The new south endzone at Jack Trice Stadium has been the talk of the football program for the last 12 months. As the product on the field has missed expectations the excitement over a shiny and new facility addition has been the dream of Cyclone fans for a long, long time.
As opening kickoff approaches, the buzz is as palpable as it can be for a team coming off of a disappointing 2-10 season, and a lot of that goes back to the revamped Jack Trice Stadium. But as opening day approaches, there is more and more talk about how the bowled in south endzone will affect the kicking game that has long been believed to be more difficult in Ames than most places, all because of a wind tunnel affect from an open ended stadium.
So how will that change? That has been a popular topic to dive into but before we can truly talk about how it will change I think it is important to talk about how difficult it has been in the past to kick in Ames.
I’m not a kicking expert and I’m certainly not a meteorologist that understands wind patterns or a physicist that can analyze the forces of a swirling or straight on wind from any direction of the stadium. But, I do have data on successful kicks to address the common held belief that kickers have a tougher time in Ames than elsewhere.
To analyze the situation, I went back to 2002 (if that seems like a random year that is because I originally did this study in the summer of 2012 and included just ten years that I have now added the last three seasons to) and charted all of the Cyclone field goal attempts and opponent attempts in Ames and otherwise. This isn’t a perfect exercise that can compare all of the varying wind types in all of the stadiums around the country but it should give a good feel for what we’re dealing with here.
The main goal is to try and determine if Jack Trice Stadium is hard on kickers or if Cyclone kickers are just hard on Cyclone fans by being historically below average; or at least not as good as their head to head competition over the 13 season span. The one major caveat to this data is that in home games, ISU kickers should have a distinct advantage because they are more familiar with their surroundings and the opposite is true for road games.
As you can see, opponents are converting at a much higher rate than Iowa State has been since 2002 in Ames. Almost 13 percent better with a relatively similar number of attempted kicks. Okay, so perhaps opponents just have better kickers? Well, that could be the case but the other item to take away here is that opponents have made exactly one more kick on the same number of attempts in Ames than in games at other locations. Meanwhile, Iowa State has made three percent more kicks at Jack Trice Stadium than in other stadiums. Does that three percent simply account for the familiar confines? Or, the hostile road environments? Or, is Jack Trice Stadium actually not more difficult to kick in?
Of course, there are other variables. Namely how far are these kicks being attempted from? Luckily I broke that down as well.
As you move left to right on the top two rows you’ll see the accuracy rate for Iowa State and their opponents has a gap that gradually increases. It starts at eight percent for the close kicks from 20-29 yards, then to almost ten percent from 30-39 yards, then to 14 percent at 40-49 yards, and finally 16 percent beyond 50 yards. As a side note, it is almost shocking to see how many 50 plus yard kicks Iowa State has attempted in Ames. A lot of that is likely a byproduct of a struggling offense and perhaps the opponent number is lower because of a struggling ISU defense in many of these years.
It is basically a similar story for the distance breakdown in games away from Jack Trice Stadium, but again, you’ll see that the opponent kicking accuracies are almost identical from location to location.
This isn’t conclusive by any means, but after reviewing the data that is available while noting it is imperfect is it, or was it, more difficult to kick in Ames? Have Cyclone kickers just been traditionally subpar? If it is more difficult, are opponent kickers just better and more equipped to deal with the conditions?
As usual, more questions come up with any answer that is given. The good news is that bowled in endzone or not, the kicking game appears to be on an upswing with Cole Netten. He has made 24 of his 32 career attempts with just two misses coming inside 40 yards. That has left him with five makes on 11 attempts from 40 yards or more. Room for improvement from the longer distances, but, we’ve definitely seen worse over the years.
To me, over the past 13 seasons it appears that Iowa State has had more of a kicking problem than Jack Trice has had a wind problem.