WHO: Purdue Boilermakers (4-4, 3-2 Big Ten)
WHEN: Saturday, November 3
WHERE: Ross-Ade Stadium (West Lafayette, IN)
KICKOFF: 2:30 PM Central
RADIO: Hawkeye Sports Network (check local listings); TuneIn
ODDS: Purdue -2.5
WEATHER: 54 degrees, partly cloudy, not much wind
It's 2-1 in rivalry games so far this season, but now it's time for the big one: the showdown against Our Most Hated Rival. This is also stop two (or stop three if you count the Wisconsin game back in September) on Iowa's 2018 Revenge Tour against teams that beat them last year and so far that tour hasn't gone so well -- Wisconsin took advantage of Iowa miscues to win earlier this year and Penn State edged Iowa again last week. Can Iowa rewrite the script against Purdue? Let's hope so.
Purdue leads the all-time series against Iowa 47-38-3, mainly on account of the fact that they won 20 straight games against Iowa from 1961 through 1980. That was a pretty dismal period for Iowa football in general, but especially so for their fortunes against the Boilermakers: they got shutout five times and only six of the 20 losses were decided by less than 10 points. Since then, though, Iowa's flavor of black and gold has more often won the day: Iowa has gone 22-8-1 against Purdue since 1981. FUN FACT: the one tie (21-21 in 1994) was also the last tie that Iowa football ever played. Ferentz has had good fortune against Purdue as well, going 10-5 during his tenure. Iowa had won four in a row against Purdue, and five of the last six since they officially became Our Most Hated Rival in 2011, before getting stunned in Iowa City last season.
PURDUE SEASON RECAP
Raise your hand if you're a fan of a team that wears black and gold and boatraced Ohio State out of the blue in the last two years? Congrats, Iowa and Purdue fans, we have something we can both enjoy. Purdue's season has had some extreme highs (that incredible 49-20 thrashing of the Buckeyes just two weeks ago) and some incredible lows as well (the 0-3 start was rough, but losing at home to Eastern Michigan was probably the nadir). Purdue is a classic example of the old "better than their record would suggest" chestnut, which is probably supported by the fact that Vegas has them favored (albeit by just 2.5 points now) in this game. Purdue is just 4-4 overall, but three of those wins came early in the year on punishingly thin margins -- an ill-timed penalty (or two) here, a costly turnover there. Purdue probably deserved to be something like 2-1 (or 1-2 at worst) after those first three games, not the 0-3 that they actually were. Once they stopped shooting themselves in the foot they redirected their aim to their opponents -- and started slicing them to ribbons, beginning with an impressive 30-13 win over then-ranked Boston College and continuing with bulldozer efforts over Nebraska, Illinois, and Ohio State. Last week's loss to Michigan State was a step back, but we know the peril that a trip to East Lansing can bring, too.
When Jeff Brohm was hired away from Western Kentucky to rescue the Boilermakers from the Danny Hope and Darrell Hazell-sized hole the program was in, the expectation was that he would turn around their offense. Brohm came up in the coaching ranks through Louisville's high-powered offense and he turned WKU into one of the most potent offenses in the country: in his three seasons in charge they finished 6th, 3rd, and 1st in the nation in scoring. His Purdue offenses haven't exactly hit those heights -- they were 91st in scoring offense last year (25.2 ppg) and rank 39th this year (32.9 ppg). Then again, a touchdown improvement is nothing to sniff at and they're 4th in the Big Ten in scoring offense. They're second in the league in total offense, averaging 492.4 ypg (almost 90 ypg more than last season) and a league-best 6.90 yards per play (an improvement from their 5.59 ypp total last year). Their offense hasn't been slowed much this year -- Boston College held them to 372 yards and 5.39 ypp... in a 30-13 loss to the Boilermakers, while Michigan State held them to 339 yards and 5.47 ypp in a 23-13 Michigan State win. This will be yet another big test for Iowa's defense.
David Blough has become an effective conductor of Purdue's high-powered offense -- the senior QB is second in the Big Ten in passing yards (2350 yards, or 293.8 ypg), third in QB rating (147.8), fourth in touchdown passes (13), and fifth in completion percentage (65.2%). He's experienced, accurate, and capable of making all the throws Purdue needs to make their offense click. Weather shouldn't be a factor on Saturday, which is going to put a lot of pressure on Iowa's secondary to hold up against possibly the best QB they've faced all season.
Blough's favorite target has been super-frosh Rondale Moore, who leads the team in receptions (68), receiving yards (802), and touchdowns (7). He's also tallied 163 rushing yards and a touchdown on 163 carries and serves as the primary punt returner (9 returns for 58 yards, 6.4 yards per return) and kick returner (21 returns for 426 yards, 20.3 yards per return). He does a little bit of everything, in other words. But he's at his most dangerous as a receiver, particularly out of the slot, where he can be match-up nightmare. How Iowa elects to defend him will be one of the most interesting aspects of this game; I suspect we'll see Amani Hooker on him a lot. Moore was held out of practice a few days this week and seems to be nursing an injury (or at least some bumps and bruises):
— Matthew Stevens (@matthewcstevens) November 1, 2018
If he's not available (or limited), that would certainly have a huge impact on Purdue's offense. That said, they have some other weapons, too. D.J. Knox is leading the way at running back with 719 yards and eight touchdowns on 110 carries, posting a very strong 6.5 yards per carry. Markell Jones has been an effective partner for him too, totaling 306 yards and two scores on 57 carries (5.4 yards per carry). Outside of Moore, Blough's favorite targets in the passing game have been receivers Isaac Zico and Jared Sparks and tight end Brycen Hopkins. Zico has 24 catches for 495 yards and three scores, while Sparks has 24 receptions for 225 yards, and Hopkins has 26 catches for 469 yards and two touchdowns.
One other item of note with Purdue's offense: it's heavy on big plays. They rank 28th in the country in plays of 10+ yards (136), but 16th in plays of 20+ yards (50),4th in plays of 30+ yards (31), and third in plays of 40+ yards (20). Iowa's defense is predicated around not giving up big plays and forcing offenses to be precise and methodical to move down the field and score points. If they can limit big plays against Purdue, they'll have an excellent chance to win tomorrow. That's probably easier said than done against this offense, though.
Purdue's defense has been mastering the art of "bend but don't break" this season. They've done a lot of bending, to the tune of 432.3 yards per game (97th nationally). But they give up a lot of yards because they face a lot of plays -- 621 so far, among the top 30 in the country in terms of most plays faced. But they're only giving up 5.57 yards per play (66th nationally) and 22.8 points per game (38th nationally). Just two teams (Northwestern and Missouri) have topped 30 points against them and four (Eastern Michigan, Boston College, Illinois, and Ohio State) have been held to 20 points or fewer against them.
Purdue has managed to put up those stingy point totals and succeed at playing fairly extreme "bend but don't break" defense because they've been especially good in the red zone. Teams have converted just 21 of 29 attempts (72.4%) into points against them this year, the 9th best figure nationally. They've limited opponents to just 12 touchdowns on 29 trips (41.4%), which is fourth best nationally. This defense has proved that it can get the job done very well when the field shrinks. That feels like an ominous stat for an Iowa offense that has just two touchdowns in six red zone trips in their last two games. Iowa will probably find themselves with scoring opportunities on Saturday -- but they probably need to turn those chances into touchdowns, not field goals, and that could be difficult against the Boilermaker defense.
Linebacker Markus Bailey leads the team with 69 tackles (nice), though defensive backs Jacob Thieneman (65 tackles) and Navon Mosley (54) aren't too far behind him. Purdue is sixth in the Big Ten with 19 sacks, led by Thieneman, who has four. Bailey is second on the team with 3.5 sacks. In fact, their top four sack-getters are all linebackers or defensive backs, which makes sense given their blitz-heavy tendencies:
Purdue doesn't generate a lot of pressure w/o blitzing. Would guess Purdue will blitz often vs Iowa, blitzed over 50% vs ILL, over 40% vs OSU and over 30% vs MSU. Not much pass rush threat from DL,will bring the back 7 at will, especially LB21, LB46, SS41;SS41 leads team in sacks
— Hawkeye Gamefilm (@hawkeyegamefilm) November 2, 2018
Stanley is going to need to identify blitz looks well in his pre-snap reads and get the ball out quickly. That could lead to some big plays if he's able to find receivers in single coverage, but he's also struggled under pressure in the past, so this is definitely a potential pain point. Will Iowa opt to keep a tight end (or running back) in more often to help block those blitzers? We'll see.
Cornel Jones leads Purdue with 11.5 tackles for loss. Freshman defensive back Kenneth Major leads the team with three interceptions, though Antonio Blackmon and Simeon Smiley lead the team with six pass break-ups each.
MATCH-UP TO WATCH
I'm most curious to see what Iowa does to slow down Moore, the little engine that can behind Purdue's explosive offense, but I think the bigger key for the game is what Iowa's offense (especially the pass offense) can do against Purdue. Iowa lit up the scoreboard against Minnesota and Indiana, especially through the air, but the offense returned to its shell in the wind tunnel game against Maryland and was inconsistent (at best) against Penn State. Purdue has the fourth-best run defense in the conference, so an Iowa running game that has never really gotten going all that well this year probably isn't going to do big damage on the ground tomorrow. Which means the pressure is going to fall on Stanley and his pass-catchers. Purdue has given up the most passing yards in the Big Ten, although they're slightly more respectable in opponent completion percentage (10th) and opponent QB rating (8th). As noted above, they've also been very good at putting the clamps down near the end zone. Iowa's going to need Good Nate Stanley to win this game and he's going to need to get it done in the red zone. Fingers crossed.
WHAT WE WANT TO SEE
After the agonizing way last week's game ended and the general malaise that has infected Iowa's offense over the last two weeks, a fast start would be very good to see -- and should only help the confidence levels of Stanley and the rest of the offense. There shouldn't be any weather-related problems for this game, and while Purdue's defense is generally good, it's not great. Iowa's offense should be able to make some plays against them... but we'll see if they're able to do that or not.
I still want to believe. But last week shook my faith and the match-ups in this one look somewhat ominous. Those red zone stats in particularly are worrisome -- Purdue is very good at keeping teams out of the end zone and Iowa has had some real issues turning red zone opportunities into touchdowns, especially against quality opponents this year. Purdue outplayed and outcoached Iowa last year and they're better (at least on offense) this year. I want to believe that Nate Stanley bounces back with a big game and leads Iowa to a solid road victory. But the nagging voices are a little too loud right now. Purdue 34, Iowa 24