Iowa Football

Former doormat Purdue is No. 6 most-interesting game on Iowa's football schedule

Jeff Brohm brings 2-0 mark vs. Hawkeyes to Kinnick

Purdue’s Terry Wright (9) reels in one of his three touchdown catches in the Boilermakers’ 38-38 win over Iowa at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Ind., on 11.3.18. The closest defender is Iowa’s Riley Moss (33). (Sandra Dukes/USA TODAY Sports)
Purdue’s Terry Wright (9) reels in one of his three touchdown catches in the Boilermakers’ 38-38 win over Iowa at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Ind., on 11.3.18. The closest defender is Iowa’s Riley Moss (33). (Sandra Dukes/USA TODAY Sports)

I once grimaced at the prospect of covering Purdue-Iowa football games, particularly the ones that required me to travel by automobile to West Lafayette, Ind.

Nothing against West Lafayette, which has the most brick buildings I’ve ever seen in one community. And that’s OK. The reason Paris is Paris is because there’s nowhere else like it. You wouldn’t want a replica to spring up in Indiana.

Nah, it’s just that it’s a long car trip. And, Purdue football was a drag through most of this decade, man.

Then Purdue hired Jeff Brohm to be its coach after the 2016 season. And it kept him after the 2018 season. And Iowa no longer owned the Boilermakers.

Brohm was pursued hotly and heavily by his Louisville alma mater in his Louisville hometown to be Louisville’s football coach after that school fired Bobby Petrino.

Brohm thought about it, presumably a lot. Purdue thought about doing whatever it could to persuade Brohm to stay in West Lafayette for a Year 3, and 4, and more.

He stayed. Score another one for the all-powerful Big Ten with its money and facilities and money and fame and money and money and money. Gawd, it has a lot of money. As I typed that, each member of the conference just hired three more assistant athletics directors and a special assistant to the person in charge of coffee.

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Iowa’s staff couldn’t have liked seeing Brohm spurning Louisville. Things were better for the Hawkeyes when the Boilermakers were rotten, which wasn’t long ago. We’re talking 9-39 from 2013 through 2016. We’re talking 3-30 in the Big Ten in that time. That isn’t good. In fact, it’s rotten.

It turned Ross-Ade Stadium into a sad place on game days, a place where the wind would whip through certain sections of grandstands late in the season and not bother a soul, because those sections were soul-less.

Enter Brohm. Two years ago in Kinnick Stadium, the Boilermakers beat Iowa, 24-15. Last year in Ross-Ade Stadium, Purdue edged the Hawkeyes, 38-36. Both years, the Boilers finished the season in bowls. Which brings us to the No. 6 most-interesting game on Iowa’s 2019 schedule:

Oct. 19, Purdue at Kinnick Stadium

The Boilermakers beat Iowa with defense in 2017, with offense in 2018. They didn’t have a defense last year, at least not one you’d want to claim as your own. They gave up 30 points and 453 yards per game. That’s the kind of defense Big Ten snobs sneer at when they discuss the Big 12, discounting the fact that league has had some offensive wizards in recent times.

I assume you’ve heard of Patrick Mahomes, Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray. And that’s just the ‘M’s.

Uh, here are some Big Ten scores from last season:

Ohio State 62, Michigan 39

Ohio State 52, Maryland 51 (OT)

Nebraska 54, Illinois 35

Illinois 55, Minnesota 31

On 17 occasions, a Big Ten team scored 45 points in a conference game. Iowa hung a 63 on Illinois.

The defense was none too spectacular in last year’s Iowa-Purdue game. The Boilermakers hooked up on enough big plays to derail Iowa last year, then went to Minnesota the following week and lost 41-10. Which wasn’t close to their season-low for embarrassment. They took a 6-6 record to the Music City Bowl and proceeded to leave pieces of themselves strewn across Nashville like songwriters who arrived with dreams and left with the realization they were only dreamers. The score was Auburn 63, Purdue 14.

Just a hunch, but I’ll bet most Big 12 teams would have held Auburn under 60.

Auburn wasn’t mystified by Brohm’s offense. Iowa was. So was Ohio State, which allowed 539 yards in its 49-20 loss to Purdue in West Lafayette on national prime-time TV.

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Funny. Ohio State fell 55-24 at Iowa in ’17, then absorbed that similar beating of biblical (at least in Urban Meyer’s New Testament) proportions at Purdue last year.

The same Ohio State went on to win a Cotton Bowl against a top-five USC team two seasons ago and a Rose Bowl against a top-10 Washington squad last season.

You can knock Ohio State’s block off every now and then. But it’s just like a drop in the price of Apple’s stock. It always bounces back.

So let’s finally focus on Purdue at Iowa, 2019. The Hawkeyes will be frothing at the mouth (not literally, presumably) to take down their West rival after two straight swings and misses. Purdue will be trying to, you know, win a football game.

Does that mean Iowa will have the edge in motivation? Nope. The past isn’t prologue. For all the team-team-team mantras pounded into our heads by sports people, teams are collections of individuals with individual agendas. Few who are sent onto the field of play are doing so without enormous motivation of their own, to represent themselves as well as possible.

The trick is to have more guys who know what they’re doing and know what their coaches want them to do on a given day or moment, and with the ability to do it with a certain amount of high-level skill. This is why recruiting is a bigger game to some college football fans than the games themselves.

Me, I’d rather just watch the games. And I’d rather be watching it from a tiki bar on some enchanted island, but who gets everything they want?

Another trick in football is to get something resembling an even-keel, which has always been something Kirk Ferentz has always promoted at Iowa. The Hawkeyes are at Michigan on Oct. 5, then host Penn State while wearing some tricked-out all-gold uniforms. After that two-week gauntlet, they must regroup for Purdue on Oct. 19. Sometimes, that’s no problem. Sometimes, you lose a little focus. Humans remain humans. It’s another part of what makes football not particularly predictable, which is a good thing.

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So, here’s what we’ve got to put this game in the top half of Iowa’s most-interesting: If the Hawkeyes lose, it’s total bewilderment and frustration. It’s three straight losses to the interlopers. If they win, it’s a step toward being in title contention in the West.

The West title is the prize that binds, by the way. It’s not the myriad of games Iowa plays for trophies it displays in the lobby of its football complex as opposed to conference-championship hardware, which hasn’t been secured since 2004. Although, rest assured Iowa’s Big Ten title shares of 2002 and 2004 are duly noted in that very lobby.

Winning the West is approximately 33 times better than capturing or recapturing a bronzed bull, pig, or whatever is featured on those trophies in the Iowa-Iowa State and Iowa-Nebraska games.

Winning the Big Ten is approximately 333 times better.

Iowa-Purdue isn’t a trophy game. But it counts for as much as any game with a trinket attached. And that’s no bull.

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