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Iowa football will be very different than usual in 2015 (just kidding)

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Kirk Ferentz's Hawkeyes prefer high floors to high ceilings. Will this season inch more toward the latter?

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

1. It's not that bad ...

It could be much, much worse.

Since peaking at 11-2 and seventh in the polls in 2009, Iowa under Kirk Ferentz has settled into a groove that is more satisfactory than satisfying.

The Hawkeyes have been to four bowls in five years (with a 4-8 dud in the middle), winning either seven or eight games alongside each. They haven't been ranked since late in 2010, no, and despite the Big Ten having approximately 17 January 1 bowls, they have only once played on January 1 in this span. They beat three 10- or 11-win teams in 2010-11 but have only done so once since (and that was NIU).

Things aren't wonderful in Iowa City. But they aren't as bad as we tend to make them seem. They're better than what Ferentz inherited in 1999, for one. They're better than what predecessor Hayden Fry inherited, too.

Before Fry set the bar, and before Ferentz did a decent job of raising it, Iowa was a wasteland for two decades. In a conference that features downside -- each of the first five Big Ten teams previewed so far has spent at least one season ranked below 70th in the F/+ rankings, and four have spent time below 80th -- Iowa's floor seems higher. The Hawkeyes have been in the 60s twice and in the top 50 three times since 2010. Plus, every time we think this is it for Ferentz, that there's no coming back, he responds by putting a much-improved team on the field.

A free fall, this is not. But still ...

It's not hard to see why Iowa fans are frustrated. When the Hawkeyes fail, they fail in the same fashion, over and over. They have produced a top-40 offense (in terms of Off. S&P+) once since 2006 and haven't ranked in the top 60 since 2010. Their leading rusher has averaged better than five yards per carry once since Shonn Greene left, and that was only barely (5.1 in 2012). And when Ferentz felt the need to liven up the unit, he chose the most uninspiring candidate imaginable in former Texas O.C. Greg Davis. The offense bottomed out the next year before rebounding slightly.

Iowa's "run the ball and play good defense" ways have been hampered by an inability to run the ball, but the defense hasn't helped. The Hawkeyes managed one top-30 defense (in Def. S&P+) in four years. The 2013 unit broke through to 10th with an experienced cast, then collapsed to 67th.

2014 was a missed opportunity; coming off of a bounce-back season, the Hawkeyes faced not a single team that ranked better than 24th in F/+, and the only two regular-season opponents that ranked better than 37th came to Iowa City. But they still barely finished above .500, ceding major ground to Minnesota. A top-30 team would have won 11 games or more. Iowa was 63rd, the third-worst showing of the last decade.

Ferentz set a high bar in winning nine or more games five times and registering four top-10 finishes between 2002 and '09. There has been little reason to hope another top-10 surge is possible, but Iowa still averaged 67,512 in home attendance last year. There's little reason for the athletic director to seek change. Yet.

2014 Schedule & Results

Record: 7-6 | Adj. Record: 7-6 | Final F/+ Rk: 63
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Adj. Scoring
Margin
Win
Expectancy
30-Aug Northern Iowa NR 31-23 W 29% -13.0 66%
6-Sep Ball State 91 17-13 W 85% 24.6 99%
13-Sep Iowa State 92 17-20 L 26% -15.3 46%
20-Sep at Pittsburgh 43 24-20 W 65% 8.8 63%
27-Sep at Purdue 84 24-10 W 80% 19.9 99%
11-Oct Indiana 88 45-29 W 55% 3.0 75%
18-Oct at Maryland 62 31-38 L 54% 2.1 65%
1-Nov Northwestern 71 48-7 W 95% 38.9 100%
8-Nov at Minnesota 37 14-51 L 2% -46.0 0%
15-Nov at Illinois 78 30-14 W 86% 25.2 100%
22-Nov Wisconsin 25 24-26 L 45% -2.8 16%
28-Nov Nebraska 30 34-37 L 31% -11.7 7%
2-Jan vs. Tennessee 24 28-45 L 2% -46.0 0%

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 27.9 71 28.6 67
Points Per Game 28.2 71 25.6 52

2. Withering away

Iowa had a decent passing game, run defense, and 2014 start. A home dud against Iowa State didn't have anybody spizzed up about a great year, but the Hawkeyes still started 6-2, handling Northwestern and Purdue with ease and pulling off a fun comeback at Pitt.

They weren't taking full advantage of a weak schedule, but they were looking at another nine-win season and top-50 final ranking. And then the last five games happened.

  • Average Percentile Performance (first 8 games): 61% (record: 6-2)
  • Average Percentile Performance (last 5 games): 33% (record: 1-4)

Over the final five, Iowa got shoved around, allowing at least 5.9 yards per play in four games and giving up at least 37 points in three. A thin defense -- five linemen, five linebackers, and four defensive backs took most of the snaps -- couldn't maintain its edge.

The offense had exciting moments against Illinois and Wisconsin (combined: 7.3 yards per play) but came up empty against Minnesota, Nebraska, and (when it mattered) Tennessee.

After playing at a top-50 level for eight games, Iowa barely played top-90 ball thereafter.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.84 70 IsoPPP+ 93.8 81
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 40.1% 87 Succ. Rt. + 96.1 82
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 30.5 77 Def. FP+ 103.0 33
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.5 59 Redzone S&P+ 95.3 78
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 22.1 ACTUAL 22 -0.1
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 66 86 86 81
RUSHING 63 109 106 106
PASSING 56 61 54 60
Standard Downs 98 96 99
Passing Downs 45 55 44
Q1 Rk 91 1st Down Rk 78
Q2 Rk 77 2nd Down Rk 80
Q3 Rk 87 3rd Down Rk 97
Q4 Rk 32

3. Figure out what you're good at

Greg Davis took some hints. With an awful run game and a decent passing game, Iowa threw more normal. After rushing 68 percent of the time on standard downs and 35 percent on passing downs in 2013, those numbers fell to 61 and 31. Strangely, the Hawkeyes threw quite a bit when up big and ran quite a bit when down big, but this was still more pass-happy than an Iowa offense tends to be.

So what does that mean moving forward? Iowa has suffered from attrition issues at the skill positions, and while there appears to be talent, exactly what is Ferentz intending to do (or let Davis do)?

There is a belief, real or perceived, that Ferentz is not interested in playing the most talented players, opting for hard-working strength program guys and intangibles. It was a hypothesis reinforced by the Rudock/Beathard debate last year, the continued use of Mark Weisman at running back, and tine increasingly heavy use of walk-ons at important positions.

Iowa could potentially start six walk-ons, an unsustainable amount of non-scholarship talent on a Big Ten roster, especially when those walk-ons are at left tackle and weakside linebacker. For a rebuilding program, useful walk-ons are a key way of protecting young scholarship talent. For a program with a 16-year head coach, each walk-on represents a recruiting and/or development failure. In Iowa's case, many of those are the result of players transferring out and leaving a hole.

Continuous use of Weisman really did confuse me. At 230-plus pounds, Weisman should have been a nice efficiency back, but his efficiency numbers were awful, and he didn't make up for it with explosiveness. He had two good games in 2014 (he had 212 yards at 6.4 yards per carry against Maryland and Illinois) and otherwise averaged 3.3 yards per carry.

Of course, there weren't superior candidates. Jordan Canzeri averaged 4.2 yards per carry until erupting for 120 yards in the bowl game. Akrum Wadley showed potential against Northwestern and Minnesota (24 carries, 174 yards) but fumbled twice in 33 total carries and had just nine rushes for 12 yards in the final four games. Jonathan Parker had outstanding averages but somehow managed to fumble three times in 16 carries.

Iowa would be smart to lean on the pass again, but with turnover atop the depth chart, it will be interesting to see if Ferentz leans more on players with high ceilings or those with high floors. Assume the latter.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Jake Rudock
213 345 2436 16 5 61.7% 18 5.0% 6.4
C.J. Beathard 6'2, 209 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8359 52 92 645 5 2 56.5% 4 4.2% 6.4
Tyler Wiegers 6'4, 222 RSFr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8727
Ryan Boyle 6'2, 215 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8477
Drew Cook 6'5, 220 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8313

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Mark Weisman RB
213 812 16 3.8 2.9 32.9% 2 1
Jordan Canzeri RB 5'9, 192 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7667 102 494 0 4.8 5.3 32.4% 0 0
Jake Rudock QB
49 286 3 5.8 3.2 59.2% 5 3
Akrum Wadley RB 5'11, 185 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7683 33 186 1 5.6 5.0 45.5% 2 2
Damon Bullock RB
27 74 0 2.7 2.0 22.2% 0 0
C.J. Beathard QB 6'2, 209 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8359 24 182 0 7.6 8.2 45.8% 1 1
Jonathan Parker RB 5'8, 185 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7852 16 141 1 8.8 15.7 37.5% 3 2
LeShun Daniels, Jr. RB 6'0, 225 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8093 15 49 1 3.3 2.1 46.7% 0 0
Derrick Mitchell, Jr. RB 6'1, 212 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8398
C.J. Hilliard RB 5'10, 195 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8488







Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Kevonte Martin-Manley WR
89 52 521 58.4% 20.9% 64.0% 5.9 -120 5.9 60.4
Tevaun Smith SE 6'2, 205 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8289 70 43 607 61.4% 16.4% 50.0% 8.7 83 8.5 70.4
Jake Duzey TE 6'4, 248 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8479 54 36 392 66.7% 12.7% 53.7% 7.3 -40 7.5 45.5
Damon Bullock RB
42 32 265 76.2% 9.9% 38.1% 6.3 -110 6.4 30.7
Ray Hamilton TE
35 18 175 51.4% 8.2% 60.0% 5.0 -53 5.0 20.3
Damond Powell WR
32 19 317 59.4% 7.5% 43.8% 9.9 84 10.7 36.8
Matt VandeBerg WR 6'1, 185 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7848 25 14 256 56.0% 5.9% 60.0% 10.2 82 10.0 29.7
Jacob Hillyer SE 6'4, 212 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8323 21 11 105 52.4% 4.9% 52.4% 5.0 -34 4.8 12.2
Jordan Canzeri RB 5'9, 192 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7667 11 9 123 81.8% 2.6% 45.5% 11.2 19 12.6 14.3
Derrick Willies WR
7 4 71 57.1% 1.6% 85.7% 10.1 22 9.1 8.2
Macon Plewa FB 6'2, 244 Sr. NR NR 7 7 38 100.0% 1.6% 71.4% 5.4 -41 5.1 4.4
John Kenny FB



7 4 27 57.1% 1.6% 57.1% 3.9 -22 3.8 3.1
Andrew Stone WR 5'11, 175 Sr. NR NR 4 3 48 75.0% 0.9% 75.0% 12.0 13 14.8 5.6
Henry Krieger Coble TE 6'4, 250 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8529 4 3 28 75.0% 0.9% 50.0% 7.0 -7 7.1 3.2
George Kittle TE 6'0, 225 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8107
Jay Scheel WR 6'1, 195 RSFr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8833
Jon Wisnieski TE 6'5, 247 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8722
Jerminic Smith WR 6'1, 180 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8274

4. A passing game with potential

Jake Rudock wasn't that bad. He played in 12 games and produced a passer rating of at least 128 in seven. He was terrible against Minnesota and Tennessee, but everybody was terrible in those games. He completed 62 percent of his passes, he had a solid 1.4 percent interception rate, and he averaged the same yards per pass attempt (6.4) as backup C.J. Beathard.

But it has long been assumed by Iowa fans that Beathard's ceiling is higher. And with an offense that needed a boost, it became a source of frustration that Iowa trotted out the high-floor guy.

That's no longer a concern. Rudock transferred to Michigan. And Beathard better not get hurt because it's all freshmen and redshirt freshmen after him. Granted, RSFr. Tyler Wiegers was a four-star and could have plenty of upside, but this is Beathard's offense now.

In theory, he's got some nice weapons. The top two returning wideouts, Tevaun Smith and Matt VandeBerg, were the two best on a per-target basis, Canzeri is solid out of the backfield, and in theory, Jake Duzey and Jacob Hillyer could provide some big efficiency targets. The passing game seems to be in infinitely better shape than the run, even if it turns out that Beathard is more all-or-nothing than Ferentz would prefer (and even if the loss of his flowing locks saps his power).

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 93.8 2.7 3.69 37.1% 69.2% 17.7% 111.6 6.3% 2.8%
Rank 97 98 27 87 45 44 51 95 4
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Career Starts Honors/Notes
Brandon Scherff LT 36 Outland Trophy; Unanimous All-American, 2014 1st All-Big Ten
Austin Blythe C 6'3, 290 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8987 35 2014 2nd All-Big Ten
Jordan Walsh RG 6'4, 290 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9325 23
Andrew Donnal RT
16
Sean Welsh LG 6'3, 288 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8575 10
Tommy Gaul C
7
Eric Simmons C 6'2, 295 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8307 0
Mitch Keppy RG 6'5, 300 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8372 0
Cole Croston LT 6'5, 295 Jr. NR NR 0
Ike Boettger RT 6'6, 300 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8097 0
Boone Myers LT 6'5, 300 So. NR NR 0
Keegan Render RT 6'4, 305 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8282
Lucas LeGrand OL 6'5, 280 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8489
Ross Reynolds LG 6'4, 300 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7906
James Daniels OL 6'4, 290 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8909
Landan Paulsen OL 6'5, 290 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8755
Levi Paulsen OL 6'5, 290 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8745
Jacob Newborg OL 6'3, 280 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8569
Brett Weechter OL 6'5, 275 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8291

5. Bad line stats with a top-five draft pick

Iowa had the Outland Trophy winner at left tackle, a fourth-round draft pick at right tackle, and a second-team all-conference performer at center. Iowa ranked 97th in Adj. Line Yards.

Rarely will you see something that incongruous. This tells you quite a bit about the quality of the running backs -- in terms of unadjusted stats, Iowa was top-50 in stuff rate (avoiding run stops behind the line) and power success rate but was just 87th in opportunity rate (carries of at least five yards), and if you wanted to pin the line's failings on the backs, that's a good place to start.

If Canzeri, Leshun Daniels Jr., and the fumble-prone sophomores are able to get upfield faster, that will help the line out. Of course, it might need the help: two tackles, including all-world first-rounder Brandon Scherff, are gone.

Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.84 61 IsoPPP+ 97.8 72
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 40.2% 54 Succ. Rt. + 109.7 32
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 29.0 93 Off. FP+ 100.0 65
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.5 81 Redzone S&P+ 108.3 38
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 15.8 ACTUAL 16.0 +0.2
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 22 60 51 72
RUSHING 66 45 42 54
PASSING 7 89 67 100
Standard Downs 69 58 78
Passing Downs 55 46 65
Q1 Rk 85 1st Down Rk 52
Q2 Rk 91 2nd Down Rk 68
Q3 Rk 39 3rd Down Rk 75
Q4 Rk 31

6. An Iowa defense

With a coordinator named Parker, Iowa defended the run and attacked the quarterback on passing downs. This is what we've come to expect.

First, it was otherworldly coordinator Norm Parker, then Phil Parker (unrelated) took it from there. The philosophy has remained, but the talent and experience levels produce wildly differing results.

After producing its best defense in four years in 2013, Iowa was forced to replace all three linebackers and half of its secondary, and the reconfigured defense couldn't keep up down the stretch.

Ferentz did what he always does: employ a tiny rotation, keeping the starters on the field. That tends to mean good things when the experience levels are up to par, and it ensures the high floor, but it also tends to ensure a drop-off when the defense is too green. And in 2014, it also meant diminishing returns in November.

With freshmen and sophomores having turned into sophomores and juniors in the back seven, one can expect an improved pass defense, but there might be concerns up front, where three-fifths of the rotation and both starting tackles need to be replaced.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 105.7 2.82 3.52 38.7% 64.4% 19.4% 108.8 4.3% 10.1%
Rank 41 48 82 61 46 64 46 73 22
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Louis Trinca-Pasat DT
13 49.0 7.5% 11.5 6.5 0 3 0 0
Drew Ott DE 6'4, 272 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8266 13 41.5 6.4% 12.0 7.5 1 2 1 0
Nate Meier DE 6'2, 252 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7585 13 37.5 5.7% 6.0 1.5 0 0 0 0
Carl Davis DT
13 25.0 3.8% 9.0 2.0 0 0 0 0
Mike Hardy DE
13 12.0 1.8% 3.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Jaleel Johnson DT 6'4, 310 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9184 13 6.5 1.0% 2.5 1.0 0 0 0 0
Melvin Spears DE 6'2, 268 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8495 4 2.5 0.4% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Nathan Bazata DT 6'2, 284 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8119 9 2.0 0.3% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Darian Cooper DT 6'2, 282 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8983
Faith Ekakitie DT 6'3, 290 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9197
Kyle Terlouw DT 6'4, 288 Jr. NR NR
Brant Gressel DT 6'2, 280 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8523
Matt Nelson DE 6'8, 270 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8619
Parker Hesse DE 6'3, 240 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8256
Terrence Harris DE 6'3, 252 RSFr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7893
Brady Reiff DE 6'4, 235 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8436
Michael Slater DE 6'2, 265 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8345
Anthony Nelson DE 6'6, 220 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8337

7. Wanted: tackles

Louis Trinca-Pasat and Carl Davis combined for 20.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks, strong disruption stats for a defense that needed them. The return of end Drew Ott should ensure a pass-rushing presence, but tackles appeared to be the key to Iowa's decent run defense.

Trinca-Pasat and Davis provided cover for the two freshman linebackers behind them, and now the training wheels are off for Josey Jewell and Bo Bower, not to mention another sophomore, Ben Niemann, who played sparingly.

There is upside among the replacements in the middle. Juniors Jaleel Johnson and Faith Ekakitie are former four-star recruits, and Johnson showed hints of potential in reserve play. Sophomore Nathan Bazata finished the spring on the first string, and whatever the tackles produce in 2015, they'll probably produce even more in 2016.

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Quinton Alston MLB
13 69.5 10.6% 6.0 3.5 0 5 2 0
Josey Jewell MLB 6'2, 230 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7844 11 36.5 5.6% 1.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Bo Bower WLB 6'1, 228 So. 2 stars (5.3) NR 13 28.0 4.3% 5.5 1.0 2 2 0 0
Reggie Spearman WLB
11 25.5 3.9% 2.0 1.0 0 3 0 0
Travis Perry MLB 6'3, 234 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7400 10 13.5 2.1% 1.5 1.0 0 0 0 0
Ben Niemann OLB 6'3, 225 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7985 13 7.0 1.1% 1.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Cole Fisher OLB 6'2, 236 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8467 13 5.0 0.8% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Aaron Mends WLB 6'0, 212 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8216
Jameer Outsey LB 6'3, 235 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8221
Angelo Garbutt LB 6'2, 210 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8404
Jack Hockaday LB 6'1, 215 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8332








Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
John Lowdermilk SS
13 80.5 12.3% 3 0 3 3 2 0
Jordan Lomax FS 5'10, 205 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8504 13 68.0 10.4% 1 0 1 6 1 0
Desmond King CB 5'11, 200 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8330 13 53.0 8.1% 2 0 3 5 0 0
Greg Mabin CB 6'2, 200 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8224 13 44.0 6.7% 2 0 1 5 0 0
Maurice Fleming CB 6'0, 205 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8768 11 9.5 1.5% 0 0 0 1 0 0
Anthony Gair FS 6'2, 210 Jr. NR 0.8465 13 7.0 1.1% 0 0 1 0 0 0
Sean Draper CB 6'0, 190 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8469 12 6.5 1.0% 0 0 1 0 0 0
Miles Taylor SS 6'0, 195 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8377 13 6.0 0.9% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Malik Rucker DB
6 4.0 0.6% 0.5 0 0 0 0 0
Solomon Warfield DB 6'0, 180 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8519
Marcel Joly DB 5'11, 185 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8315
Jalen Embry DB 6'0, 184 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8400
Omar Truitt DB 5'11, 185 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8489
Brandon Snyder SS 6'1, 210 RSFr. NR NR








8. Plenty to like about the secondary

Trinca-Pasat was also a unique pass rushing threat from the tackle position. He and Drew Ott were solid enough at pressuring the quarterback that Parker didn't have to blitz much to create passing downs advantages. And each of the four starters in the defensive backfield -- i.e., all four guys who actually played -- had between one and three tackles for loss and between six and eight passes defensed.

Of course, playing a big load of bad passing offenses made the numbers look better. The pass rush was decent, and efficiency wasn't an issue, but while Iowa only allowed 34 passes of 20-plus yards (27th in the country), their opponent-adjusted big-play prevention ratings (IsoPPP+) were poor.

This wasn't a spectacular pass defense, but it had potential. And with Ott and three-quarters of the secondary returning, one can assume a slightly improved level. Someone like sophomore Miles Taylor or junior Anthony Gair will have to replace the production of leading tackler John Lowdermilk, but that's doable. Trinca-Pasat might be the trickiest player to replace.

The success of this defense could come down to the backbone.

In general, linebackers are the easiest players to replace on the defense. Or at least, losing your linebackers has less of a statistical impact than losing starters on the line or in the secondary. But Iowa's linebackers were as disruptive as almost any in the country in 2013; the three starters, all seniors, combined for 35.5 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, six interceptions, six break-ups, and six forced fumbles.

In 2014, five Iowa linebackers combined for 16 TFLs, 7.5 sacks, two picks, 10 PBUs, and two FFs. Those missing plays made the biggest difference in Iowa's decline. In theory, Iowa could return both starting DTs, all three starting LBs, and one of two safeties in 2016, creating a strong backbone for another good D. But it's hard to get a read on what this still-young spine might produce this fall.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Dillon Kidd 6'2, 215 Sr. 46 38.5 1 19 12 67.4%
Connor Kornbrath 6'6, 242 Sr. 18 37.4 2 6 7 72.2%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Marshall Koehn 6'0, 200 Sr. 68 59.5 43 0 63.2%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Marshall Koehn 6'0, 200 Sr. 38-38 8-11 72.7% 4-5 80.0%
Mick Ellis 5'10, 180 So. 7-7 0-1 0.0% 0-0 N/A
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Jonathan Parker KR 5'8, 185 So. 24 22.1 0
Jordan Canzeri KR 5'9, 192 Sr. 7 19.3 0
Matt VandeBerg PR 6'1, 185 Jr. 12 6.8 0
Riley McCarron PR 5'9, 186 Jr. 8 1.6 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 104
Field Goal Efficiency 75
Punt Return Efficiency 44
Kick Return Efficiency 104
Punt Efficiency 117
Kickoff Efficiency 54
Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency 81

9. Not enough on special teams

Iowa's special teams unit had some strengths: Marshall Koehn has a big leg, and Matt VandeBerg was able to consistently pick up yards on punt returns.

But punt coverage was a nightmare (yards per return allowed: 15.1, 123rd in the country and worst even in the returns-happy Big Ten), and Iowa was just about the only team in the conference not to have a dynamite kick returner. Koehn was a bit scatter-shot inside of 40 yards, but he's fine. The field position game needed a bit more work.

2015 Schedule & Projection Factors

2015 Schedule
Date Opponent 2014 S&P+ Rk
5-Sep Illinois State NR
12-Sep at Iowa State 86
19-Sep Pittsburgh 38
26-Sep North Texas 125
3-Oct at Wisconsin 25
10-Oct Illinois 63
17-Oct at Northwestern 62
31-Oct Maryland 56
7-Nov at Indiana 81
14-Nov Minnesota 42
21-Nov Purdue 74
27-Nov at Nebraska 30
Five-Year F/+ Rk 11.4% (42)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 56 / 50
2014 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* -6 / -6.3
2014 TO Luck/Game +0.1
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 12 (5, 7)
2014 Second-order wins (difference) 7.4 (-0.4)

10. A top-40 team could win nine games

Once again, Iowa's schedule is manageable, with only one projected top-25 team and seven projected 60th or worse. If Iowa doesn't improve one iota, the Hawkeyes will go to another bowl, their 13th in 15 years.

But if you're an Iowa fan, 2009 is getting further away in the rearview mirror, and you'd like to know that Ferentz is building toward something better eventually. There's little proof.

In 2013, we thought the end was nigh, and Ferentz responded by fielding a top-30 team. It's not inconceivable that the same thing could happen -- the passing game clicks, the run game isn't terrible, the run defense is stable, the pass defense improves.

But a) while top-30 could be possible, top-20 or better seems impossible, and b) the smart money isn't on such a rebound. By focusing on the floor more than the ceiling, Ferentz has created one of the more stable programs in the conference, one less capable of collapsing than at least half of the rest of the Big Ten.