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The Not-Definitive-At-All Iowa Preview

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Because you, the all-knowing Tennessee fan, need to act like you know our opponent.

Arms in picture may be larger than they appear in real life.
Arms in picture may be larger than they appear in real life.
Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

After the regular season, we more or less know Tennessee. After the regular season, we more or less recognize the Big Ten as that team which gets the noon slots the ACC doesn't get on the major ESPN networks while we wait for Vanderbilt to show up at 12:21 on the SEC Network. (This is where the SEC SUPERIORITY jokes normally go, but I just watched Ole Miss get utterly housed by TCU so let's hold off on that for the time being.)

Meanwhile, this is posting at 8 AM on New Year's, so I'm sure you're not reading this through one bloodshot eye. Happy New Year! Grab some coffee and read this primer so you can act like you studied up on Iowa, too.

QUARTERBACKS

Jake Rudock (backup: CJ Beathard). Both QBs had similar YPA (7.1, 7.2), and Rudick offers a higher completion percentage, so there's a boom-bust/consistency dynamic here. As a result, Beatherd was slightly more explosive, and the comparison gets worse once you factor in Rudock's superb games against Northwestern (12.6 YPA), Illinois (10.0 YPA), and Wisconsin (10.4 YPA), all in the back half of the season. Fortunately, Tennessee's hopefully-rested secondary is a wee bit better than Northwestern and Illinois's secondaries, or at least we can hope for that.

That in turn means Rudock is the boring, consistent, proto-NFL boring offense type, which might be a theme with this team. Rudock seems to be of the 7.5-and-up YPA or 6.2-and-under YPA, which basically means he's had five games that could be classified as good and the rest were Matt Simms impersonations.

RUNNING BACKS

Mark Weisman (3.89 YPC, but 14 TD) is to be the primary RB. He's mediocre but big and NFL-y, as is primary backup Jordan Canzari (4.16 YPC). The most explosive guy seems to be freshman RB Akrun Wadley (6.17 YPC), but he only got carries in a few games-15 against Nothwestern for 106 yards, 9 against Minnesota, and 5 against Illinois. Damon Bullock has more receptions (32) to runs (27), which is a sign your screen and swing pass game might be a little too predictable. None of the RB corps does much in the passing game, which hey, might be something you can coach for, hypothetically speaking.

WIDE RECEIVERS

Tevaun Smith (13.6 YPC, 3.4 rec/game), Kevonte Martin-Marley (10.1 YPC, 4.1 rec/game), and TE Jake Duzey (10.9 YPC, 3.0 rec/game) are the main targets, although Iowa definitely distributes the ball. Some of that is because there isn't anybody explosive by the stats, but I'm also perfectly happy to blame Greg Davis, because of course he preaches ball distribution. (Bullock, by the way: 3.2 rec/game, because nobody expects the screen pass.) This appears to be by design and not "it's all we have because our offensive line can't hold blocks", because the offensive line is pretty good. They're anchored by Outland Trophy winner Brandon Scherff

THE OFFENSIVE TAKEAWAYS

I have no idea if anyone actually expects the Iowa offense to be explosive, but this is the kind of lackluster stats and production you can point to and say "they have plenty of weapons!" and I can say "they're running a NFL-ized version of the offense that only kept Greg Davis employed at Texas because Vince Young just ignored him". They're more efficient than you'd think because they take the swing pass and short routes to their logical past-conclusion, putting them at a third down conversion rate of 45% (and a fourth down conversion rate of 64%).

A plus offensive line and a short, efficient passing game is more or less designed to paper-cut opponents to death. It's not pretty, but it works.

Related: they only commit about 30 penalty yards/game (against their opponents' 60 yards/game), because people still think penalty yardage correlates to winning even though there's basically zero evidence of this.

DEFENSE

The essentials: 4.3 YPC allowed, 6.4 YPA, 52% completion percentage. Again, Iowa's conservative to the core; keep stuff in front of you, pressure when needed (only 67 TFL and 25 sacks, sure to increase to near 30 after this game), but don't get stupid. While 6.4 YPA looks impressive, only two defenses-Rutgers and Illinois, who somehow both made a bowl-allowed over 7.0 YPA. At some point, it's on the QB, or more precisely the other QBs in the Big Ten. (Related: three teams couldn't crack 6.0 YPA even with patsies on their schedule, including Transitive SEC East Champion Indiana. Five teams threw more picks than TDs.)

John Lowdermilk (95 tackles, 3 PBU, 3 INT), Jordan Lomax (84 tackles, 6 PBU, 1 INT), Drew Ott (12 TFL, 7.5 sacks, 7 hurries, 2 PBU, 1(!) INT), and Louis Trinca-Pruitt (11.5 TFL, 6.5 sacks, 3 hurries, 2 PBU) are the main guys worth knowing.

SPECIAL TEAMS AND OTHER

weirdly, nothing to call home about. About average in punting yardage, they hit 70% of their field goals. Net negative turnover margin on the year, which seems weird but it happens.

THE REMAINING ESSENTIALS

Again, it's Iowa. Nothing about this team has been particularly remarkable for the better part of a decade, although feel free to take a drink if Kinnick Stadium's pink-painted visitors' locker room is mentioned during the broadcast. That was all the rage back in 2004, which was the last time I intentionally watched an Iowa game. Their game is all about limiting their own mistakes and capitalizing when their opponent messes up, which can be successful against young or otherwise mistake-prone teams but is NFLitis to its core.

It's a scheme built around winning at the margins only and doing literally just enough to win. It'd drive me nuts to follow this team full-time, but teams designed to just barely win can also point to a bunch of close games that break either way. The Hawkeyes had six games like that this year, going 2-4 in those games, but conveniently allowing for a string of what-ifs talking still-optimistic fans into thinking this team was easily an 8-4 or better outfit. It's a brilliant strategy for staying employed (although not as good as Kirk Ferentz' colossal buyout, which is why any stagnation talk is largely useless for the next half-decade).

So yeah, I'll go with a 20-17 Tennessee win, but don't be discouraged if this game looks ugly. That's what Iowa does.