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Insight Bowl: Beyond the Box Score Preview - Iowa Defense


It seems to be rather commonly accepted that Iowa can win this game despite an offense that faltered down the stretch and lost some key pieces in the bowl break?  Why?  Because they still have the Iowa defense.  But the 'D' had its own issues down the stretch as well.  Let's see how it matches up with Blaine Gabbert and the Missouri offense.

The Iowa Defense

We start with the same "score versus projected score" comparison we looked at with the Iowa offense on Sunday.  The below table shows us both the points Iowa allowed this season and the points they were projected to have allowed based on their S&P+ ratings for each given game.  And yes, twice this season they "allowed" negative points.

Date Opponent Points
Proj. Score
Sept. 4 Eastern Illinois 7 24.7
Sept. 11 Iowa State 7 -6.9
Sept. 18 Arizona 34 24.3
Sept. 25 Ball State 0 -6.9
Oct. 2 Penn State 3 18.6
Oct. 16 Michigan 28 24.9
Oct. 23 Wisconsin 31 25.8
Oct. 30 Michigan State 6 6.4
Nov. 6 Indiana 13 27.5
Nov. 13 Northwestern 21 30.0
Nov. 20 Ohio State 20 24.4
Nov. 27 Minnesota 27 30.4
First Four Games
Middle Four Games
Last Four Games

Both the real and projected points show us the same thing: Iowa's defense trended downward as the season progressed.  They never got lit up by any means, but their last truly impressive performance was on October 30.  It appears they might be vulnerable; below, we'll look at where they might be vulnerable.  But first, for those curious, here are the same points/projected points for Missouri's offense.

Date Opponent Points
Proj. Score
Sept. 4 Illinois 23 28.6
Sept. 11 McNeese State 50 51.6
Sept. 18 San Diego State 27 31.9
Sept. 25 Miami (Ohio) 51 79.8
Oct.9 Colorado 26 20.1
Oct. 16 Texas A&M 30 48.5
Oct. 23 Oklahoma 36 39.4
Oct. 30 Nebraska 17 30.0
Nov. 6 Texas Tech 17 21.9
Nov. 13 Kansas State 38 33.9
Nov. 20 Iowa State 14 20.6
Nov. 27 Kansas 35 30.7
First Four Games
Middle Four Games
Last Four Games


Like Iowa, Missouri's offense trended downward, a product of both iffy execution (Texas Tech, Iowa State) and a more conservative gameplan (Iowa State, Kansas).  Plus, it was just a bit hard to maintain the level established by the perfect execution against Miami-OH.

To the matchups!  Once again, the cells in black and gold signify Mizzou advantages. The cells with red font signify Iowa advantages.  The text that is in bold and italics signifies a significant advantage.

OVERALL Rushing Passing
Category Mizzou Iowa
Overall S&P+ Rk 21 15 7 18 38 13
Overall Success Rate+ Rk 10 25 11 22 11 27
Overall PPP+ Rk 29 5 6 15 60 6
Standard Downs Rk 30 25 23 21 45 20
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)

52.6% Run

Passing Downs Rk 16 4 4 14 35 5
Run-Pass Ratio
(Pass. Downs)

29.5% Run

Adj. Line Yards Rk

35 33

Adj. Sack Rate Rk

21 77
Q1 S&P+ Rk 20 28

Q2 S&P+ Rk 36 10

Q3 S&P+ Rk 21 7

Q4 S&P+ Rk 53 44

Redzone Rk 11 33 19 37 19 38

Whereas Mizzou held most of the advantages against Iowa's offense, this matchup is much more even.  In fact, the surprise here might be that Iowa's defense doesn't dominate most of the board.

Where is Iowa's defense the strongest?  Iowa's defense is a lot like Nebraska's in that they are at least semi-vulnerable on standard downs and very, very stout on passing downs.  Mizzou has done surprisingly well on passing downs -- it was a significant weakness last year and has improved -- but they cannot expect to consistently fall into 3rd-and-8 situations and succeed to any degree.  They will need the running game and or short passing game to be clicking.

Hey, speaking of the short passing game...

Where is Iowa's defense the weakest?  They are not a high-efficiency defense.  It seems they might be vulnerable to the quick passing game that Mizzou successfully utilized at times this season -- Michael Egnew camping out seven yards up field, sideline passes to T.J. Moe and Wes Kemp, etc.  It's a good thing the efficiency routes might be open for the Tigers ... because the long ones almost certainly won't.

Another weakness: the fourth quarter.  Iowa suffered through a strange series of fourth-quarter collapses, and the defense was just as big a culprit as the offense.  Keep this in mind if the Hawkeyes jump out to an early lead, which is certainly a possibility given their strong first-quarter offense and stronger second-quarter defense.  As long as Mizzou can stay within striking distance, they could have a chance at the end.

Defensive Line

DT Karl Klug, Sr. (38.5 tackles, 11.0 TFL/sacks, 1 FF, 3 PBU)
DT Mike Daniels, Jr. (38.5 tackles, 11.0 TFL/sacks)
DE Adrian Clayborn, Sr. (34.5 tackles, 7.0 TFL/sacks, 1 FF, 1 PBU)
DE Christian Ballard, Sr. (30.0 tackles, 4.0 TFL/sacks, 1 FF, 2 PBU)
DE Broderick Binns, Jr. (24.0 tackles, 1.0 TFL/sacks, 1 INT, 1 FF, 2 PBU)

Iowa's got one of the biggest defensive lines Mizzou has faced in a while.  Their three primary ends average 6'4, 281 ... bigger, actually, than their two primary tackles (6'3, 273).  Their tackles are quicker than those to which Mizzou is accustomed, and their ends are bigger.  The tackles have actually made more plays on the season than the ends, though from what I read, the positions themselves are a bit fungible.  Clayborn and, especially, Ballard have lined up on the inside at times this year.

Though their line stats (33rd in Adj. Line Yards, 77th in Adj. Sack Rate) are not nearly as impressive as you would think, this is a scary line regardless.  They are big, flexible and diverse.

And you're really lucky I didn't write the "What If ... Adrian Clayborn Had Signed with Mizzou?" post I was tossing around.  Think Mizzou could have used an All-American end opposite Aldon Smith last year?


WLB Jeremiha Hunter, Sr. (55.0 tackles, 0.5 TFL/sacks, 1 INT, 2 FR, 4 PBU)
MLB James Morris, Fr. (40.5 tackles, 1.5 TFL/sacks, 1 PBU)
OLB Troy Johnson, Sr. (36.5 tackles, 1.0 TFL/sacks, 1 INT, 3 PBU)
MLB Jeff Tarpinian, Sr. (31.0 tackles, 2.5 TFL/sacks, 1 FF)

Injuries appear to have wrecked Iowa's linebacking corps a decent amount.  Jeff Tarpinian has been hurt quite a bit and appears to be questionable-at-best for tomorrow.  That leaves a unit that is competent but not too full of playmakers.  (If this unit has struggled, that would possibly go a decent distance toward explaining why Iowa's line stats are not impressive.)  And I'll never complain about having to face a defense with a true freshman linebacker.

One thing I have read in recent weeks is that Kirk Ferentz tries to stay in his base 4-3 package as much as humanly possible, no matter what formation the opponent is running.  Iowa fans, feel free to correct me if this is wrong.  Favoring a third linebacker to a fifth defensive back could mean good things for Moe, Egnew and the other slot receivers.  Clearly this doesn't backfire on Iowa often -- again, they had one of the best passing downs defenses in the country despite the fact that spread-out formations are most likely on passing downs -- but it still represents an opportunity.


CB Micah Hyde, So. (65.0 tackles, 3 INT, 1 FF, 7 PBU)
SS Tyler Sash, Jr. (54.0 tackles, 2.5 TFL/sacks, 2 INT, 2 PBU)
CB Shaun Prater, Jr. (50.0 tackles, 0.5 TFL/sacks, 4 INT, 1 FR, 5 PBU)
FS Brett Greenwood, Sr. (35.0 tackles, 1.0 TFL/sacks, 4 INT, 1 FR, 3 PBU)

The numbers are going out of their way to suggest that the Iowa defensive line is overrated, and the Iowa secondary is underrated.  The top four defensive backs combined for 13 interceptions and 17 passes broken up.  It feels like Tyler Sash and Brett Greenwood have both been at Iowa since Bob Sanders was there, but apparently that is not the case.  This is a stout, if shallow unit.  While we all worry about Adrian Clayborn and the line, the secondary could be sitting back ready to pounce on a couple of Gabbert passes.

Special Teams

Category Iowa
FG Kicking 39th
Opp. Punt Returns
Touchback %
Opp. Kick Returns
Punt Returns 49th
Kick Returns 14th

Iowa's special teams unit is solid ... and that's really almost all I can think to say.  Mizzou holds the advantage in place-kicking, and Iowa has better return men.  Kickoffs and punts seem relatively even, though we'll see if Iowa can keep up with Matt Grabner and his uncanny directional kicking ability.  (Punter smack!)


Quite simply, this game will be decided on standard downs and leverage.  You could say that for most games, obviously, but with Iowa's stellar passing downs defense and semi-dreadful passing downs offense, whoever can keep their leverage rates up and stay in second-and-5, third-and-3 situations will likely win the game.

The best-case scenario for Iowa: Blaine Gabbert loses confidence.  Either the short passes are well-covered, or the long passes are off-target, or both, and we see the same type of downward spiral that cost Mizzou the Texas Tech game and, Moe Miracle aside, almost did the same against San Diego State.  Iowa's defense is good, but it is possible to gameplan for them.  If Mizzou is as sharp as they were in the Oklahoma and Texas A&M games, they will move the ball perfectly fine.  If not, then this really does become one of those "down 20-13 in the fourth quarter" games ... and even though Iowa hasn't had great luck in those games, I think Mizzou wants to avoid that scenario at all costs.

The worst-case scenario for Iowa: Michael Egnew starts catching seven-yard pass after seven-yard pass, the running game works just well enough to keep Iowa off balance, and Mizzou unloads, say, one successful drive per quarter.  Iowa's offense, facing pressure to score into the 20s, begins to take chances they are not capable of taking, and the score is Mizzou 28, Iowa 10 heading into the fourth quarter.

The bottom line with this game is that it is impossible to predict.  Iowa's two best games of the season were better than anything Mizzou produced, and their three worst games were much, much worse than what Mizzou did even against Texas Tech. That simple fact opens the door for any number of outcomes.  If this game was played ten times, the fact that Mizzou has been much more consistent points to Mizzou winning 6-7 times.  But on a one-game basis?