Tomorrow, IU plays its highest-ranked opponent of the season so far, the #7 Iowa Hawkeyes. While the post-Mallory era has been difficult for IU, the Hoosiers' performances against the Hawkeyes have been respectable. Since Cam Cameron became IU's coach in 1997, IU is 5-5 against Iowa. Iowa is the only team Big Ten team aghainst whom IU has a .500 or better record in that period. Since 1997, only Illinois (the Hoosiers are now 6-7 against Illinois since 1997) has lost more games to IU than Iowa has. Another fun fact for Iowa fans: Since Mallory was fired, IU has won only five Big Ten road games, and Iowa is the only multiple victim (1999, 2007).
Of course, three of those wins came when Iowa was transitioning from Hayden Fry, whose last season was 1998, to Kirk Ferentz. IU won three in a row from 1998 to 2000. The most recent two wins game in 2006, a memorable comeback upset of the then 15th-ranked Hawkeyes, and in 2007, a really strange game that IU won 38-21 and is most famous for an odd completed-pass-fumble recovery that culminated in Kellen Lewis's backflip into the endzone. To remember happier days, enjoy this video from IU's 2006 win over Iowa (couldn't find any 2007 footage):
Of course, the 2009 Hawkeyes seem likely to present a more significant challenge than either of the Iowa teams that IU has recently defeated. The Hawkeyes have played a bunch of close games, both against respectable opponents (Michigan, Michigan State) and not (Northern Iowa, Arkansas State). Still, the Hawkeyes overall resume is very good, thanks to a home win against better-than-usual Arizona, a road win against Penn State, and a win at Wisconsin. It's reasonable to wonder if Iowa is living on luck, but the Hawkeyes are undefeated against a top 15 schedule. No other team in the country can say that.
How are they doing it? Well, for one (here's the Hawkeyes' NCAA resume), with really freaking pedestrian offensive numbers. Iowa is only #87 in total offense, 91 in rushing offense, 60 in passing offense, and 69 in pass efficiency. The Hawkeye defense has been outstanding. Iowa is allowing only 296 yards per game, and only 14.75 points per game, both stats good enough for top 20 rankings. The Hawkeyes are #5 in pass efficiency defense and, perhaps most key to the team's success are a whopping 1.38 turnovers per game in the black for the season, good enough for #6 in the nation.
The Iowa offense is led by Ricky Stanzi, quickly becoming a cult hero in Iowa even though, as BHGP notes in its previews, his numbers look Ben Chappell look like a star. Stanzi completes only 57 percent of his passes and has 12TDs to 8 INTs. Still, he may well start in the BCS title game, so he's got that going for him. Iowa's leading rusher, Adam Robinson, is now out for the season with an injury, and true freshman Brandon Wegher will be the starter from this point forward. Wegher has been solid, but of course has never been placed in this position before. Iowa's receiving yards have been widely distributed this year, with Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, Trey Stoss, Marvin McNutt, and Tony Moeaki all between 373 and 250 receiving yards. Of course, the Hawkeye defense has led the way.
In any event, while this is an uphill battle for IU, given Iowa's less than overwhelming offensive numbers, injury troubles, and defensive focus might make it a low-scoring game in which a key turnover or special teams play (hear that, Ray Fisher) might make a difference. On the other hand, the last time I thought that, Virginia scored 47 on us, and Iowa is much, much better than Virginia. This IU team is impossible to predict, so who knows what will happen?