Iowa Hawkeyes

Iowa Hawkeyes have been ball hogs so far

Iowa goes into Saturday's game at Michigan with huge edge in time of possession

Iowa running back Tyler Goodson. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Iowa running back Tyler Goodson. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — These guys have been ball hogs, man. But this isn’t basketball, so that’s not a bad thing.

Iowa’s advantage in time of possession the first four games of the football season has been pronounced and part of the reason it goes into Saturday’s huge game at Michigan with a 4-0 record and No. 14 ranking.

There is so much goodness here to unpack statistically.

The Hawkeyes average 36 minutes, 8 seconds of ball possession to their opponent’s 23:53. That’s virtually having it a full quarter more.

The 36:08 is second to Wisconsin in the Big Ten Conference and third in all of the FBS. Navy and its triple-option attack is tops in the country, which is no surprise.

“I think all of us have to be comfortable with who we are and what we are,” said Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz. “That’s part of it, as individuals, and then certainly what your team is going to be. Hopefully you put some thought into that and have a basis for that. We just feel like that’s our best chance to win.”

Iowa has been able to hold onto the football because it has been able to establish a consistent running game, it isn’t turning it over and it isn’t committing penalties. There’s your TOP trifecta.

The Hawkeyes and their four-headed backfield of Mekhi Sargent, Toren Young, Ivory Kelly-Martin and Tyler Goodson average 217 yards per game and 5.2 per carry, and that’s with a rotating offensive line caused by injuries. Compare that to last season, when Iowa averaged 148 per game and 4.0 per carry.

“I can’t pinpoint exactly one thing,” Young said, when asked about that improvement. “It’s a collective effort. The offensive line is doing a great job of blocking. The receivers and tight ends are doing a great job of blocking. I think as running backs, we’re doing a better job of seeing the bigger picture, understanding the concept and seeing things develop.”

“That’s huge for us to hold on to the ball,” said quarterback Nate Stanley. “Establishing the run game contributes to that. Any time you can run the ball, establish that, the clock runs. You keep your defense off the field. It’s huge for us to play complementary football. For us, time of possession has allowed us to do that.”

Iowa’s backs, receivers and tight ends aren’t putting the ball on the ground, either, as Iowa has one lost turnover in four games (a fumble) and has forced six. Stanley has yet to throw an interception and has been able to get everyone involved in the offense.

He has completed passes to 12 different guys.

“Whenever we’re doing what we want, we’re passing, we’re running, we’re blocking soundly and effectively, defenses don’t like that,” said Iowa receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette. “We’re holding the ball and running 11, 12-play drives, that wears on them ... I feel like we’re managing that well. That’s definitely shown.”

Then there are the penalties, or lack thereof. Iowa ranks first in the Big Ten in fewest penalties (actually tied with Penn State with 16) and fewest penalty yards (104).

That average of 26 per game is second nationally, behind only Rice.

“Every team is a little bit different, too,” Ferentz said. “I’ll go back to 2004 when we couldn’t run the ball, period, and we found a way to win that year. That’s ultimately what you try to do. But, in a perfect world, at least for us, if we can hold the ball a little bit, that’s going to be a good thing. I do know this, it certainly helps your defensive production if you’ve got possession of the football. It gives the defense a chance to rest, but more importantly, they can’t give up yards or plays when they’re sitting on the bench. So that’s a good thing, too.

“There are a lot of different ways to be successful. It’s just kind of the way we are right now. That would help us if we can control that part of the game (Saturday).”

Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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