116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Iowa had to embrace a new reality Saturday night.
An undefeated season is now off the table. A top-five ranking is off the table for a while.
“One thing we can't do is be undefeated, but everything else is out there for our team,” quarterback Spencer Petras said.
The goals that are still out there got more difficult with the Purdue loss, though.
ESPN’s Football Power Index gives the Hawkeyes a 62.3 percent chance of winning the Big Ten West — certainly no given — and a 4 percent chance of appearing in the College Football Playoff.
Defense against David Bell
Iowa’s strategy to stop David Bell not only failed, but failed at a historic level.
The Purdue star wide receiver set a Kinnick Stadium record with 240 receiving yards Saturday.
Iowa tight end Sam LaPorta, in comparison, has 262 receiving yards in all five games at Kinnick this season combined.
Iowa tried to bring extra attention to Bell, who entered play with more than twice as many receiving yards as Purdue’s next-best receiver, safety Jack Koerner said.
“They obviously like getting into one-on-one situations,” Koerner said. “We tried to really never have him in a one-on-one situation.”
But Iowa ended up giving Bell many one-on-one situations.
That included a throw at the line of scrimmage to Bell in the first quarter as he was running a flat in from the right flank. Iowa cornerback Matt Hankins was the only person covering him.
Hankins was to Bell’s right on the inside. The throw went to the outside of Bell, and Iowa’s top available cornerback barely stood a chance at catching the speedy wideout.
Bell outran Hankins and evaded a tackle from fellow defensive back Dane Belton before linebacker Jack Campbell did enough to force him out of bounds.
That pass at the line of scrimmage quickly turned into a 15-yard gain.
Bell burned Hankins again on an eerily similar play early in the second quarter.
On a third-and-6, O’Connell threw to Bell, who was running a flat route from the left to right side along the line of scrimmage. Bell stiff-armed Hankins, and unlike the previous reception, Iowa didn’t have any defenders nearby to act as a second line of defense.
Sixty yards later, safety Kaevon Merriweather pushed Bell out of bounds.
Those plays became part of the larger trend Saturday.
Almost all of Bell’s 12 targets came on single coverage or gaps in Iowa’s zone. Only two of his catches came with two or more defenders covering him.
Granted, the double-teams weren’t perfect either.
Iowa had three defenders chasing Bell on a deep route, and he outran all three to make a 47-yard catch early in the third quarter.
Defensive coordinator Phil Parker previously told reporters the goal for the defense is to allow no more than two plays of 25-plus yards. Bell alone had two of those plays, along with 20-, 21- and 24-yard catches that sneaked just under the 25-yard threshold.
In case the 240 yards weren’t enough, the timing of some of Bell’s catches were crucial too. He had two third-down catches — both coming off single coverage by Hankins — to keep Iowa’s offense on the sidelines.
Purdue had the ball for almost 11 minutes in the fourth quarter, shortening the game for Iowa’s offense.
This wasn’t the first time Bell tore apart Iowa’s secondary. He had 13 catches for 121 yards and three touchdowns in 2020 against the Hawkeyes. In 2019, he had 13 catches for 197 yards and one touchdown.
Fortunately for Iowa, Bell had an impressive enough performance to boost his NFL Draft outlook. If he goes pro, then the Hawkeyes can finally be done with Bell.
Failed quarterback sneaks
Iowa’s quarterback sneaks aren’t necessarily all that sneaky.
“Most teams do know it’s coming,” Petras said.
Usually, that’s not too big of an issue. Saturday was a different story, though, against a defensive front that also recorded four sacks and six quarterback hurries.
Iowa had the ball on the Purdue 11-yard-line on third-and-2 in the fourth quarter. Considering the 17-point deficit, Iowa needed to score a touchdown on the drive.
The Hawkeyes ran a quarterback sneak and mustered about a yard. Then on fourth-and-1 Iowa ran the same play, which relies on a strong push from the offensive line.
Purdue’s defense outmuscled Iowa’s youthful line again and stopped Petras inches short of the first down.
“They just out-executed us,” Petras said.
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