Iowa Football

Iowa football at Purdue breakdown: Pregame analysis, prediction

Hawkeyes look to slow down Boilermakers in season opener

Purdue hosts Iowa this Saturday at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Ind. (The Gazette)
Purdue hosts Iowa this Saturday at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Ind. (The Gazette)

A closer look at Saturday’s Big Ten Conference football game between Iowa and Purdue at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Ind. Kickoff is 2:40 p.m. (BTN)

Iowa offense

It’s hard to imagine having more weapons at the skill positions.

The Hawkeyes go three deep at running back with Tyler Goodson, Mekhi Sargent and Ivory Kelly-Martin. They go four deep in quality at wide receiver in Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Brandon Smith, Tyrone Tracy Jr. and Nico Ragaini. Maybe five deep if you count Buffalo transfer Charlie Jones, who apparently has made quite an impact in fall practice.

Insiders rave about sophomore Sam LaPorta, calling him quite possibly the next great Iowa tight end. Senior Shaun Beyer also will see plenty of action.

The offensive line has what should be outstanding tackles in Alaric Jackson and Indiana grad transfer Coy Cronk. Tyler Linderbaum is developing into an all-conference type at center. The guard positions are in the air, but there is experience and depth, with a rotation system likely. Can these guys give Goodson, Sargent and Kelly-Martin holes and lanes to run through? Running game volume will be key.

It might all come down to quarterback play. Sophomore Spencer Petras will be making his first start and apparently can make every throw. What he needs to do is simply get the ball to his playmakers and limit mistakes.

It’ll help here that only family will be in the Ross-Ade stands. Petras won’t have to deal with a hostile crowd in his debut.

Iowa defense

Players and ace defensive coordinator Phil Parker have talked repeatedly the last couple of weeks about versatility. That has been the goal: working to ensure guys can play multiple positions.

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Just four players on this side of the football who started in last year’s Holiday Bowl win over Southern California are back. Only Chauncey Golston returns up front, though he seems poised for a big senior season, as does senior Daviyon Nixon at tackle. Austin Schulte (tackle) and Zach VanValkenburg (end) are listed as the other starters. One big question here is pass rush, with A.J. Epenesa now with the Buffalo Bills.

Nick Niemann will provide experience and leadership at linebacker, and true sophomore Jack Campbell is your guy in the middle with a ton of promise, though inexperience. Matt Hankins is a given at one of the corners, with Julius Brents and Riley Moss also providing guys with previous starts.

Jack Koerner has recovered from an offseason boating accident and will man free safety. But who is going to be the guy at leo/cash and strong safety? Names to watch are Dane Belton and Barrington Wade, among others.

With Purdue’s wide-open offensive attack, which led the Big Ten last season despite a ton of injuries, expect Iowa to play a lot of nickel and dime packages here. That comes back to that versatility thing.

Purdue offense

Rondale Moore and David Bell. David Bell and Rondale Moore.

OK, now it’s just David Bell. Purdue announced Friday afternoon that Moore, the junior All-America receiver, will not play Saturday afternoon. No reason was given.

Bell is more your traditional wide receiver at 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds. He was Big Ten freshman of the year last year.

Who will throw him the football? Purdue knows but isn’t saying publicly until game time. The candidates are sophomore Jack Plummer (who started last year’s game against Iowa), junior Aidan O’Connell and UCLA grad transfer Austin Burton.

Four of five starters return up front. King Doerue is an intriguing and multi-faceted running back.

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How Purdue will handle things without its head coach is another key question. Jeff Brohm won’t be at the stadium because he has COVID-19 and is in isolation, though Purdue has appealed to allow him to communicate via phone with his coaching staff during the game. Brohm’s brother, Brian, is co-offensive coordinator and acting head coach.

Purdue defense

Former Iowa linebacker Bob Diaco is Purdue’s first-year defensive coodinator. He’ll employ a 3-4 look.

Purdue’s defense gave up 31 points a game last season, which was next to last in the Big Ten. That has to have Iowa’s offense licking its chops.

Purdue didn’t release a two-deep roster going into this game, so who the heck knows who is starting? Some guys who return after making impacts last season include sophomore George Karlaftis (team high in sacks and tackles for loss as a true freshman), linebacker Derrick Barnes (second on the team in tackles) and safety Cory Trice (team-best three interceptions).

Massive tackle Lorenzo Neal (325 pounds) was a team captain last season but didn’t play because of injury. He was honorable mention all-Big Ten two years ago.

Final thoughts

College football 2020 = your guess is as good as mine how things will go. So little prep time for both teams, obviously. Who is going to pass their COVID-19 tests and who isn’t? Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz mentioned at his press conference Tuesday how concerned he was with conditioning. That goes both ways.

Iowa goes in as a 3 1/2-point favorite by most sportsbooks.

These teams seemingly have offenses that will move the football and score points, though not having Moore is a huge hit for Purdue. Both ave offenses with question marks at quarterback, too. They have questions overall on defense, though Iowa should be in much better shape in that department.

Kicker Keith Duncan made all four of his field-goal attempts last season in a 26-20 Iowa win and could be a wild card here. But, again, who the heck knows?

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Purdue has beaten Iowa two of the last three years. So just an absolute guess here. Honestly, nothing would be a surprise.

Prediction — Iowa 35, Purdue 31

Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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