IOWA CITY — When Matt VandeBerg fumbled a punt in the fourth quarter he returned to the sideline with one coach offering a hand slap while quarterback Nate Stanley threw an arm around him.
Purdue kicked a field goal. Cheers and boos echoed off the Kinnick Stadium bleachers. Only 60,544 of you showed up Saturday. 80 percent of you were gone before the fourth quarter ticked away.
You made a sound decision.
Purdue (5-6, 3-5 Big Ten) kept fist pumping all the way through its 24-15 victory over the Hawkeyes (6-5, 3-5). Why wouldn’t it? Iowa was, believe it or not, a ranked team two weeks ago. However you measure this, it was a great get for first-year coach Jeff Brohm and, for a second consecutive week, a hopeless, listless and clueless offensive effort from the Hawkeyes.
“I talked a little bit to the team about where do you want to be,” said linebacker Josey Jewell, one of the few Hawkeyes who showed up for work (13 tackles, 2.0 sacks, 3.0 tackles for loss and three pass breakups).
Where do the Hawkeyes want to be right now?
“Where do you want to be at the end of the season?” Jewell said. “Do you want to go to Detroit? Or do you want to go somewhere it’s kind of warm at least? You think about the end goal and get it into perspective for the guys.”
That is the best face you can possibly put on this. Iowa goes to Nebraska (4-7, 3-5) and then has a bowl game. It’s probably not going to be whatever bowl is in Detroit (don’t bother looking it up), but judging how quickly Kinnick vacated Saturday night, who knows if you’re still even paying attention.
You could kind of understand last week, when Wisconsin, a top-five team and legit College Football Playoff contender, stuffed Iowa’s offense into a bird cage and carried it around to show its friends. This week, Purdue treated Iowa’s offense like the dog that never gets to go outside and play because it can’t catch a frisbee.
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That works because there were at least another four drops this week. There also were six sacks. With sack totals, Iowa again was held to less than 100 rushing yards (82 on 38 carries). Stanley completed 16 of 33 for 176 yards and a TD.
You could understand a near all-time low against Wisconsin’s defense (66 yards was the worst since 1941). Purdue? Stop asking about the offense that put 55 points on Ohio State. Clearly, that was the outlier and this is the reality.
In the last two games and with tackle Nathan Bazata’s safety on Saturday, Iowa’s defense has outscored its offense (258 yards of total offense vs. Purdue) 16-13. Kind of says it all.
“As you look at it we were hoping for a higher level of consistency in our play,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “That wasn’t there and that makes it frustrating and it makes it disappointing. And I don’t know what else to say about that. That’s where we’re at right now.”
At this point, after the historically awful 66-yard performance at Wisconsin last week, what would the bottom rung even look like for Iowa’s offense?
Don’t answer that.
“Obviously, you want to win,” Brohm said. “You also compete to put a smile on your face and you try to block out the noise and not worry about all the consequences of what could happen next if you do something wrong.”
Play like no one is watching. Why not? Purdue got right to that in the third quarter.
When the Boilermakers got the wind (a 20 mph whoosh out of the northwest) to begin the second half, quarterback Elijah Sindelar went to work on Iowa’s right cornerback position with wide receiver Anthony Mahoungou. In the first three minutes of the quarter, Sindelar hit Mahoungou for a pair of TDs (42 and 16 yards) and scorched Manny Rugamba, Michael Ojemudia and Matt Hankins.
Ferentz on the wind choice: “That’s kind of a jump ball. And if you pick the right one or at least if you play well off of your decision, then you look like you did the right thing. If you don’t, you don’t. But we were going to have to go into the wind one of the quarters.”
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Hlas column: Hawkeyes are frozen stiff
That burst made it 21-9 for Purdue, but still with nearly 27 minutes left in the game. Iowa’s offense just wasn’t coming out to play. Again.
“We cut a guy loose in protection a couple of times, that stuff, you’re not going to win doing that consistently, if you can’t catch the ball consistently, those kinds of things,” Ferentz said. “So those are the things we’ve really got to get shored up here between now and next Friday.
“That to me is realistic. Some of the other stuff, you know, it’s going to come with time that type of deal. You’ve got to focus on what is realistic.”
Focus on what is realistic. That’s their job. You go about your holiday.
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