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NCAA Football: Iowa at Penn State

Midweek Musings - Breaking Tendencies

How has the rest of the season gone for Penn State’s first few opponents?

Matthew O’Haren-USA TODAY Sports

It’s no secret that Iowa’s offense is horribad. It currently ranks near the bottom of approximately 130 Division I-A offenses, with yards and points seemingly being a premium for the Hawkeyes. I mean, their offensive coordinator, Brian Ferentz, has a stipulation in his contract to reach 25 points per game (PPG) in 2023. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a PPG clause in an OC’s contract, which is saying something.

Obviously, scoring 0 points against Penn State is going to make hitting that 25 PPG milestone that much harder.

But that got me thinking - Iowa was on track for that 25 PPG milestone before playing PSU. They’d scored, 24, 20, and 41 points in their first three games, which averages out to 28.3 PPG. Yes, the astute amongst you will note that just one of those games was over 25 points, and was enough to bring the overall average up. But the point stands - through three weeks, the Hawkeyes were averaging 28.3 PPG, and then scored exactly 0, a swing of, well, 28.3 points.

So I decided to do some statistical digging. How exactly have Penn State’s first four opponents when NOT playing PSU. How much has Penn State broken those other teams’ season tendencies so far? I won’t bore you with too much math, I hope, but at least a little bit is needed, so bear with me.

Win-Loss Column

So for starters, Penn State has played four teams: West Virginia (3-1), Delaware (3-1), Illinois (2-2), and Iowa (3-1).

So just out the gate, Penn State has accounted for 80% of all of its opponents’ losses. Were it not for Penn State, three of their opponents would be undefeated. These trends likely won’t continue all season, as early season is often fluffier than a fluffernutter, but that will be the general point I’m making: were it not for PSU, their opponents would be having a better season than they currently are.

Ok, next, let’s look at specific statistical categories. To do this, I compared all four games that each of Penn State’s opponents have played, and considered how they fared across all four games, and then how they fared in just the three games that were NOT Penn State.

Offensive Output

For this, I took a look at how many points each team has scored, as well as how many yards they gained. For example, on the season, West Virginia has averaged 27 PPG and 348.5 yards per game (YPG). But if you discount Penn State from that average, the Mountaineers have been humming along at 31 PPG, and 362 YPG. That’s a swing of 4 PPG, and 13.5 YPG. Does that setup make sense?

With that math in mind, on average, Penn State’s opponents have scored 5.4 more PPG, and gained 41.9 more YPG.

Keep those numbers in mind.

Defensive Output

Same approach as above, but now I’m looking at how many points and yards were given up. Sticking with our friends to the southwest, WVU has allowed an average of 18.5 PPG and 311 YPG. Take PSU out of that equation, and they’re giving up an average of 12 PPG and 255.3 YPG. That’s a difference of 6.5 PPG and 55.7 YPG.

Same math across all teams, Penn State’s opponent have allowed 5.9 fewer PPG, and 28.8 fewer YPG.

What does it all mean?

Overall Change in Offensive and Defensive Output

Did you keep all those numbers I mentioned on hand? Okay, pop quiz: without playing Penn State, what would be the change in average scoring and yardage margin for their opponents? Go ahead, grab your abaci, I’ll wait.

11.2 points, and 70.7 yards.

That is to say, on average, any time a team has played Penn State so far in 2023, their point spread has shrunk by 11.2 points, and their yardage advantage has shrunk by 70.7 yards. That’s huge. Penn State has broken other team’s tendencies by double digits, and by three-quarters of a full football field. In other words, they’re gonna have a bad day.

Best part? That’s just looking at averages. Each team’s specific day against Penn State is obviously its own specific data point. Compared to their non-PSU season averages, here’s how each team fared against the Nittany Lions:

  • West Virginia - scored 16 fewer points and gained 54 fewer yards; surrendered 26 more points and 222.7 more yards
  • Delaware - scored 29 fewer points and gained 336.3 fewer yards; surrendered 45.7 more points and 179.3 more yards
  • Illinois - scored 12.3 fewer points and gained 54.3 fewer yards; surrendered 3.7 more points and -53 more yards (ooh a negative!)
  • Iowa - scored 28.3 fewer points and gained 226 fewer yards; surrendered 18.7 more points and 111 more yards

Illinois is the only team to keep this from being a clean sweep. The Illini have typically given up 436 yards per game, but against PSU only surrendered 383. Of course, having gone up 30-7 at the start of the fourth, the Lions played their backups for over 14 minutes of game time, but that’s true of most other teams as well. So good on you, Illinois?

Anyway, that’s a lot of words, and a lot of math, to make the point that most teams have a worse day when they play the Lions than they do the rest of the season. Penn State has so far skewed pretty much every stat in the wrong direction for its opponents as far as a season average goes. And on the actual day of the game, PSU has broken each specific team’s tendencies by almost double the season average.

I’ll leave it to my good friend and personal confidant, Ivan Drago, who said it best:

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