Editor’s note: Because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, The Gazette has decided to limit its staffing at road games. Jeff Johnson covered today’s game via television, radio and Zoom news conferences.
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — These Iowa Hawkeyes have had more than their share of chaos in the last few months. More than everyone’s share of chaos.
You figured more than virtually any other team in college football, they really, really, really needed a feel-good, positive start to this on-off-on truncated Big Ten season. Instead they left Ross-Ade Stadium on Saturday night with a feel-bad, negative start.
Aidan O’Connell’s 6-yard touchdown pass to David Bell with 2:15 left lifted Purdue to a 24-20 win before family members only. How the super sophomore could get so wide open on a third-and-5, the biggest play of the game, was a head scratcher.
Kind of like this result when you look at it as a whole. Losing to a team without its head coach (COVID-19 stricken Jeff Brohm), without one of its assistants (same reason), perhaps its top player (receiver Rondale Moore) and top running back (King Doerue) ... well, that’s just not good.
“Frustrated, sad, upset. It all kind of falls under the same category,” said Iowa linebacker Nick Niemann. “All we can do is try to bounce back.”
Northwestern’s up next week in the home opener at Kinnick Stadium.
“I think the biggest thing to remember, which is important for all of us, is our only goal we won’t accomplish right now is being undefeated,” said Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras. “There are still so many things to play for, starting with beating Northwestern next week. That’s the next thing. All of our goals still apply, of getting better each day and getting to be the best team we can be, playing to our potential. There’s still plenty out there.”
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Despite Moore’s absence, due to an apparent injury, Iowa simply could not lock down Bell, or even come close. Again.
He torched the Hawkeyes for 13 catches for a second straight year. The yardage total this time didn’t equal last year (197 to 121) but he had three TDs to a mere one in 2019 at Kinnick.
“We weren’t real focused on the defensive side, could have played a lot better. Better communication,” said Iowa cornerback Matt Hankins.
Such as on Bell’s winner. Making his first career start, linebacker/cash Barrington Wade had coverage on him in the right slot, missed on an attempt to re-route him, allowing Bell to get behind him all alone for quarterback Aidan O’Connell to make the easy TD throw.
O’Connell was 31 of 50 for 282 yards and was picked off twice, once by Wade.
“I’m not sure we had the right matchups there coverage wise,” said Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz. “I think the guy in coverage (Wade) thought he had a little bit of help inside. For whatever reason, there was miscommunication there. The other part is Bell is just an outstanding player ... In my opinion, he’s one of the best receivers we’ve faced in the 21 years (he had been head coach).”
Iowa reached its 44 on its final possession, with four straight Spencer Petras incompletions turning the ball over on downs with 1:23 left. Petras went 22 of 39 for 265 yards in his first college start.
The Hawkeyes racked up 460 yards of offense, including 195 on the ground, did a ton of good things at times, but dropped to 45-5 since 2015 when rushing for over 100 in a game.
Why? Two lost fumbles and 10 penalties that cost them 100 yards. Triple digits told this story: Iowa’s penalty yards, Bell’s receiving yards and Purdue bulldozer back Zander Horvath’s 129 yards rushing.
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“Penalties definitely changed the game. Penalties and turnovers,” said Iowa back Tyler Goodson, who had 136 rushing and receiving yards but curiously did not get a touch in the fourth quarter. “That was our main thing. We beat ourselves today.”
“What it comes down to is going back in tomorrow and us responding the right way, putting in a good week and seeing if we can’t make some improvements we have to make to expect to win football games,” Ferentz said.
Iowa took a 17-14 lead into the half on a 27-yard Keith Duncan field goal. Petras and Mekhi Sargent had short first-half touchdown runs.
Another Duncan field goal, this one 33 yards, made it a 20-14 game early in the fourth. Purdue countered with a field goal on the ensuing possession, recovered a Sargent fumble at the Boilermakers 28 on Iowa’s next possession, which was a huge play, and proceded to go on a 72-yard drive to win it.
Discouraging, disappointing, more bad news.
“A lot of good things, a lot of things that if we keep doing them well and clean up the other (stuff), we’re going to have a chance to win some football games,” Ferentz insisted. “This season is different than any one we’ve been through ... but what is alike is we’ve had disappointment before in the first game. What really counts is what we do moving forward. We’ve got a lot of good guys on our football team. They’ve worked hard, I think they’ve shown a lot of character.”
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