Against the Wind

When I was growing up I played a lot of soccer. My schedule was full of weekend tournaments, nightly practices, and usually more than one team at a time.  When I reached seventh grade and it was time for football season trying out for kicker just seemed natural, hell, I was even wearing my soccer shoes when I was playing on the football team.

So, I teed it up and let it fly…the tee, that is.  Kicked the tee hard enough I thought I broke my toe.  That is the extent of my football kicking experience.

Reading this through that perspective may be your best option.

I’m not sure where it falls on the scale of “common knowledge” among Iowa State fans but it has always seemed to be a prevalent belief that was touted on message boards and discussed at times in various other outlets.  The “wind tunnel” effect.

Combine an open ended stadium—essentially—like Jack Trice with the winds that blow in the upper Midwest and you not only have a wind tunnel, but you have an environment that makes kicking an oblong ball through yellow uprights awfully difficult, or so goes the thought.

Whether it is the wind tunnel effect or the swirling and changing winds that has challenged Iowa State kickers for the past decade.  But, is it real?

Do Iowa State’s kickers have more or less success in Jack Trice than every other venue?  How about Iowa State opponents?  What do the accuracy stats say for them?

As I learned throughout the basketball season, if I want an answer like this, I am the only one dumb enough to make the time commitment to find out.  So I did.

I obtained data for the past ten seasons (as far back as was readily available with what I was hoping to do on and charted every single field goal attempt for both Iowa State and the given opponent in the game.

I aimed to not only compare ISU’s success rate in home games versus other games but to do the same thing for opponents to see if they experienced a noticeable dip in kicking success.  First, here is the overview of the totals for ISU and their opponents for away games, games at Jack Trice, games at neutral sites, and the combination of away games and neutral site games.

As you can see, Iowa State actually has a better kicking success rate at JTS than with road games, by more than 6%.  Of course, home cooking has to play some role in all of this, right?  Iowa State kickers are allowed to adapt and become used to the situation in Ames.  However, opponents kick better in games with Iowa State in Ames than Iowa State opponents do in other Cyclone games, make sense?  (What I’m trying to say is that the comparison for opponents in those home and road games isn’t the same teams.  It is just Iowa State’s opponent for the home and road games.)

Either way, the simple fact that opponents come in and make 76.6% of their field goals and Iowa State makes just 65.8% while the Cyclones make just 59.1% in road games and those opponents make 74.4% is the start of an indicator that it may not be a wind issue.

To break things down further you have to look at the distance that the attempts are coming from to offset if either ISU or its opponents is typically kicking longer distance field goals.  So, here are the numbers by distance:


From 20-29 yards the Cyclones are 12% higher in accuracy in Ames but opponents are also converting at a higher rate in JTS than other venues, by 6%.  From 30-39 yards both team’s numbers dip a little bit in JTS.  But for this range and for 40-49 you can see that there is very little change all around for each and whether the group kicks better in JTS or other venues flip-flops.

From 50-59 yards the Cyclones have hit just one field goal away from JTS (Nebraska in 2009, which makes it feel like it was worth a lot more than three points now) while the success rate has been 50% in Ames.

From these numbers alone I get the feel that while it may be more difficult to kick in Ames (just because in this ten year sampling it doesn’t stand out there are still other variables that could be skewing this) it seems that a greater piece of the problem is that the Iowa State kickers have just struggled in general.  Look at the ISU kicking numbers compared to the opponent kicking numbers in non-JTS venues. Across the board the Cyclones are lagging behind.

Because I was still curious about more and dug up a few more numbers; we all know that a big part of kicking is also the mental aspect. Knowing that, were performances for Iowa State kickers compared to their opponents any different in close games?

From the same set of games over the past ten seasons I separated the games that were decided by ten points or less from the games that had a wider margin.  There is plenty of arbitrariness to that, but in a simple way it gets us to where we want to go.  Here is the summary of that data:


It is almost creepy how close Iowa State’s accuracy is comparing these two data sets.  The numbers are essentially close enough that one more attempt missed in one or one more attempt made for the other and the percentages are right on top of each other.  The opponents kicked 5% better in the games decided by more than ten points.

The extremely similar numbers continue when you break down the close games by the range of the kick:


What does it all tell us?  It is up to each of you to decide how conclusive this data is or if the way I went about it is full of flaws, thus useless in the first place.  It isn’t a perfect study, but in terms of quick analysis over the past ten years I think it is the start of a clear picture being painted.

It may be more difficult to kick in Ames but this data doesn’t suggest that in emphatic fashion, if in any fashion at all.  One thing that is clear is that Iowa State’s kickers just haven’t hit as accurately across the board as their opponents.  That is more a part of the problem than the urban legend of the a wind tunnel or swirling winds.


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