from South Dakota into a first-round draft pick at weakside linebacker. He did more with less than anyone in the country.

Iowa will be primed to overachieve versus Oklahoma, but there's a problem: Oklahoma runs exactly the type of offense that has given the Hawkeyes fits over the years. Just as Coker torched Missouri last year, Missouri's Blaine Gabbert torched Iowa with constant sideline passes and underneath routes. Oklahoma is going to attempt balance on standard downs, but on passing downs it's all pass, all the time; and against an Iowa defense that ranks just 102nd in Adj. Sack Rate (Oklahoma's offense: third), this might not be a bad thing.

Even without two of their three best receivers -- Ryan Broyles and Jaz Reynolds are both out with injury -- the Sooners should be able to pass at will against Iowa's strangely anemic pass defense. If defensive linemen Mike Daniels (10.5 tackles for loss, seven sacks) and Broderick Binns (12.0 tackles for loss, five sacks) don't have huge games for the Hawkeyes, all the motivation in the world might not prevent Landry Jones from picking the Hawkeyes apart with passes to Kenny Stills (818 yards, 8.5 per target), Dejuan Miller (245 yards, 6.4 per target), Trey Franks (187 yards, 6.4 per target), tight end James Hanna (363 yards, 8.9 per target) and company.

The Verdict

Oklahoma by 10.1.

If Jones and the Oklahoma offense are clicking, it is difficult to see Iowa being able to keep up. But it is difficult to shake the memory of Oklahoma's last few unimpressive performances (on either or both sides of the ball), and it is difficult to imagine Iowa sending Parker out with a less than stellar defensive game. Oklahoma gets the nod by 10 points, but really, one has to figure it's either Oklahoma by 21 or Iowa by one.

--------------------

A Quick Glossary

Covariance: This tells us whether a team tends to play up or down to their level of competition. A higher ranking means a team was more likely to play well against bad teams while struggling (relatively speaking) against good ones. (So in a way, lower rankings are better.) For more, go here.

F/+ Rankings: The official rankings for the college portion of Football Outsiders. They combine my own S&P+ rankings (based on play-by-play data) with Brian Fremeau's drives-based FEI rankings.

MACtion: This is a look at how closely teams are associated with big-play football (like those high-scoring, mid-week MAC games). Teams that rank high on the MACtion scale play games with a ton of both big plays (gained and allowed) and passing downs. For more, go here.

Pace: This is calculated by going beyond simply who runs the most plays. Teams that pass more are naturally inclined to run more plays (since there are more clock stoppages involved), so what we do here is project how many plays a team would typically be expected to run given their run-pass ratio, then compare their actual plays to expectations. Teams, then, are ranked in order from the most plays above the expected pace, to the least.

Passing Downs: Second-and-7 or more, third-and-5 or more.

PPP: An explosiveness measure derived from determining the point value of every yard line (based on the expected number of points an offense could expect to score from that yard line) and, therefore, every play of a given game.

S&P+: Think of this as an OPS (the "On-Base Plus Slugging" baseball measure) for football. The 'S' stands for success rates, a common Football Outsiders efficiency measure that basically serves as on-base percentage. The 'P' stands for PPP+, an explosiveness measure that stands for EqPts Per Play. The "+" means it has been adjusted for the level of opponent, obviously a key to any good measure in college football. S&P+ is measured for all non-garbage time plays in a given college football game. Plays are counted within the following criteria: when the score is within 28 points in the first quarter, within 24 points in the second quarter, within 21 points in the third quarter, and within 16 points (i.e. two possession) in the fourth quarter. For more about this measure, visit the main S&P+ page at Football Outsiders.

Schizophrenia: This measures how steady a team's performances are throughout the course of a full season. Teams with a higher ranking tend to be extremely unpredictable from week to week. For more, go here.

Standard Downs: First downs, second-and-6 or less, third-and-4 or less.

Success Rate: A common Football Outsiders tool used to measure efficiency by determining whether every play of a given game was successful or not. The terms of success in college football: 50 percent of necessary yardage on first down, 70 percent on second down, and 100 percent on third and fourth down.

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