Well, what a rancid pile of dogshit that game was. This was the real-world equivalent of that dream when you show up to school naked for a test that you didn’t study for. Only you haven’t even heard what the topic of the test is about, and with all eyes in the room glaring at you, diarrhea starts aggressively seeping down your legs as everyone erupts into laughter. But this time, it's real- life, so you just endure the shame and try and live with it
Probably since the Colorado State game, national prognosticators, haters, and some Iowa fans have been waiting for this Hawkeye squad to be exposed as a bunch of frauds posing as one of college football’s best. Saturday, they got their wish. This was no “That’s Football” and “Them’s the Breaks”-kinda loss. This was a "reality slapping you in the face" kind of game, playing out like the end of a Scooby-Doo episode, with Iowa spending the first six weeks of the season pretending to be elite only to have Jeff Brohm and company pull off the Herky mask to reveal Brian Ferentz whining about how he would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for those darn Boilermakers. This game left nowhere for any excuses about Iowa’s flaws to hide.
As to the flow of the game itself, it felt like Iowa stepped in quicksand while wearing cement boots, and then spent the whole of the game slowly being subsumed by the sludge. Yeah, there was a time or two, especially early, where it looked like Iowa might claw their way out, but the game was mostly unpleasant dreck. After a sexy throw to Keagan Johnson who sliced through Purdue’s secondary for 38 yards* some too-clever by half playcalls set Iowa with 3rd-and-12. Desperate to make a play, Petras forced a fastball into triple-coverage and the ball was deflected dangerously into the air. Purdue snagged the rebound, not only ending the drive but also depriving Tory Taylor of the chance to pin Purdue deep.
*This was roughly 15% of Iowa’s offensive production for the entire game.
Purdue took over the ball and moved 25 yards on seven plays before punting from Iowa’s 45-yard line. To put this context, this drive for Purdue was by far their worst of the game until garbage time. Iowa’s defense didn’t get a three-and-out until long after the outcome was decided, which rendered any gameplan based on playing field position obsolete. This drive was also the last time Iowa defense would get a third down stop outside their own red zone until the end of the game.
With the ball, the only notable thing about Iowa’s drive was that they netted a first down but only gained eight yards thanks to lost yardage on a sack. Purdue’s drive was notable for the fact that three different quarterbacks took snaps against Iowa, and that approach worked shockingly well. It didn’t really matter that the two non-Aidan O’Connell quarterbacks were there only to run the football, Purdue dinked, dunked, dimed and scrambled their way down the field, capping the drive on yet another quarterback run for a touchdown.
Despite the drive ending on an absolutely atrocious missed chip-shot field goal, there was some promise from Iowa’s offense, mostly in the form of an effective running game. Spencer Petras contributed some clutch throws to move the chains. and it looked like maybe he was settling in a tiny bit. (Note: He wasn’t really.) The red zone is still the stuff of nightmares for Iowa’s offense though. Without the hogmollies to run or the creativity to pass, Iowa’s red zone playcalling amounts to a panicky shrug. Purdue came closer to scoring a touchdown than Iowa when another ill-conceived wide receiver screen almost resulted in a pick-six. There is a PhD in Mathematics-worth of problems for this Iowa offense, but red-zone playcalling has to be in the top-3 on that list of problems.
Purdue marched right back into field goal range thanks to David Bell catching the ball on a shallow cross, stiff-arming Matt Hankins into another dimension and sprinting down the right sideline for 60 yards. Luckily Iowa’s defense stiffened and held the Boilermakers to a field goal. Purdue did Iowa a solid and returned the favor by missing a chip-shot field goal of their own, avoiding the dreaded pit of despair which is Iowa down two scores.
This opened the door for Iowa’s best drive and only score of the game. After hitting Sam LaPorta on a frozen-rope up the seam for 22 yards on 2nd-and-14, it was Iowa mauling their way into the endzone on a series of runs. It was the first time in a while that Iowa actually exerted its will on an opponent, clearing space for Goodson and Ivory Kelly-Martin to run over defenders and get into the end zone. It was the kind of running Iowa hasn’t been able to do against almost any other team this year. If that is a sign of things to come, then at least one positive can come out of this debacle.
Purdue would quickly squash the good vibes by chewing up almost all the remaining game clock en route to a 3-yard touchdown pass on a little pick play on the outside. As was the case all game, it felt like Brohm & Co. were seven steps ahead of Phil Parker’s defense, which could not get Purdue’s offense off the field. Blitz and the ball was out of O’Connell's hands in two seconds dropping into open space just before his receiver got there. Drop back into coverage, and O’Connell could chill in the backfield waiting to see which wideout was most open. Nothing worked and Purdue didn't make a mistake all game
With 19 seconds left, Charlie Jones took the kickoff back to Iowa’s 44-yard-line, forcing Kirk to reconsider his plans to take a knee. Kirk entertained the notion of attempting to score again by running a pass play, but Petras was under pressure for seven seconds before ultimately throwing the ball away. With three seconds left, Kirk decided the risk of throwing an interception into the end zone was too horrifying so he had Petras take a knee to tend the half after all.
In the second half, the game went from bad to completely miserable. There was absolutely nothing redeeming for Iowa. Iowa could not move the ball nor stop Purdue from moving the ball. Mainly through dumb luck and Jeff Brohm’s mercy, Purdue only scored 10 points and won 24-7; the yardage disparity better describes what an unrelenting ass-kicking Iowa suffered. Iowa had 86 yards of offense in the second half, which includes several garbage time drives. Purdue had 249 yards of offense. Iowa had two drives start inside the red zone thanks to excellent kickoff and punt returns but got zero points out of them. Iowa’s offense couldn’t even manage a garbage-time touchdown, as Petras threw several interceptions in a desperate attempt to save face. Aside from the returns, the only cool thing that happened was a Purdue player throwing the ball into an end zone pylon and squandering another one of their excellent drives.
So, uh, where do we go from here? I don’t really know, other than I’m not all that worried about Iowa’s defense. Criticizing Phil and Kirk’s gameplan is more than fair, but I don’t want to undersell how great of a job Purdue did and how unlikely it is that any other team on Iowa’s schedule can replicate their offensive gameplan. David Bell is obviously an absurdly good player, a soft-spot seeking missile against the zone and a space-creating wizard against man-coverage, and when you include Brohm getting an extra week to cook up some nasty shit and Aidan O’Connell playing essentially a perfect game, what Purdue achieved on offense was a lot harder than it looked. I think Iowa’s defense goes back to their excellent ways after the bye week, though the game plan cannot be to rely on four turnovers a game. (That said, try something different coverage-wise, for God’s sake. At some point why not jam David Bell and keep Koerner over the top or something. O’Connell wasn’t even slightly flummoxed by any of Iowa’s coverage.)
The offense is a different story. It's 2012-level bad. The Maryland game not withstanding, all the turnovers and special teams excellence hid this fact or at least made us too happy to care, but when forced to rely on their ability to move the football, the offense simply could not do so in any capacity. They don’t do anything well and they don’t even really seem to know what they want to do. They just squirm and flounder in the hopes that something will work, and on the rare occasions it does, Brian does not seem to understand why. I am not convinced Iowa can break 300 yards of offense in any game for the rest of the year, which really means some excruciating games ahead.
Being in the spotlight was fun, but that is over and now it is time to slink back into the shadows and regroup. I hope this loss galvanizes the team. Certainly I won’t be upset if Iowa finishes the year 10-2 and makes the Big Ten West title game, but this team has some wounds to lick and souls to search before the remaining gauntlet of Big Ten defenses awaits. If not, this dream season might well get thrown onto the top of the scrap pile of disappointing seasons.
*Back to the offense and specifically Brian Ferentz. I get that his job is safe because of nepotism and all, but aside from the occasional splash play and his once-a-season gem (Maryland this year, most likely) what is he contributing? If Iowa has any advantage over an opposing defense, he seems unable to exploit it. If Iowa has no advantages over opposing defenses, what is he doing in the off-season? We can talk about the offensive line's inability to block (true), Spencer Petras' limitations as a quarterback (true), or the wide receivers' lack of separation (true), or whatever else you want to, but I’m not at all confident he is getting the most out of any of these players or maximizing their chances to be successful on the field.
*More importantly than Brian Ferentz is his dad. It isn’t Brian’s fault that his dad hired him for a job he really wasn’t qualified for. Kirk’s trepidation about offense borders on disdain, as though trying to score points is too ostentatious and self-aggrandizing, but if Kirk wanted to maximize Iowa’s ability to win, he would acknowledge this, hire someone with a vision and passion and more modern sensibilities and get out of their way, because an offense that could consistently achieve mediocrity is really the only thing keeping Iowa from owning the Big Ten West.
*I want to express my hatred for the phrase “complementary football” here. Iowa’s offense is complementary in the way that my skills as a writer complimented Phil Jackson’s basketball coaching. Did you know that Phil Jackson and I combined to win 9 NBA Titles?
*As for the defense, there were two problems: 1) Lack of pressure and 2) Predictable coverage. Phil Parker tried to compensate for 1) by blitzing, but that didn’t really work because Iowa’s doesn’t so much confuse teams with their blitzes as lulls them to sleep by blitzing so infrequently. 2) was the most maddening, as it didn’t look like O’Connell was confused by a single one of Iowa’s coverage schemes. This is a feature and not a bug, but when it doesn't work, however rarely, it is infuriating.
*The return game was still good.
*If you are desperate to find a sliver of a silver lining on this dark turd cloud of a game, Iowa kept its 24 points allowed streak intact.