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The Box Score: Inside Hawkeye football statistics, Week 12

BY IAN MARTIN | NOVEMBER 13, 2012 6:30 AM

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The Box Score is a weekly segment in which a Daily Iowan reporter uses statistics to contextualize Iowa football’s performance over the course of the season.

The Iowa football team’s offense has been subpar this season, not just by Iowa standards but nationally. However, the Hawkeyes’ defense and special teams have actually impressed some people. Turnover-minded defenders, for one, have kept Iowa’s games close, regardless of the outcome.

Turnover Margin — Plus-11 (1st in Big Ten, 12th in NCAA)

Iowa is one of the just three teams in the top 35 in turnover margin with a losing record. But even New Mexico and Pittsburgh average less than 1 turnover per game, while the Hawkeye defense and offense have combined for an average of plus-1.10 turnovers per contest. This statistic seems an anomaly in the context of the conference, at least recently. The last three seasons, whichever team tops the Big Ten in turnover margin has also gone to a BCS bowl — if you include the now vacated 2010 Ohio State Buckeyes.

Tackles per game — Anthony Hitchens, 11.4 (1st in Big Ten, 4th in NCAA)

Hitchens was a catalyst for Iowa’s defense when the Hawkeyes started 2-0 in Big Ten play this season. At one time, the junior led the NCAA in tackles per game, and while he hasn’t kept up his blistering early season pace of 13 tackles per game, he hasn’t fallen off much. The majority of Hitchens’ efforts come on tackle assists, although he’s recorded 50 solo tackles as well.

Iowa teammate James Morris is secondnd in the Big Ten and 29th nationally in tackles per game, averaging 9.6. The linebacker from Solon comes in just ahead of Wisconsin linebacker Mike Taylor’s 9.5 tackles per game, which puts the Badger in a tie for 30th in the NCAA. Iowa’s Christian Kirksey also rates well in tackles per game and total tackles, placing 12th in the Big Ten in both of those categories.

Fumbles Recovered — Christian Kirksey, 4 (1st in Big Ten, T-2nd in NCAA)

Linebacker Christian Kirksey is one of just three players in the country with 4 or more fumbles recovered, along with Iowa State’s Durrell Givens (5) and Kent State’s Luke Batton (4). A large part of Iowa’s solid turnover margin, Kirksey also has 2 interceptions this season, both of which he returned for touchdowns. Along with presumable returning starters Hitchens and Morris, Kirksey could be Iowa’s hope for respectability in the fall of 2013.

Kickoff Return Yardage Allowed — 19.81 per return (2nd in Big Ten, 31st in NCAA)

Only one other team in the conference allows fewer yards per return when kicking off than Iowa, and that’s Minnesota. The Golden Gophers are eighth nationally with a suffocating 17.68 yards per return. The Hawkeyes are one of the just 34 teams in the country allowing fewer than 20 yards per kickoff return — a list that also includes Iowa opponents Northern Illinois (ninth) and Central Michigan (33rd).

This statistic may benefit from Iowa’s offense. Compare Iowa’s 46 kickoffs to Florida State’s 83 or Louisiana Tech’s 88 (both teams are ahead of the Hawkeyes in kickoff return yardage allowed), and the Hawkeye special teams haven’t had to make as many tackles as other teams.


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