An offensive wake up call
Sometimes Purdue comes along on the schedule at just the right time. In 2013, Iowa kind of skated through the first two months of its schedule. They lost to a non-FBS team (Northern Illinois), destroyed a couple of bad teams, lost some close ones, and then just kind of skated by against a lot of mediocre competition. Besides lighting up Western Michigan (which was largely thanks to special teams), Iowa didn't put up more than 30 points in a game. The offense was struggling to find its identity. And then Purdue happened.
Iowa’s offense awoke. Jake Rudock threw two touchdowns and Jordan Canzeri and Damon Bullock (!) both averaged over 8 yards per carry. It was just what the doctored ordered, as Iowa went on to beat Michigan the next week and Nebraska the following, with the offense looking good in both game.
This year is starting to look a little like 2013 and the offense could use a similar wake-up call. The good news is that Purdue’s defense is bad again. They have allowed an average of over 350 rushing yards per game in B1G play. There is no “is that bad?” question here…that is really, really bad. Against the pass, they have not been much better. They haven’t gotten a ton of pressure on opposing quarterbacks and though they haven’t allowed a ton of yards (because nobody really needs to pass against them), they are allowing opponents to complete about 60% of their passes against them.
Get back on track in the red zone
I had basically the same factor last week, and for the first time this year, Iowa had a miserable red zone performance. They had been fantastic at finishing drives with touchdowns, but against Minnesota Iowa's offense fizzled and settled for field goals twice, which almost came back to bite them. And it was little things, too, which has been the common theme for this offense. They were inches away from scoring on the second trip when Smith caught the ball in the end zone but got his foot down with just a sliver of his toe out of bounds.
Purdue’s red zone defense has actually been pretty decent (especially considering how bad the defense is in general). They’ve only allowed 5 points per trip inside the 20, with touchdowns given up on 15 of 23 drives. The good news, though, is that Purdue’s offense is terrible in the red zone, barely averaging over a field goal per trip (3.5 points). They’ve scored a touchdown on fewer than half of their red zone appearances. So bend-but-don’t-break may be the perfect strategy for the defense tomorrow.
Keep evolving defensively
The defense has slowly been adding more to its repertoire as the season has progressed. Per usual, the non-conference games were pretty much base defense. They’ve worked in some Raider looks over time and have been using a good mix of nickel and dime packages. Then last week they actually did move King around and had him shadowing the Gophers' best receiver. Everything they’ve added into the defensive rotation has been fairly successful. Moving King around last week seemed to throw Mitch Leidner off. Either the game plan was terrible, Leidner thought he was better than he is, or King moving around threw him off, but Minnesota tried to attack King repeatedly, especially early in the game, and had little success. Leidner ended the day with his worst game in a long time.
Purdue’s offense hasn’t been as terrible as the defense, so Iowa will need to continue to improve and attack in different ways. David Blough is certainly capable of racking up yards, but will also make mistakes. He’s thrown nine picks already this year (to only seven touchdowns). If Iowa can continue to get creative with King, maybe this will be the week he finally gets an interception this year.
Win 3rd down
While a lot of Iowa’s third down problems on both offense and defense have been greatly impacted by poor first and second downs, the continued woes on third down have been maybe the team’s biggest problem. The offense is converting on just 37% of their third down attempts and is going three-and-out way too often. Third down play calling, which is always going to be somewhat predictable based on the distance, has become so incredibly predictable that it’s a wonder they are even converting a third of the time. In third-and-more-than-three situations, Iowa is going to its 11 personnel and going 4-wide with Kittle as the fourth receiver. Kittle (with VandeBerg out) is often the first option in the middle of the field just beyond the sticks, though Beathard will also look to someone out wide if they have man coverage. Iowa has had some success when they’ve mixed it up on third down. They’ve used the bunch formation that’s helped get receivers open a bit. And now that Beathard looks like he’s more comfortable taking off and running, that has helped as well. Iowa especially needs to take advantage this week against Purdue’s defense, which is last in the conference in third down defense and has allowed opponents to convert over half of the time.
On defense, Iowa has struggled when opponents are able to run it on third down. They have not come up with many stops on third-and-short. Overall though, the defense has been pretty good on third down. They’ve only allowed a 33% conversion rate for opponents. Purdue's offense is actually pretty good on third down, though, and has been able to convert over half of their attempts this year. They are third in the B1G behind just Nebraska and Ohio State in this stat.
In 2014, Iowa started beating overmatched opponents by big margins. They just didn’t beat anybody equal or better than them that year. That carried over into last year to some degree and Iowa had a lot of wins where their opponent never had the ball with a chance to take the lead in the second half. This year started out the same as Iowa dominated Miami (OH) and Iowa State, but that loss to NDSU was the reset button getting pushed. And it looks like we are in for a year of painfully close games with Iowa playing to the level of its opponent. I don’t think this week will be much different.
I think Iowa’s offense will continue to get back on track, but like last week, fail to turn those yards into points. I think Iowa will dominate the time of possession and total yards, but won’t be able to put Purdue away until late in the 4th quarter. I could see another big run by Wadley or Daniels that puts the game away (something that happened a lot last year).
On the other side of the ball, things will go similarly. Purdue will be able to move the ball some, but Iowa will be able to force enough mistakes to prevent them for scoring many points. Look for Blough to turn it over at least once and for penalties to hurt them (they’ve been worse than Iowa in penalty yardage per game).
Final Score: Iowa 24 - Purdue 17