CEDAR RAPIDS — They’ve had to face Rondale Moore before. They’ve had to face David Bell before.
But the Iowa Hawkeyes have never faced them at the same time. They will Saturday.
How they defend the dynamic receiving duo, and everyone else, will go a long, long way in determining if they will beat Purdue in the season opener at Ross-Ade Stadium. Saying this won’t be an easy task is like saying 2020 has been just a little bit of an interesting year.
“Offensively they have a system in place,” said Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz. “They’ve been doing it for a long time and they’ve been extremely successful. They throw the ball as well as anybody that we’ll face, and they have two of the better receivers that we’ve probably ever gone against at any one time.”
That’s saying something. Ferentz, in fact, said it reminded him of playing LSU in the 2014 Outback Bowl.
LSU had Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry then. Iowa limited them to two catches each but still lost the game, 21-14, as running back Greg Hill gashed it for 216 yards on the ground.
Consecutive Big Ten freshmen of the year, Moore and Bell have futures many believe will parallel Beckham and Landry. You know, high NFL draft picks, top NFL players, etc., etc.
“Those two guys are marquee players,” Ferentz said.
Moore had over 100 catches and over 2,000 all-purpose yards for Purdue two years ago and was the first true freshman in Big Ten Conference history to be named a consensus All-American. Iowa contained him in their 2018 game to the tune of just 31 receiving yards on six catches and 88 all-purpose yards, yet still lost on a last-second field goal, 38-36.
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Bell went off on the Hawkeyes last year (a 26-20 Iowa victory) for 13 receptions and 197 yards. Moore didn’t play because of an injury that limited him to the first four games of the season.
He originally opted out of the 2020 season but changed his mind last month.
“(Purdue) has given us a challenge the last few years, winning two of the three games,” said Iowa linebacker Nick Niemann. “They have thrown the ball really well against us, and, obviously, that is a point of emphasis. You just try and beat that by playing zone and man defense and using good fundamentals. Getting re-routes on receivers. All those types of things. Just get them out of their rhythm, their pass concepts, timing and all that. That is a big emphasis for us.”
Moore is just 5-foot-9 and is a guy Purdue likes to get out in space. At 6-2, Bell is more the prototypical wide receiver.
There are Iowa connections here. Bell was recruited hard by the Hawkeyes and grew up playing against Iowa defensive back Julius Brents, a fellow Indianapolis resident.
Hawkeyes receiver Tyrone Tracy Jr. and Moore, again, both Indiana guys, have worked out together in the offseason. Tracy, smallish with big-play ability, has a similar game to Moore.
“To be honest with you, I train with Rondale, and we talk a lot,” Tracy said. “But I kind of just need to focus on myself and my team. I don’t really try to get outside of that. I feel that’s where it could be a distraction. So I just try to zone in on my team and my receiving corps.”
“(Bell) is a great player, he’s shown that this past year,” Brents said. “As a freshman, he made a lot of plays, especially against us, too. He’s a great player, and I’m looking forward to the matchup. It should be a good game.”
Brents was asked what Iowa needs to do to contain Purdue’s high-octane offense. The Boilermakers will not announce their starting quarterback until game time, by the way, though a choice between sophomore Jack Plummer, junior Aidan O’Conner and UCLA grad transfer Austin Burton apparently has been made.
Just not publicly.
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“That doesn’t really matter,” Brents said. “It just goes back to our game plan and controlling what we can control. Whoever their quarterback is, whoever it may be, we’ll be prepared.”
Expect Iowa to use some nickel and dime defensive packages.
“Just put the trust in our coaches game planning, (for them) to put us in the right position to make the right play,” Brents said. “Just communicate. Communication is one big thing that is going to help us as a defensive unit and as a defensive back. You want to keep those guys kind of controlled.”
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