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Will Breaks Be Against Iowa?

August 24, 2010

Written by Jon Miller

Hawkeye Nation

We all know that Iowa won the close ones last season, where the year before they were 0-4 in close ones before breaking through against Penn State at home.

Iowa is 20-6 over the past two seasons. Those numbers are in cement, part of the record books. That’s 26 games, and Iowa has played in 12 games decided by a touchdown or less…that’s 46%, or nearly half of their games. They are 6-6 in those contests, which also means that every loss on Iowa’s ledger in that time span was decided by a touchdown or less…one possession…one play, in some instances.

That’s pretty remarkable, when you think about it, especially considering the 20 wins. Some might even say ‘what could have been’.

The four losses in the 2008 season came by a combined 12 points. Since Iowa lost at Illinois in 2008 on a last minute field goal, they are 6-2 in games decided by a touchdown or less.

The pessimist may wonder when that worm is going to turn? Does Iowa have close game magic left in the tin somewhere for this season?

We know that Rick Stanzi is 18-4 as Iowa’s starting quarterback. Did you realize that Iowa has played in 10 games decided by a touchdown or less in those 22 starts? That’s 46%…that’s nearly half of the games he has started.

The pessimist again wonders how long that magic can hold up…the optimist sees so much room for improvement in Stanzi’s game, and if Stanzi just eliminates the costly turnovers, Iowa stands a pretty good chance of winning ten games. All are easy to consider.

In the early Ferentz era run that produced 31 wins over three seasons (2002-2004) Iowa was 10-1 in game decided by a touchdown or less. In the three seasons that followed, Iowa was 19-18 overall, 4-12 in games decided by three points or less. Two thirds of their losses were of the close call variety, so even when they were ‘rebuilding’, they were on the cusp of having better records than they finished with. The pessimist will also say that when they were winning 31 games over three years, they won more than their fair share.

Over that six year span, Iowa was 14-13 in games decided by three points or less…which is about what you would expect…a coin flip in one possession games in a league like the Big Ten…so it averaged out.

You can even extend the ‘losing’ side of the close games if you took the four losses of the 2008 season and added them to the 2005-2007 total…that mean that since following Tate to Holloway in the Cap One Bowl in January of 2005 that Iowa went 4-16 in games decided by a touchdown or less, through the Illinois loss of 2008.

That is certainly against the norm and a statistical anomaly to the negative.

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Again, since that losing field goal at Illinois, Iowa is 6-2 in games decided by a touchdown or less.

When does the ball bounce the other way? That is impossible to predict. The only thing you can look back on and see is that the breaks have a way of evening out…they also have a way of evening out when team chemistry is questionable, and you can only tell about that after a season is finished.

Threads began to unravel a bit in 2005…things hit bottom, according to Kirk Ferentz, in the Minnesota game in 2006. 2007 was a rebuilding year with an offensive line that allowed more sacks than all but two or three teams in the nation. Iowa had to learn to win the close ones again in 2008. In 2009, they believed they were going to win every game.

I think that mindset will continue over into this season. So many players that experienced last year’s magical run are back from that team, including the quarterback whose teammates just believe will find a will to win those games for Iowa. Recent odds suggest Iowa is not done winning the close ones, but there is no road map for this.

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If you extend the lens back to 2001, a season where Iowa was 7-5 and four of those five games were decided by a touchdown or less, no loss was more than nine points and all five losses averaged out to a 5.4 margin, the ‘You win some, you lose some’ mantra for games decided by a possession or less is magnified.

Iowa has played in 41 games decided by a touchdown or less since the start of the 2001 season. Their record is 22-19, or a winning percentage of 53.7%…darn near a 50/50 proposition.

Want to go back even further? How about the beginning of the Kirk Ferentz era. the 1999 season to present?

Iowa has played in exactly 50 games decided by one touchdown or less…one possession…one bad (or good) bounce…one blown (or gift) call by an official…

They are 24 up and 26 down. Nearly dead even, dead 50-50.

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I guess Kirk Ferentz is right when he says your record pretty much tells you who you are…meaning that in the end, you get some bounces and some go against you. In his tenure, if games decided by a touchdown or less are a 50/50 proposition, he’s dead on.

As it relates to this year, I believe Iowa’s defense and punting game will allow more bounces to go their way than against them. I believe that Rick Stanzi will not throw four pick sixes this year. While Iowa won all four of those games a year ago, the Michigan and Arkansas State games were decided by less than a touchdown because of those plays.

Even though I started out trying to take a pessimist’s look at this coming season, Iowa is still very strong where you need to be strong to win the close ones…and I still believe they stand a better chance of winning 10 or more games than not.

Pessimist, be damned.

PS: If you are looking for a program to come back to the statistical norm of winning/losing in the close ones, take a look at Wisconsin. Since 1999, They are 38-23 in games decided by a touchdown or less, according to my review. They have played 141 games in that time frame, so 43% of their games are of the nail-biting variety.

Last year, Wisconsin was 10-3…six of their ten wins came by a touchdown or less (including eight-point games, with the two-point conversion)…they were 6-1 in such contests, 12-4 in those games over the past two years. Perhaps their offensive style that yields more time of possession can be attributed to their winning more of these games than they lose, providing an explanation for their statistical anomaly…

Or perhaps their day is coming.

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