Each week, "One Defining Moment" will dive into the game's most important moment and break it down in all its glory, or in unfortunate cases, its horror. This week: Iowa's squandered opportunity after Purdue's flukey goalline fumble, a waste of their last best chance of making the game competitive.
I'm not sure if Iowa was conducting some sort of experiment or something on Saturday, but that's the only explanation I can come up with for the gameplan, or lack thereof, from the Hawkeyes. Iowa left David Bell to run rampant, refusing to adapt when it became clear that Hankins was wildly overmatched, and let George Karlaftis take advantage of one-on-one matchups all game rather than providing any support to the overmatched offensive line. Iowa fans are used to the bland sets on offense and defense, but I can't remember the last time Iowa flat-out refused to make adjustments as the opponent found a weak spot and exploited it over and over and over again.
Iowa was never really competitive in the game, but the Boilermakers gifted them a chance to hang around by fumbling a ball into the end zone late in the third quarter. Instead of being down 24-7, the Hawks had a chance to crawl back into the game. Instead, they imploded.
Iowa went into halftime down 14-7. Purdue came out to start the 3rd quarter and added three more. An ineffective drive by the Hawkeyes gave Purdue the chance to put the game away midway through the third quarter and Purdue nearly took advantage.
Instead, a miracle turnover gave Iowa an opportunity, which they immediately squandered. Iowa took two bad sacks, threw an incomplete pass, and sent away an underwhelming punt. There was still a quarter left, but after that "drive," the game was over.
This was called a TD on the field which wouldve put Purdue up 24-7. It was reviewed & was determined that it was a fumble & a touchback. Huge turn of events.— CFB Blitz (@BlitzCfb) October 16, 2021
A Closer Look
I wish I could at least pull a silver lining out and say that Iowa forced the turnover to give themselves the opportunity. Even that, though, would be overstating it. Iowa's defense got worked all game and that fumble was no different. A simple out route led to the easy completion and the only reason Iowa ended up with the ball is that the Purdue receiver tried to go MJ in Space Jam before realizing that Kinnick wasn't Toon Land (although some of Iowa's play was sufficiently comical).
The Hawkeyes may not have deserved it, but they ended up with a turnover nonetheless. The first down play call was the sort of thing we've asked for all season. Iowa looked to set up the play-action pass, but Purdue read it all the way. They started with eight defenders in the box and the backside linebackers didn't bite on the play fake. Pottebaum was Iowa's only chance of giving Spencer Petras time, but it would have taken a miraculous effort for him to make that backside block. Petras didn't do himself any favors with the huge dropback, but I think it's clear at this point that he's not going to be a QB that can improvise on these sorts of plays. Sam LaPorta was open across the middle, but the play had no shot.
Facing second-and-18, the Hawks called a pass (thankfully), but the play was over before it started. George Karlaftis beat Nick DeJong with a simple speed rush and was in the backfield before Petras even completed his drop. His only chance at a positive play was to hit Tracy on the drag route, but even without the instant sack, the play design left a lot to be desired (look at all the 7-yard curls). Watching Karlaftis blow by DeJong with no help from a tight end, running back, or fellow lineman is infuriating. Justin Britt blocks no one on the play, but the only way he can help DeJong is if DeJong forces Karlaftis back inside.
On third down, Purdue elected to only rush three. Petras had some time in the pocket finally, but had to force the ball into a tight window. Both receivers to Petras' right look to come open late near the sticks, but Petras didn't wait for the routes to develop. It's hard to know for sure how open they are as they run off camera and the defenders react to the pass, but they look at least as open as Nico Ragaini was. To be fair to Petras, he had been harassed all game and the Purdue nose tackle was starting to collapse the pocket, but if he takes a step up in the pocket and fires a dart, there's a play to be made. If Iowa's offense is going to succeed in spite of its offensive line, which is looking more and more like what they'll need to do, Petras has to take advantage of the limited opportunities with a clean pocket.
There was still an entire quarter to play, but Iowa punting the ball away after these three disastrous plays sure felt like the end of the game. Iowa's offense was inept, its defense no better. The Hawks stubbornly bashed their head against a wall and were unwilling to adapt to the flow of the game. DeJong had no business blocking Karlaftis one-on-one on second down because Karlaftis had already terrorized the offense throughout the first half.
Instead of adjusting, Iowa allowed Purdue's two best players to beat them on Saturday and were too proud (I'm choosing to believe "proud" is the right word, but there are a few others in my head) to make the necessary changes.
The other major takeaway both from this drive and the game as a whole is that the offensive line is a problem. We all know what Iowa's offense is supposed to look like and the key to making them go is an offensive line that controls the line of scrimmage. There's no zone-read if the line can't get a push and no play-action deep shots if the defense is living in the backfield.
Worse, there's no adjustment for the Hawks if the line is ineffective. The offense isn't going to become predicated on rollouts and screen passes. Petras isn't going to be able to escape and create with his legs. Iowa's playcalling has been embarrassing, but if the line doesn't improve the playcalling won't make a difference.
Iowa has two weeks now to figure out which team they really are. Are they the dominant defense and opportunistic offense we watched for six weeks, or are they the stubborn ineptitude we were forced to sit through on Saturday? This season can still be a memorable one, but there's a real chance now that it could get ugly very, very fast.