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Cy-Hawk Week: Prediction Time!

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Here we are about 24 hours from kickoff, which to me means is the perfect time to predict the outcome of the Iowa-Iowa State game.

Unlike the other opponents, I'm not going to break down both sides in depth. Chances are you watched both the ISU and Iowa game, or at least have already heard or read the breakdowns of both sides. No reason to regurgitate what has been already said.

As I browse around on the Internet, I see all of the same questions being asked and answered: "Is Iowa State going to be able to stop the run?",  "How will ISU attack the Iowa defense?", "How will Stanzi play?", "Will Moeaki have another big game?", etc.

What I do not hear anyone talk about is the most important phase of the game: Special Teams.

Honestly, that's the key to this game. All of the other key stats do not matter as much (yards, first downs, turnovers, time of possession, etc)

Don't believe me? Let's look at the past few years:

2006 (Iowa 27, ISU 17)
  • Total Offense: Iowa (410 vs. 323)
  • Rushing Yards: ISU (171 vs. 136)
  • Passing Yards: Iowa (274 vs. 152)
  • First Downs: Iowa (22 vs. 18)
  • Turnover Margin: ISU + 1
  • Penalties: Tied, although Iowa had more penalty yards (5-57 vs. 5-35)
  • Time of Possession:ISU (31:37 vs. 28:23)
  • 3rd Down Conversions: Tied (6 of 13 each)
  • Red Zone %: Tied at 100%
  • Sacks: Iowa (2 vs. 1)

For the most part, you see that Iowa has a better offense and they won, and they had the advantage of some key stats, but there were a couple of other key statistics:

  • FGs: ISU was 1/2 while Iowa was 2/2... In a 10 point game that obviously matters
  • Punt Returns: Iowa averaged 20.3 yards/punt return. There were two times that Brodell took punts to the 50 yard line. That's huge for field position and set up a short field which Iowa took advantage of and scored, you guess it, 10 points! Obviously you can't tell what would've happened if things were different, but you can't just give the short field to the other team either.

Let's continue on and look at the 2007 game, with the same key statistics:

2007 (ISU 15, Iowa 13)

  • Total Offense: ISU (300 vs. 233)
  • Rushing Yards: ISU (143 vs. 115)
  • Passing Yards: ISU (157 vs. 118)
  • First Downs: ISU (17 vs. 16)
  • Turnover Margin: Iowa +1
  • Penalties: Iowa (2-20 vs. 3-30)
  • Time of Possession: ISU (31:00 vs. 29:00)
  • 3rd Down Conversions: ISU (7 of 18 vs. 3 of 13)
  • Red Zone %: ISU (100% vs. 66%)
  • Sacks: ISU (4 vs. 0)

You look at all of those stats and you may think it's pretty obvious that ISU won the game, but even with all of the battles ISU won, they still had to drive down the field and set up for a last second field goal.

If you take a look at the special teams this time, punt returns were even (2 for 22 ISU vs. 2 for 23 Iowa), but what changed the game was ISU blocking an Iowa FG in the 4th quarter, and obviously ISU making the last second FG in the end. Had ISU not blocked that field goal, they would've had to score a TD to win it, and that probably would not have happened.

Now let's look at 2008, same stats:

2008 (Iowa 17, ISU 5)

  • Total Offense: ISU (325 vs. 244)
  • Rushing Yards: Iowa (122 vs. 73)
  • Passing Yards: ISU (252 vs. 122)
  • First Downs: ISU (18 vs. 11)
  • Turnover Margin: Iowa +1
  • Penalties: Iowa (7-53 vs. 6-60)
  • Time of Possession: ISU (32:19 vs. 27:41)
  • 3rd Down Conversions: Iowa (4 of 12 vs. 4 of 15)
  • Red Zone %: Iowa (66% vs. 0%)
  • Sacks: Tied (1 each)

From the first two games, you saw a correlation between offense and wins. Well, last year was not the case at all. You can see that ISU moved the ball well, picked up more 1st downs, controlled the clock, but lost. The obvious answer is again, Special Teams:

  • ISU was 1 of 4 with Field Goals, missing from 38 yards, 21 yards, and 46 yards.  Say he makes the 38 and 21 yarder, and take away the gimme safety ISU got at the end, and you have a 17-9 game.
  • Then look at the punt returns: Brodell takes a punt 81 yards for a TD. Had ISU held him, perhaps a 3 and out would've occured; it's not like Iowa was moving the ball at will. Take away the TD, it's a 10-9 game.

Sitting there with a 10-9 game in the fourth quarter may have changed the outcome of the game. After that Punt for a TD, remember ISU got to 3rd and Goal on the Iowa 1. They rushed up the middle, and losses3 yards. Had it been 10-9, ISU kicks the field goal, pick up the 3 points, and it's a 12-10 game with 3:00 left. Instead, ISU was down 17-3, had to go for it, and didn't get the TD.

It's impossible to say what would've happened if things had gone differently, but it was the special teams play that caused ISU to lose a game that was winnable. Conversely it was in 2007 in which better special teams play from ISU caused them to win a game that they probably should have lost.

At the end of the day, in a series with games as close as they've been over the last decade, it's the little things that determine the winner. Special Teams is such a huge part in determining the outcome of the game, and frankly I am suprised by how little it's talked about when previewing this game.

Prediction: Staying with the theme, I think this game comes down to Special Teams: whoever makes the most plays on Special Teams (or limits the big plays on Special Teams) will win the game. I'll go ISU 24, Iowa 23, with Mahoney kicking a field goal to win the game.

Is it Saturday yet???