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If Purdue defeats Iowa in football Saturday, the winner of next Saturday’s Purdue-Illinois game will have a clear path to the Big Ten West championship.
Illinois and Purdue? That would be weird, wild stuff.
But first there’s this little matter of Hawkeyes-Boilermakers. The pregame focus is on one of the more-interesting individual stories in college football this year.
Charlie Jones, a wide receiver with a common man’s name, has had a most-uncommon eight games with the Boilermakers. He has 72 catches for 840 yards.
Actually, that’s pretty common for Purdue receivers. Last year, David Bell had 93 receptions for 1,286 yards, and had 86 for 1,035 in 2019. Rondale Moore had 114 for 1,258 in 2018.
The unusual aspect of the story, as all who follow the two teams know, is that Jones came to Purdue from Iowa just five months ago. Purdue extracts a lot of players from the transfer portal. Iowa, on the other hand, has hesitated to go too deep into that mine.
The Jones-Iowa relationship benefited both, a lot. Jones originally walked on, wanting to see if he could compete at the Big Ten level after having a productive freshman season at Buffalo of the MAC. Iowa gave Jones the chance, and he earned his place as a kick returner who was so good that he was voted the 2021 Big Ten Return Specialist of the Year.
A fifth-year senior with one season of eligibility left because of the COVID-19 waiver, Jones’ head and heart told him to listen to his childhood friend, Purdue quarterback Aidan O’Connell. Join me, you’ll get passes thrown to you.
It wasn’t an empty promise.
Jones had already found out what it was like to become a good Big Ten player. For his last college season, he wanted to become a wide receiver of impact.
As the line goes in Counting Crows’ “Mr. Jones,” we all wanna be big, big stars.
Jones’ last game as a Hawkeye was the Citrus Bowl. Of Iowa’s 19 pass completions against Kentucky, nine went to tight ends, four to running backs, one to a fullback. None were to Jones.
This season, tight end Sam LaPorta has over twice as many catches (41) as the leading Hawkeye wide receiver, Nico Ragaini (18). In hindsight, Jones’ decision was fully logical.
“It’s pretty simple, I came here for the offense,” Jones said in August. “The past couple years, they’ve shown that being a receiver in this type of offense means a lot of opportunities.”
What the coaches of the two teams have said this week about Jones has been a bit comical.
“You know, I think it’s probably less of a big deal than you think,” Purdue’s Jeff Brohm said about Jones playing his former team.
Sure, Coach. Be sure to tell Iowa’s defenders and coaches. And Jones.
“We'll never know what would have happened if he was here,” Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz said. “We saw him make great improvement, I thought, this spring. We were really excited about that. Then he's not here. There's not much you can say about that.”
Isn’t there, though? We can say with confidence that if Jones were still a Hawkeye, he wouldn’t have 16 more catches today than anyone else in the Big Ten.
After 21 receptions over 14 games last season, a 150-watt light bulb came on for Jones, all right. But it was in June, not April, and it led him to West Lafayette.
Jones has 39 receptions for first downs. He has made 19 contested catches. He has three times as many touchdown grabs (9) as Iowa’s team (3).
That all makes Saturday’s matchup spicier. Purdue’s 24-7 win over then-No. 2 Iowa at Kinnick Stadium last year had already poured paprika into this year’s meeting as far as the Hawkeyes were concerned.
If Jones and his team prevail Saturday, the contrast between the two teams’ offensive prowess and a 4-5 Iowa record would crank up the heat in Iowa City.
If the Hawkeyes contain Jones (and O’Connell, who torched them last year) and win, they can be a little smug for the first time all season. They would have reason to believe they can finish the regular season with a five-game winning streak.
Oh, one more thing. Iowa may also want to watch out for Tyrone Tracy on a jet sweep.
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