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Four Facts/Questions About Iowa

Numbers never lie, so what have we learned about the Hawkeyes this season?

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NCAA Football: Nebraska at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Last year, before the season kicked off, we ran a feature where we found four facts in the Phil Steele preview of each team on Wisconsin’s schedule. We are going to do something similar this year, but we are also including Brett Ciancia’s Pick Six Previews in the mix. He and Steele write two of the best, if not the best, preseason college football previews and there is an absurd amount of info on each team. You buy both of those and you are set for the season.

Even though we are a few games into the season, due to the strangeness of this year there are still valuable insights to be gleaned from the preseason magazines. Let’s get down to it!

Fact No. 1: Iowa’s offensive line is really good

The Hawkeyes and Badgers are so alike in certain aspects it’s almost crazy that they aren’t best friends. Example one: just about every year each team has a stellar offensive line regardless of who left from last year’s team. First-team All-America OT Tristan Wirfs was drafted in the first round by Tampa Bay but somehow the Hawks still have one of the top o-lines in the country.

LT Alaric Jackson and C Tyler Linderbaum are two of the best in the business at their respective positions and Linderbaum has “recorded a 90.3 PFF grade this season — the highest among FBS centers — with just one pressure allowed on 215 pass-blocking snaps,” according to Pro Football Focus, who ranked the Hawkeyes as the No. 10 offensive line in the nation so far this year.

NCAA Football: Minnesota at Iowa
Tyler Linderbaum, last season.
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Iowa also features RT Jack Plumb out of Bay Port High School in Green Bay, who also produced Wisconsin LT Cole Van Lanen. You wanna know what the extra annoying part about Iowa’s o-line is this year? Three of them, including Plumb and Linderbaum, are only sophomores.

Question No. 2: is Spencer Petras any good at all?

The Hawkeyes finally have a new quarterback after what seemed like a decade of Nate Stanley under center. The new signal caller is sophomore Spencer Petras from San Rafael, Calif., a player who was supposed to make Iowa fans forget all about Stanley but...it hasn’t really worked out that way.

First, let’s look at the stats:

  • 126-of-220 passing (57.3%)
  • 1,358 yards (6.17 ypa), long of 40 yards
  • Nine touchdowns (seven passing, two rushing)
  • Five interceptions

His QB Rating of 115.1 puts him at No. 13 in the Big Ten, ahead of only Northwestern’s Peyton Ramsey, and his YPA is No. 12 in the conference ahead of Ramsey and Noah Vedral of Rutgers. For reference, Graham Mertz’s QB Rating is 136.6 (No. 4 in the B1G) and his YPA is 6.8 (No. 9). So, it’s safe to say that Petras has been underwhelming in his first year starting for Iowa.

So how has Iowa won five games in a row with a quarterback that is in the bottom tier of the conference? For one, three of Petras’ five picks came in one game (a one-point loss to Northwestern) so for the most part, he hasn’t turned the ball over. For two, based on my cursory overview of Iowa’s box scores, Petras has gotten better as the season has gone on, culminating in the final three quarters of the game against Illinois last week where he looked really good.

Now, which Petras shows us this Saturday? YOU’LL JUST HAVE TO TUNE IN AND FIND OUT!

Fact No. 3: Iowa’s defensive line causes havoc

The true definition of “havoc rate” comes from ESPN’s (formerly SB Nation) Bill C. and states: “The percentage of plays in which a defense either recorded a tackle for loss, forced a fumble, or defensed a pass (intercepted or broken up)” is what equals a team’s havoc rate.

While I am not going to calculate out, the Hawkeyes defensive line is second in the conference in sacks (20, 2.9 per game) and tackles for loss (46, 6.6 per game) and the secondary is No. 3 in the conference in picks (10) behind...Indiana and Northwestern, the two teams who have beaten the Badgers. They’ve also forced 11 fumbles (recovered six) which is above average as well.

NCAA Football: Nebraska at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Daviyon Nixon is the conference leader in tackles for loss (13) and sacks (5.5) this year and he will cause a lot of problems for the interior of Wisconsin’s offensive line which will, most likely, be starting a true freshman at center.

Question No. 4: can Iowa run against the Badgers?

Wisconsin has the No. 1 rush defense in the country and Iowa’s rush offense, while better than their pass offense, is not exactly setting the country on fire. Tyler Goodson (No. 15 below) and Mekhi Sargent are the two leading rushers for the Hawkeyes, with Goodson averaging five yards per carry on 132 attempts while Sargent averages six yards per carry on 63 totes.

NCAA Football: Iowa at Penn State Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The Badgers will be selling out to stop the run, presumably, because of the inconsistent Iowa passing game that we discussed above in question No. 2. However, Iowa’s offensive line is good and will be able to make some holes for Sargent and Goodson to run through. Will UW bringing extra defenders overwhelm Iowa or will Petras be able to keep the Badgers honest with a couple of early strikes down the field?