Hawkeyes has held opponents to fewer yards per game than any other FBS defense for the past five seasons
Iowa linebackers Jay Higgins (34) and Jack Campbell (31) tackle Northwestern quarterback Brendan Sullivan (10) during Iowa’s victory over Northwestern at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, October 29, 2022. (Nick Rohlman/The Gazette)
IOWA CITY – The defensive success of Iowa football is no secret, nor is it anything new in Iowa City.
Defensive coordinator Phil Parker was a semifinalist for the Broyles Award, which goes to college football’s top assistant coach, for three consecutive seasons.
As in many other seasons that Parker led the unit, Iowa’s defense ranked among the best in the country on the most-recited stats.
Iowa ranked second among 131 FBS teams in yards allowed per game and points allowed per game.
Perhaps the most telling statistic of the 2022 season, however, was how few yards per game Iowa allowed.
Iowa’s defense allowed just 3.99 yards per play, averaging 0.4 yards per play less than second-place Illinois.
The 3.99 yards allowed per game is not only the fewest by an FBS team in 2022, but also by any defense in the past five seasons, according to a Gazette analysis of NCAA data.
The next-best teams over the past five years were Ohio State in 2019 and Mississippi State in 2018. Both allowed 4.13 yards per play.
Clemson, Wisconsin and Georgia (twice) were the only other schools just 0.3 yards from Iowa’s 3.99 mark over the past five seasons.
Looking back over the past 10 seasons, Alabama was the only other team to have had a sub-4.0 season. The Crimson Tide allowed 3.99 yards per play in 2017 and 2016.
Clemson came close at 4.03 yards per game in 2014, as did Michigan State in 2013 at 4.04.
Defensive runs certainly weren’t a new phenomenon for Iowa in 2022, but Iowa’s 3.99 yards per game allowed is a significant improvement from years past.
Iowa’s second-lowest average since 2018 was 4.34 during the COVID-19-hit 2020 season. The 2021 Hawkeyes allowed 4.72 yards per play.
When a team achieves what the Iowa defense achieved in 2022, they’ve historically achieved a high level of postseason success.
Both of the above Alabama teams appeared in the College Football Playoffs, and the 2017 Alabama team won the national title.
When Florida State held opponents to 3.86 yards per game in 2012, the Seminoles won the Orange Bowl.
Iowa didn’t equal that success, finishing 8-5 after a 21-0 win over an undermanned Kentucky team at the Music City Bowl.
While the Iowa defense was successful, the offense ranked 129th out of 131 FBS teams in yards gained per game.
Fourteen offenses averaged less than 4.8 yards per play. At 4.24 yards per game, Iowa was the only one to occur in a bowl game.
Offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz said before the Music City Bowl he believes he “did the best I could do that year with the plays that we had to try to put the team in a position to win.”
Luckily for Ferentz and the Hawkeyes, success on the other side of the ball lowered the bar on what it took to put Iowa in a “winning position.”
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