IOWA CITY — This game almost turned on an offside head butt that wasn’t called. Also, the game was kind of an offside head butt.
So, on a fourth-and-2 from the Purdue 49 with the Hawkeyes hanging on to a lead with around four minutes left, the Purdue defensive tackle seemed to jump offside. His teammates yelled at him for jumping offside. He for sure made contact with Linderbaum’s head. After a conference, the officials called a false start on Linderbaum.
Linderbaum sort of laughed. The No. 23 Hawkeyes (5-2, 2-2 Big Ten) could laugh after squirming out of a few predicaments in a 26-20 victory over Purdue (2-5, 1-3) before 69,250 fans Saturday at Kinnick Stadium.
“I’m not going to say anything about it,” offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs said. “It was frustrating. That’s part of the game. You’ve just got to keep going.”
The Hawkeyes controlled this one from the start. The Hawkeyes led 6-0 after the first quarter when junior Keith Duncan hit the first two of his four field goals (30, 44, 42 and 38). Yes, Purdue made it 9-7 at halftime, but Iowa went back to working the body and the Boilermakers were pinned.
It was a matter of putting away the Boilermakers. After losses in the last two weeks, Kinnick Stadium became a little antsy and wondered if Iowa could finish this.
If that false start was an offside, the Hawkeyes probably grind out the last four minutes. Instead, J.D. Dellinger’s 36-yard field goal made it 19-13 with 2:59 left in the game.
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“I felt the guy bumped into me,” Linderbaum said. “I fell back, but that’s their (officials) discretion. You have to play through it. It’s no big deal. We had to punt and our defense went in and played.”
Yes, Iowa’s defense went in and played. You already know the defense’s long-standing mantra, “Put out the fire.” That grass fire at the end, yeah, they needed to watch it, but it was never burning Saturday down.
The defense stopped, dropped and rolled Purdue when it had to.
“You don’t ask who started the fire, you just put it out,” defensive end A.J. Epenesa said. “Put us on the 1-yard line and we’re going to live by our mantra, ‘Bend don’t break.’ We’re going to live by that. You’re going to forcefully go through us to score.”
And with that, this would be a good time to mention that Wisconsin (6-1, 3-1) lost. Illinois knocked off the No. 6-ranked Badgers, 24-23, and now No. 20 Minnesota (7-0, 4-0), which beat Rutgers on Saturday, leads the Big Ten West Division.
With the Hawkeyes offense stuck in “figuring it out” mode, division title hopes are a week-to-week thing. They'll be playing for a piece of it in every game for the next six weeks, starting next week at Northwestern (1-5, 0-4).
“It’s my 30th year in this league now and it’s really hard to predict what’s going to happen and when people start thinking that they know the answers ahead of time,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Boy, that’s when bad things happen. So I have no idea what happened in that game other than I heard the score.”
That’s all anyone needed to hear. The West is a competition. For now. Week-to-week, remember?
Judging by the boos at halftime, when the Hawkeyes received a kick after wide receiver David Bell’s 7-yard TD reception made it 9-7, you’re skeptical.
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Of course, you need to see more out of the offense. You’d like for that not to be week-to-week. They would like that, too.
The Hawkeyes did put up their first positive turnover margin in three weeks. They didn’t get in their own way. The protection problems that plagued the Hawkeyes vs. Michigan and Penn State settled down significantly.
Maybe this is the running game for 2019. The Hawkeyes had 102 yards (110 adjusted for sacks) and averaged 3.4 yards per carry adjusted for sacks.
That’s the nagging voice in the back of your head. The inconsistency in the running game puts so much pressure on quarterback Nate Stanley and the passing game. Stanley completed 23 of 33 for 260 yards. Wide receiver Brandon Smith had a star day, grabbing nine passes for 106 yards.
Field goals were enough Saturday. That’s not always going to be the case.
“It’s been a little bumpy, our protection hasn’t been 100 percent, I thought it was better today, our rhythm isn’t right where we want it to be right now,” Ferentz said. “But (Stanley) he’s pushing forward, he’s leading us, and bottom line is he got another win and I’m really happy about that.”
Smith suffered an injury in the second half. Ferentz said in the postgame it looks like a bone bruise on his lower leg.
That’s good news. There was a lot of good news Saturday. And there is that voice in the back of your head, worrying about what didn’t work.
Feels like a perfectly normal Iowa football season.
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