IOWA CITY, Ia. – What’s happening with Iowa football these days is hiding behind numbers that quarterback James Vandenberg just as well could use as a snap count Saturday at Michigan.
Ready. . .set. . .
. . .98. . . .94. . .106. . .102
. . .hut.
The ensuing play could range from an incomplete pass to a fourth-down completion well short of the first-down sticks.
That’s what’s happening to the formerly solid Hawkeyes football program, which suddenly needs to upset two ranked teams just to reach bowl-certifying six wins.
The challenge includes the 23rd-ranked Wolverines at 11 a.m. at Michigan Stadium, then No. 16 Nebraska at Kinnick on Nov. 23 – a gauntlent of a mission, considering Iowa hasn’t won in more than a month.
Good Iowa teams have had trouble beating ranked opponents, let alone this one doing it in each of the next two games.
“They’re a veteran football team, strong in a lot of areas, and we have to travel to Ann Arbor,” coach Kirk Ferentz said of his team’s first mission.
Iowa enters a game vital to Michigan’s Big Ten Conference Legends Division title quest with a record of 4-6 overall, 2-4 in the conference and with an offense among the worst in the nation. It’s in the numbers.
98th nationally in Rushing
Iowa’s 124.0-yard rushing average ranks ahead of only Illinois in the conference, and at this pace, it will be the fifth-worst average since Ferentz took over the program before the 1999 season.
With fullback-turned-tailback Mark Weisman healthy, the Hawkeyes averaged just more than 154 rushing yards per game. Since Weisman sprained an ankle against Michigan State, the average plummeted to 78.7 – during losses against Penn State, Northwestern, Indiana and Purdue.
Not only has Weisman been less than 100-percent healthy during Iowa’s longest conference losing streak since dropping five straight in 2006, replacements such as Damon Bullock and Greg Garmon have rushed behind a patchwork offensive line.
Left tackle Brandon Scherff and right guard Andrew Donnal suffered season-ending injuries against Penn State, and since then, three different offensive line configurations have started the past three games.
“Brandon is a good football player, so any time you lose a good football player, it impacts you, but good teams have to find a way to overcome that,” Ferentz said. “You guys want to connect the dots, we haven’t been good enough to overcome some of the injuries or obstacles, and that’s the way it goes.”
94th nationally in Passing
Even with a healthy team, this facet has seen better seasons.
Iowa’s average behind James Vandenberg is 197.6 yards per game, which would be the third-worst average under Ferentz.
New offensive coordinator Greg Davis mentioned a need for speed in August, and he’s right: The Hawkeyes’ longest passing play was a 51-yarder to Kevonte Martin-Manley against Northern Iowa.
Last season’s longest passing play covered 88 yards to Marvin McNutt. This season’s average completion is 10.2 yards. The worst under Ferentz for a season is 11.2 yards in 2000.
Two more: 102 and 106
Iowa’s 321.6-yard average with two regular-season games left is 106th nationally, and that’s why the Hawkeyes’ scoring average of 20.8 points a game ranks 102nd.
“For a lot of guys, this is their first experience dealing with something like this, and it isn’t easy,” Vandenberg said. “Most of us come from high school programs that are very successful. That becomes the expectation, and it’s what we all want.”
THE HAWKEYES — BY THE NUMBERS
Iowa average — 124.0
Big Ten average — 180.8
Big Ten rank — 11
National rank — 98
Iowa average — 197.6
Big Ten average — 208.9
Big Ten rank — 6
National rank — 94
Iowa average — 321.6
Big Ten average — 383.2
Big Ten rank — 11
National rank — 106
Iowa average — 20.8
Big Ten average — 27.3
Big Ten rank — 10
National rank — 102
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football