College football: Iowa-Rutgers is a game of 'how low can you go?'

Death, taxes, low-scoring Iowa football games. The Iowa Hawkeyes embody Big Ten football, with a stout, physical defense and little to no offense. Week 11 will be no different as Rutgers travels to Iowa City as a 1.5-point underdog. The spread is not interesting but the game total is, sitting at 29 after opening at 29.5. If it closes below 30.5, the matchup will be the lowest college football total in the last 30 years.

History of Iowa unders

The Hawkeyes are now 37-19-1 (66%) to the under since 2019, the best under percentage in college football. According to The Action Network's Evan Abrams, Iowa is responsible for four of the lowest game totals of the last 30 years:

2023: Iowa at Northwestern, 30.5

2023: Iowa vs. Minnesota, 30.5

2023: Army vs. Air Force, 31.5

2022: Iowa at Minnesota, 31.5

2022: Iowa vs Kentucky, 31.5

Oddly enough, Iowa games are 2-7 to the under this season with an average of 32 points.

The DNA of Iowa football

Iowa is the 130th-graded offense in the nation, according to PFF, ranking ahead of Akron, East Carolina and Nevada. Those teams are a combined 5-22 this season. Iowa is the first power conference school to produce 250 yards of offense or fewer in six of its first nine games of a season since Rutgers in 2002.

Quarterback Deacon Hill has started five games and has completed 11 passes or fewer in all five. The Hawkeyes are tied for the fifth-fewest red-zone trips, tied for the second-fewest touchdowns (17) and have the 24th most field goals (14).

Yet, the Hawkeyes are 7-2 overall and 4-2 in conference to lead the Big Ten West. How? Unapologetically, the Hawkeyes are getting by with their defense. Graded fifth best by PFF, behind Ohio State and Michigan, Iowa is allowing the second-fewest yards per play, while being the only team in the FBS that has allowed more field goals (15) than touchdowns (11).

What does all this mean?

The Scarlet Knights are coming off what may be their best game of the season, a 35-16 loss to Ohio State. Don’t let the final score fool you, Rutgers was leading 9-7 at the half, allowing 128 yards and forcing an interception. Rutgers' defense was stout. Unfortunately, the offense stalled in the second half, with 210 of the team's 360 total yards coming in the run game with RB Kyle Monangai and QB Gavin Wimsatt. Replicating that ground success in back-to-back weeks is a tall task. Iowa is the fourth-graded run defense, ranking fourth in tackling and fifth in total EPA against the run.

What the Hawkeyes have that the Buckeyes didn’t? The best punter in the country in Tory Taylor. Iowa does lead with the most punts in the country, but Taylor has a leg on him. Take the 15-6 win over Wisconsin, for example. On 10 punts, Taylor averaged 51 yards and pinned the Badgers inside their own 20-yard line on six occasions. Taylor improved as the game progressed, pinning Wisconsin inside their own 11 in the third quarter. Imagine getting through an Iowa defense with that much field to go through with a run game that ranks 55th in efficiency.

Rutgers is still a top-20 defense, and last I checked Iowa is still a bottom-five offense. There’s one look at this: under 29. If the unders keep hitting, with Illinois and Nebraska on deck, we could eventually see an opening line of 27.5 or lower. Big Ten football. Rutgers is an interesting underdog, but how much it has left after the Buckeyes' loss is concerning.