Iowa State Football: Beyond the Box Score 2007

You don't have to go too far "beyond the box score" to realize that ISU was a gritty...and bad...team last year.  But even so, onward we travel!

EqPts Scores

Iowa State 17.0, Kent State 18.9 (14-23)
Iowa State 21.6, Northern Iowa (FCS Tier 1) 25.1 (13-24)
Iowa State 6.6, Iowa 8.5 (15-13)
Iowa State 28.6, Toledo 24.3 (35-36)
Iowa State 18.6, Nebraska 24.1 (17-35)
Iowa State 9.4, Texas Tech 34.1 (17-42)
Iowa State 6.8, Texas 46.5 (3-56)
Iowa State 6.4, Oklahoma 22.0 (3-17)
Iowa State 24.9, Missouri 29.5 (28-42)
Iowa State 17.5, Kansas State 21.5 (31-20)
Iowa State 21.9, Colorado 23.3 (31-28)
Iowa State 7.8, Kansas 41.8 (7-45)

If you judge a coach by how his team maximizes its performance, I think you'd have to say Gene Chizik did a strong job in squeezing three wins out of this team.  They won three games they should have lost (Iowa, K-State, Colorado), while losing only one they should have won (Toledo).  From an EqPts perspective, they only outscored one team all season.  That's bad.  So while Chizik did a nice job in steering ISU to 3-9...the lack of talent on display had to be pretty alarming for ISU fans.  A lot of coaches struggle in their first year with somebody else's personnel, though, so surely there are some bright spots somewhere, right?

Stat Onslaught

Iowa State Offense (success rate / points per play / S&P)

Rushing: 34.5% / 0.21 / 0.560 (National Avg: 0.762)
Passing: 38.2% / 0.20 / 0.585 (Nat'l Avg: 0.697)
TOTAL: 36.3% / 0.21 / 0.572 (Nat'l Avg: 0.730)

Rushing (close): 32.0% / 0.17 / 0.487 (Nat'l Avg: 0.751)
Passing (close): 39.8% / 0.22 / 0.615 (Nat'l Avg: 0.701)
TOTAL (close): 35.8% / 0.19 / 0.549 (Nat'l Avg: 0.726)

Non-Passing Downs: 42.5% / 0.28 / 0.704 (Nat'l Avg: 0.845)
Passing Downs: 25.5% / 0.09 / 0.342 (Nat'l Avg: 0.483)

Redzone: 41.2% / 0.26 / 0.672 (Nat'l Avg: 0.866)

Q1: 42.3% / 0.18 / 0.601 (Nat'l Avg: 0.709)
Q2: 34.6% / 0.21 / 0.558 (Nat'l Avg: 0.759)
Q3: 32.1% / 0.21 / 0.534 (Nat'l Avg: 0.717)
Q4: 36.3% / 0.23 / 0.593 (Nat'l Avg: 0.734)

1st Down: 36.4% / 0.22 / 0.584 (Nat'l Avg: 0.766)
2nd Down: 30.6% / 0.14 / 0.450 (Nat'l Avg: 0.730)
3rd Down: 41.9% / 0.15 / 0.570 (Nat'l Avg: 0.730)

Pressure (Q4, within two possessions): 25.9% / 0.14 / 0.401

Line Yards: 2.42 per carry (Nat'l Avg: 2.89)
Line Yards (close): 2.48 per carry
Line Yards by Quarter: 2.78 (Q1), 2.57 (Q2), 2.53 (Q3), 1.77 (Q4)

Usually you see that even bad offenses were good at something...well...that doesn't appear to be the case.  As I've said before, Alexander Robinson looked good against Mizzou, and his progress over the course of November had to be a bit encouraging, but as far as team stats go, there was just not much encouraging here at all.

Iowa State Defense

Rushing: 47.6% / 0.37 / 0.850
Passing: 50.0% / 0.42 / 0.915
TOTAL: 48.8% / 0.40 / 0.884

Rushing (close): 46.6% / 0.35 / 0.816
Passing (close): 49.4% / 0.43 / 0.926
TOTAL (close): 48.0% / 0.39 / 0.872

Non-Passing Downs: 55.0% / 0.44 / 0.985
Passing Downs: 32.3% / 0.29 / 0.612

Redzone: 51.5% / 0.51 / 1.029

Q1: 54.0% / 0.36 / 0.904
Q2: 51.1% / 0.50 / 1.015
Q3: 49.5% / 0.35 / 0.841
Q4: 42.1% / 0.35 / 0.776

1st Down: 51.0% / 0.36 / 0.871
2nd Down: 48.3% / 0.46 / 0.942
3rd Down: 43.8% / 0.25 / 0.694

Pressure: 41.5% / 0.17 / 0.587

Line Yards: 3.10 per carry
Line Yards (close): 2.99 per carry
Line Yards by Quarter: 2.48 (Q1), 3.42 (Q2), 3.81 (Q3), 2.57 (Q4)

You can start to see why ISU stole those three games despite being outplayed from an EqPts perspective: this was a bad team for three quarters, but if you didn't pull away by Q4, ISU started to turn pretty stingy.  The "we can win this game" belief seemed to do wonders for ISU at times.

'+' Rankings

I've bolded the categories in which ISU was best...or at least, the categories in which ISU was least bad...

Offensive EqPts+: 58.9 (#113 in the nation)
-- Rushing: 64.7 (#94)
-- Passing: 62.6 (#110)

Offensive S&P+: 65.5 (#117)
-- Rushing: 67.5 (#116)
-- Passing: 70.3 (#112)
-- Total (Close): 60.3 (#118)
-- Rushing (Close): 65.7 (#118)
-- Passing (Close): 78.8 (#96)
-- Non-Passing Downs: 82.4 (#114)
-- Passing Downs: 68.2 (#109)
-- Q1: 95.1 (#74)
-- Q2: 83.2 (#95)
-- Q3: 76.4 (#104)
-- Q4: 71.6 (#118)
-- 1st Down: 77.5 (#119)
-- 2nd Down: 61.7 (#126)
-- 3rd Down: 93.3 (#67)

Offensive Line Yards: 88.3 (#106)
-- Close games: 86.9 (#107)
-- Q1-Q4: 97.3 (#69), 97.6 (#71), 86.9 (#109), 69.6 (#123)

Defensive EqPts+: 82.88 (#108)
-- Rushing: 62.3 (#103)
-- Passing: 62.6 (#110)

Defensive S&P+: 65.6 (#117)
-- Rushing: 61.9 (#120)
-- Passing: 64.8 (#118)
-- Total (Close): 56.5 (#120)
-- Rushing (Close): 78.4 (#102)
-- Passing (Close): 67.6 (#114)
-- Non-Passing Downs: 89.2 (#90)
-- Passing Downs: 97.6 (#63)
-- Q1: 103.4 (#56)
-- Q2: 71.2 (#114)
-- Q3: 83.5 (#96)
-- Q4: 89.0 (#85)
-- 1st Down: 91.2 (#82)
-- 2nd Down: 78.2 (#104)
-- 3rd Down: 82.7 (#94)

Defensive Line Yards: 91.2 (#89)
-- Close games: 98.6 (#54)
-- Q1-Q4: 118.0 (#22), 71.1 (#120), 75.6 (#115), 103.7 (#50)

So overall, line play was a "strength" (relatively speaking) for the Cyclones, as was Q1 play in general.  But the bottom just completely dropped out in Q2...what I've been calling the "talent quarter"...

Win Correlations (WinCorr)

As with my SEC preview over the weekend, I'll skip the list of stat categories and go straight to the bullet points.  These are the stats most directly correlated to wins and losses for ISU in 2007 (i.e. the "game-changing stats"):

  • Defensive Success Rates.
  • Pass Defense, close games.
  • Total Defense, Non-Passing Downs.
  • Offensive Points Per Play.

So with that...

Burning Questions for 2008

Can the defense be more consistent and come up with some stops?

And...

Will the pass defense improve in '08?

Well, the good news is, they improved as the conference season progressed, moving from allowing a 1.049 S&P passing and 0.918 S&P rushing in October to allowing 0.968 passing and 0.776 rushing.  The bad news is, only 52% of its DL play-making and 47% of its LB play-making return.  They weren't very good at defending the run anyway, but hey...they weren't very good at defending the run anyway!  It doesn't matter who they have to replace!

And there's also this silver lining: the secondary remains almost entirely intact, with Chris Singleton, Chris Brown, and James Smith leading the way.  In the Big 12 North, it's probably more important to have a good pass defense than a good rushing defense, so this is encouraging.  Then again, also help to have a pass rush, and...yeah...we'll see.  The pressure is going to be on DE's Rashawn Parker and Kurtis Taylor to produce at least some semblance of pressure on opposing QBs.  If they can do that (and/or blitz effectively), the secondary should be able to somewhat hold its own.

In the end, I see this defense performing at or around the same level as it did in '07, though it's possible that they lean more toward the November level than the October level, which would be good for ISU.  Either way, the offense is going to have to improve significantly for ISU to have a chance at 6-6.

Will the offense have some playmakers?

To answer that, let's first try to figure out when they were at their most explosive last year, and who was responsible for that.  Here are the month-to-month Points Per Play numbers for the ISU offense:

Passing
August/September: 0.32 PPP
October: 0.22 PPP
November: 0.34 PPP

Rushing
August/September: 0.23 PPP
October: 0.20 PPP
November: 0.24 PPP

So both the passing and rushing games were at their best in November...though granted, neither was actually good.  Who was most responsible for that?

In the passing game, it was all about Todd Blythe.  Granted, the sample size isn't huge (8 catches), but he averaged 2.05 points per catch in November.  This doesn't help ISU, though, as Blythe's gone.  Next-highest was Marquis Hamilton at 0.72 points per catch.  Hamilton does return in '08, but...0.72's simply not very good.  On average, WRs need to be averaging at least in the 0.8 range.  So there's no known threat here.  Any chance that a newcomer can bring some fire in '08?  Maybe, but probably not.  The two main newcomers are JUCO transfer Jason Carlson (6'0, 195, 4.4 speed) and the gem of Chizik's recruiting class, 4-star TX WR Sedrick Johnson.  Not every recruiting service was high on Johnson (his PS# isn't too high), and he seems like possibly more of a possession guy (6'4, 200, 4.5 speed), but that's reading a lot into peripherals.  There isn't a ton of competition here, and Carlson and Johnson could seize starting jobs pretty easily with a good August.

Okay, so...what about the running game?  One name stands out: once again, it's Alexander Robinson.  Robinson went from averaging 0.15 PPP in August/September, to 0.46 in October (that includes the Mizzou game), to a still-respectable 0.28 in November.  His season figure of 0.29 PPP was leaps and bounds above other ISU RBs like JJ Bass (0.23) and Jason Scales (0.19).  His overall numbers were far from great, mind you, but he's by far ISU's brightest returning hope.

The running game might also have a bit more hope if Phillip Bates wins the starting QB job.  Austen Arnaud may be the better passer, but Bates is a dual-threat guy who might combine with Robinson to make for a respectable rushing game...'might' being the operative word.

As always...how will the special teams look?

Um...yeah.  They ranked #114 in my special teams rankings in 2007, and at this exact moment they're looking at starting a 150-pound true freshman kicker and RSFr kick/punt returner.  Which is fine...if the kicker's name is "Mason Crosby" and the returner's name is "Jeremy Maclin".  "Grant Mahoney" and "Alex Sandvig" might not have the same success.  But hey, their punter (Mike Brandtner) is decent...

Summary

The following things are quite possible:

  • Iowa State could once again play over their heads and win a couple games they shouldn't, just by being physical, taking advantage of turnovers, and slogging through to victory in the fourth quarter.
  • In their second year of adapting to his philosophy, ISU's defense could improve despite losses to their front seven.
  • Alexander Robinson could have a breakout (i.e. 800-1000 yard) season.
  • One of the WR newcomers (or somebody...anybody...) could become at least something of a deep threat to the tune of 1.00 PPP or more.
  • The secondary could be in the top half of the Big 12.

And...

  • If all those "coulds" come to fruition...Iowa State could win 6 games.

The ceiling's not very high for ISU this year, but a lot of the likely key cogs for the 2008 edition will return in 2009, when (as has been written here many, many, many times before) the North goes completely up for grabs again.  Not saying the balance of power could shift in the direction of Ames by any means, but with an experienced offense and potentially mean defense, they could at least make some noise in '09.  Just not in '08.

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