We’ve made it this far into the week without talking about the sink hole that popped up (that’s probably not the best way to put it, maybe "dropped out") at Ross-Ade Stadium a few weeks ago.
Sure, there’s a tremendous amount of symbolism. Purdue coach Darrell Hazell has won just three Big Ten games in 3 1/2 seasons. That’s not even one B1G victory per season, and the Boilermakers (3-2, 1-1 Big Ten) won last week at Illinois. So, theoretically, they are over their quota for 2016.
Remember when Purdue played host to Nebraska last season and beat the Huskers and basically ruined their season? The Hawkeyes (4-2, 2-1) found whatever it was missing (mainly, rush defense and explosive plays on offense, but mostly rush defense) last week at Minnesota.
Purdue crumpled Nebraska’s 2015 season. It has the chance to do the same to the Hawkeyes. Hey, if you go near the sink hole, it doesn’t care what color your uniform is.
Maybe Maryland and Illinois have tremendous rush offenses and underrated running backs. Those two teams will find their destinations, but what they did to Purdue in its two Big Ten games left a pretty big mark.
Maryland piled up 400 rush yards in a 50-7 victory. Illinois lost in overtime to the Boilers last week, but still rushed for 315 yards. That’s 715 rushing yards allowed in two Big Ten games for Purdue.
Defensive tackle Jake Replogle (6-5, 275) is productive, sitting at No. 4 on the team with 28 tackles and 3.0 tackles for loss with 1.5 sacks. Repologle missed practice on Tuesday and Wednesday with a headache. Nose guard Eddy Wilson (6-4, 300) leads Purdue with 2.5 sacks. DE Gelen Robinson (6-1, 275) delivered in a big way last week, forcing a fumble on Illinois’ overtime possession.
The Boilers have a talented, experienced linebacker corps led by redshirt freshman Markus Bailey (6-1, 235), who is tied for the team lead with 32 tackles. Middle linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley (6-2, 250) missed last week with an ankle injury and he remains questionable.
Let’s see if Iowa’s rush offense can build on the momentum it gained last week at Minnesota. With a reconfigured offensive line, the Hawkeyes rushed for 179 yards and popped the game’s biggest play — and their lone TD — in the fourth quarter with running back Akrum Wadley’s 54-yard TD run.
Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz has listed the same OL as last week, which means senior Cole Croston remains at right tackle and juniors Boone Myers and Ike Boettger are left tackle and guard. Ferentz added that it could change again. He didn’t get into the thinking behind the switches, but it might’ve had something to do with an ankle injury that was hampering Croston.
Wadley and senior running back LeShun Daniels have developed terrific chemistry, almost equally splitting 855 yards and 11 TDs.
PURDUE PASS DEFENSE VS. IOWA PASS OFFENSE
Free safety Navon Mosley (6-0, 181) is tied for the team lead with 32 tackles. With the Boilers’ rush defense allowing 244.2 yards a game, the pass defense has slipped by relatively unscathed, allowing 187.4 yards a game (No. 6 in the B1G).
Yards can be a pretty hollow measure of what’s really going on. The Boilers have allowed 10 TD passes (second most in the Big Ten behind Rutgers). Quarterbacks have completed nearly 60 percent vs. Purdue (85 of 142). On third down, Purdue has allowed 28 of 43 completions (65.2 percent, No. 12 in the league) with 24 of those completions going for first downs (on third-and-10 or more, Purdue has allowed 6 of 7 completions). The Boilers have kept explosive plays in check, allowing 40 completions of 10-plus yards (No. 6 in the league).
Purdue’s 10.0 sacks are tied for 11th in the league.
This category is all about Iowa getting its passing game headed in the right direction. The Hawkeyes have been relatively explosive, sitting ninth in the league in 10-plus plays and fifth in 20-plus plays (19). Since senior Matt VandeBerg suffered a broken foot two games ago, Iowa has had four pass plays of 20-plus yards. You expected a downturn and there it is.
Quarterback C.J. Beathard had his worst game in 14 outings last week at Minnesota. The telltale sign was when he grabbed his chinstrap and gave it a big pull after a second-half interception in Minnesota’s territory. Protection certainly was better, with the six sacks vs. Northwestern chopped to just one, but the receivers dropped five passes and coughed up a fumble.
Iowa is basically using three wide receivers and 1 1/2 tight ends. The circle of trust includes senior Riley McCarron (62 snaps vs. Minnesota and nine targets), sophomore Jerminic Smith (58 snaps, four targets) and sophomore Jay Scheel (31 snaps, two targets). Sophomore Ronald Nash played 12 snaps and had a target he dropped. True freshman Devonte Young didn’t see any action.
Senior TE George Kittle played 75 snaps with five targets. No. 2 TE Peter Pekar played 32 snaps with no targets. True freshman TE Noah Fant was in for six snaps and had two targets.
Beathard can do more to help himself (the playclock in his head last week was adjusted to 1, 2 and scramble), but that’s an awfully small group of receivers to work with.
PURDUE RUSH OFFENSE VS. IOWA RUSH DEFENSE
Purdue has a few weapons at running back, which shows that it also has an offensive line that is capable. Left tackle Cameron Cermin (6-5, 323) leads that group, which also includes two other fifth-year seniors in left guard Jason King (6-4, 310) and right guard Jordan Roos (6-4, 301). The Boilers’ 4.38 yards a carry is seventh in the conference. A check of Purdue’s efficiency and explosion shows the Boilers averaging 3.86 yards on 84 first-down rush attempts (No. 13 in the B1G) and with 20 rush plays of more than 10 yards (12th in the league).
Freshman running back Brian Lankford-Johnson jumped into the lineup for injured sophomore Markell Jones at Illinois last week and earned the league’s freshman of the week honors, rushing 18 times for 127 yards. He also had 43 yards on a pair of kick returns and piled up 182 all-purpose yards. Purdue’s last freshman of the week was on Nov. 26, 2012.
Lankford-Johnson did suffer a slight shoulder injury during the game, the same injury that kept Jones out of the lineup against Illinois. Hazell said he expects to have both players this week. Even after missing a week, Jones (5-11, 210) is the No. 6 rusher in the B1G with 84.8 yards a game.
This is another area where you’re still kind of wondering about Iowa. Last week, the Hawkeyes worked out some of their aggressions, holding Minnesota to a season low for rush yards (102). Is this the real Iowa rush defense? Has this group moved closer to the standard? Iowa has averaged 4.6 in rush defense ranking in the league the last eight seasons and is sitting No. 8 right now.
If Iowa’s tackle trio of Jaleel Johnson, Nathan Bazata and Faith Ekakitie rumble like they did against the Gophers, the lights will be turned off early Saturday at Ross Ade Stadium (it’s an 11 a.m. kick, so the lights probably won’t get turned on, but you know).
Last week was a huge uptick for the entire defensive line, with four players earning positive grades from Pro Football Focus. Was it as simple as a mismatch against Minnesota? It’ll be a similar challenge this week against a read-option running game. The season is half over, so these numbers still could be shaped and one for the Hawkeyes that needs reshaping is 4.34 yards allowed per carry on first down. That’s allowing the offense to get too comfortable.
PURDUE PASS OFFENSE VS. IOWA PASS DEFENSE
Wide receiver Domonique Young, tied for No. 2 in the Big Ten with 29 receptions, suffered a knee injury last week and is out for the season. Bilal Marshall (10 receptions, 117 yards and a TD) will get the start. Purdue still has DeAngelo Yancey and his 22 receptions (10th in the league, 13.6 yards a catch). Yancey had nine receptions and 117 yards against the Hawkeyes last season.
Sophomore quarterback David Blough (6-1, 200) emerged as the starter last season after a camp competition with Austin Appleby, who then transferred to Florida. After 2014, Danny Etling left Purdue and transferred to LSU, where he’s now the starter. Appleby and Etling are doing OK, but it’s not a stretch to think Hazell faces some heat because of the way the QB position has played out the last few years.
Blough has helped the Boilers move the chains. Purdue is tied for the conference lead with 52 pass plays of more than 10 yards. Purdue also is second in the league with 275.0 passing yards a game. Blough, however, has completed just 57.3 percent of his passes (11th) and has a pass efficiency of 112.7 (13th). He had a hot second quarter (10 of 13 for 144 yards and a TD) to boost Purdue last week.
For all of the questions Iowa’s D-line has faced against the run this year, the front four has gotten after the quarterback. The Hawkeyes are third in the Big Ten with 16.0 sacks. Defensive ends Anthony Nelson and Matt Nelson lead Iowa with 4.0 sacks apiece. Against Minnesota, Anthony Nelson, a redshirt freshman, had a sack and six QB hurries. Johnson also had a sack with four hurries.
Iowa’s secondary has allowed opposing QBs to complete just 51.8 percent of their passes (4th in the league). The Hawkeyes have allowed opponents to complete 11 of 18 passes on third-and-10 or more yards, but just seven of those have gone for first downs.
Purdue kicker J.D. Dellinger hit a 28-yard field goal in overtime to lift the Boilers at Illinois last week. It was the first game-winning field goal in Purdue history. It also was Dellinger’s first game-winning kick at any level.
Purdue punter Joe Schopper has been great in the field-position game. Twelve of his 20 punts have been downed inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. That’s No. 22 in the country.
Junior Malik Kimbrough has settled in as Purdue’s main return threat, averaging 7.5 yards on punt returns and 19.7 on kick returns. Purdue has allowed just 3.75 yards on seven punt returns this season, that’s No. 1 in the B1G. Purdue is fourth in kick coverage, allowing 19.0 yards on 20 returns.
It’s just three returns, but Iowa has allowed 47 yards on punt returns, putting it sixth in the conference in yards allowed. At 25.3 yards per kick return, Iowa’s kick coverage doesn’t look good if you stop there. The 177 total return yards allowed is No. 2 in the league.
Maybe this is the week King finds the end zone.
1. Players’ bond with their coach — Yes, Darrell Hazell has three Big Ten victories in three-plus seasons. Purdue also hired new AD Mike Bobinski in August. It’s not a stretch to think that, yes, Hazell’s job might be on the line this season. Whether it is or isn’t, that is bound to be something the players own. Hazell brought them to Purdue. If he’s still their guy, they’ll fight like mad for him.
2. Anteing up — Along the lines of getting football straight in West Lafayette, the school is building a $65 million football performance complex (expected to be completed August 2017). Purdue is pledging a master plan that includes coaching and support staff, player development, academic support, recruiting, fan engagement and contemporary facilities. Purdue also is playing 19 freshmen and four first-year junior-college transfers. Maybe the rest of 2016 is an audition tape for whomever.
3. The stakes for Iowa — Ross-Ade Stadium can be a sleepy, little burg. The Boilers finished 13th in attendance last season in the Big Ten (37,508). Iowa can’t let that lull it into a hypnotic state. If Iowa loses here, the championship season is over. If the Hawkeyes hold serve, they’ll enter the first round of what’s basically the Big Ten West championship series Oct. 22 against Wisconsin. Lose and season severely damaged if not outright over. Win and stay alive. It’s really not any more complicated than that.
PURDUE WILL WIN IF ... It puts the Hawkeyes in uncomfortable passing situations. First downs have been hard for the Hawkeyes, netting an average of 17.5 per game (12th in the league). That number is tracking to be Iowa’s lowest since 2012. Everyone loves first downs. They’re like a comfortable blanket and cocoa on a winter night.
IOWA WILL WIN IF ... It gets back to the pace it set earlier this season in red zone TDs. OK, the Minnesota game really has been the only blip there. The Hawkeyes settled for a pair of field goals, going 0-for-2 on TDs in the red zone. Iowa has 15 red zone TDs and is No. 3 in the B1G with 75.0 percent (15 TDs in 20 red zone possessions). Points are the point for an Iowa offense that has lost two games by nine points and won two others by 14. Points are fun for everyone.
PREDICTION: Iowa 20, Purdue 10
l Comments: (319) 398-8256; firstname.lastname@example.org