This is the first installment of The Stanford Daily’s seven-part preview series on the Iowa Hawkeyes, who will face Stanford in the 102nd Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California on Jan. 1, 2016. This piece will look at Iowa’s season as a whole, while future pieces will focus on Iowa’s offensive and defensive units, special teams and even coaching staff.
Subsequent parts can be read at the following links:
How did Iowa get here?
Before this season, Iowa seemed as if it was stuck in a groove performance-wise – good enough to avoid chewing up head coach Kirk Ferentz’s massive buyout clause, but not good enough for supporters of the program to feel truly satisfied with the team’s performance.
The Hawkeyes had limped their way through a painfully weak schedule to a 7-6 record in 2014, and with the team’s one standout player, offensive tackle Brandon Scherff, headed to the NFL, it was hard to picture that 2015 would be all that much better.
Then, Iowa won a game. And another. And another. And 12 weeks later, the team had completed the regular season with a perfect 12-0 record and captured its first Big Ten West title.
The Hawkeyes were narrowly edged in the Big Ten Championship game by playoff-bound Michigan State, but not before they had impressed enough Selection Committee members to get the nod over Ohio State in the final regular-season rankings and cement the team’s first trip to the Rose Bowl since 1990.
|Big Ten West Final Standings
|No. 5 Iowa
|No. 13 Northwestern
The road to Pasadena
Iowa was a popular team to deride during much of the regular season for beating mediocre teams by exceedingly narrow margins. It took a 57-yard field goal to put the Hawkeyes past Pittsburgh, a fumble at the 1-yard line for them to top Wisconsin and a number of other small miracles for them to best middleweights Indiana, Minnesota and Nebraska. Still, week in and week out, the Hawkeyes managed to find a way to win, ultimately seeming to build a strong sense of unity and confidence through their unglamorous yet effective play.
|Iowa Hawkeyes 2015 Schedule
|No. 13 Northwestern
|No. 3 Michigan State (B1G Championship)
Of course, all good things must eventually come to an end, and the Spartans proved just too much for the Hawkeyes to handle (more on that later). Nevertheless, Iowa’s perfect effort in a Big Ten West division that seems to be on the upswing after a terrible 2014 shouldn’t be overlooked, and the team will have the school, the fans and truly the entire state of Iowa at its back as it cruises into Pasadena this New Years Day.
Though the Hawkeyes’ 40-10 defeat of Northwestern was probably their best win on paper, the team’s 10-6 fistfight win over then-No. 19 Wisconsin was perhaps the most emblematic and momentum-building victory of the season.
The Hawkeyes built a 10-3 halftime lead after a Desmond King interception set them up in good field position and then, with quarterback C.J. Beathard having an off day, seemed content to put the brakes on in the second half. What followed was a slow, bruising half of football that saw more turnovers than points, most notably a fumble by Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave at Iowa’s 1-yard line and a second interception by King at the Iowa 11. The Badgers had one final chance to win the game on a fourth-and-2 at the Iowa 16 with 40 seconds remaining, but the Hawkeyes’ defense came up with one final stop as Iowa recorded its first top-25 victory and became a legitimate contender in its division in the eyes of the nation.
Iowa had just one loss, and calling it its “worst” seems a bit pessimistic. It took a nine-minute, 22-play drive for the Spartans to sink the Hawkeyes in Indianapolis on Dec. 5 in perhaps the best example all season of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object. Still, losing is losing, and a drop that keeps a team from competing for the national championship surely must hurt more than most. If ticket sales are any indication, however, it is pride and not gloom coming out of Iowa City this year as the team will attempt to grab one heck of a consolation prize by knocking off the Pac-12 champion and earning the first 13-win season in school history.
Iowa’s stats aren’t all that glamorous, with the team landing in the “good but not great” range in the vast majority of metrics. If there’s any caveat to these numbers is that they probably reflect a baseline more than a peak, as the Hawkeyes rarely padded their stats by running huge margins over their opponents.
14th out of 128 in scoring defense (18.5 points/game)
49th out of 128 in scoring offense (32.1 points/game)
20th out of 128 in total defense (334 yards/game)
69th out of 128 in total offense (394 yards/game)
The particularly telling figure about Iowa’s year is the amount of time the team trailed in the fourth quarter all season: 39 seconds, all against Michigan State. It’s hard to accrue too many losses while controlling games like that.
While the Hawkeyes may not have an overwhelming number of Herculean strengths, the team also doesn’t possess any glaring weaknesses. Iowa has a committee of solid receivers, reliable defensive players at virtually every position, a field goal kicker who is reasonably comfortable at any distance and an efficient leader at quarterback in C.J. Beathard. The only serious problem looming for the Hawkeyes will be the injury status for running back Jordan Canzeri, as his backups have appeared capable but not always reliable and might be tested by a strong Stanford front seven.
How does Stanford match up?
Stanford coach David Shaw and Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz seem to largely view the game of football in the same way. Both teams attempt to utilize their fullbacks and offensive lines, maintain possession and, above all, minimize mistakes. It seems as if the outcome on Jan. 1 may very well depend on which team manages to execute this gameplan better come gameday, and it very well may become a back-and-forth battle.
The biggest test for Stanford will be if it can find Christian McCaffrey some running room amidst a potentially stifling Iowa defense. The Hawkeyes haven’t faced a back of McCaffrey’s caliber this season, but it’s hard to find too much wrong with the 114 yards/game they have allowed against those they have matched up against. On the other side of the ball, the Cardinal will need to find a way to bring pressure to Beathard, as he can be a remarkably accurate passer when given time to complete his motions.
It might seem like Stanford could get a bit of a home-field advantage by playing in California, but don’t count on it being a difference-maker. Hawkeye nation has already propelled Rose Bowl ticket prices to record highs, and with Iowa set to break a 25-year Rose Bowl drought, it seems feasible that Pasadena might lean black and yellow over Cardinal red. Stanford still gets the better end of the miles-traveled and time zone bargain, which may count for something.
What is a Hawkeye?
It turns out this one is actually a little bit contentious. Almost everyone agrees that the name of Iowa’s football team is taken from the state’s nickname, the “Hawkeye State.” How that name came about is a bit more of a mystery. The popular theory is that the name came from a character in the 1826 book “The Last of the Mohicans,” and was subsequently made popular after a newspaper in the town of Burlington adopted it as its own. Of course, avian hawks didn’t miss out on the party completely, as the team adopted Herky the Hawk as its mascot in the 1950s.
Contact Andrew Mather at amather ‘at’ stanford.edu.