The Good: Wide Receivers
There’s an argument to be made that this is the most talented 1-2 wide receiver combo of the Kirk Ferentz era, on par with the 2009-2010 pair of DJK and Marvin McNutt. For all of the offensive struggles on Saturday, Iowa’s wide-receivers were excellent, accounting for 61% of Iowa’s total yardage. Brandon Smith was a beast, bringing down nine receptions for 106 yards. Ihmir Smith-Marsette only caught three passes, but they totaled 57 yards, an impressive 19 YPR. ISM also had this mind-blowing one-handed catch that probably earned him some scorn from the coaching staff:
This reminded me of a famous scene from Major League:
Unfortunately, Smith was injured, though word is that it might be something like a bone bruise. Without consistency from the tight end unit (honestly, it’s like Iowa doesn’t even have tight ends), Stanley needs his wide receivers to step up and sure enough, they’ve stepped up this season.
Honorable Mention: KEITH DUNCAN FOR LOU GROZA.
The Bad: Inconsistent Secondary
I don’t know if we’re giving Jeff Brohm too much credit or if Iowa’s coaching staff deserves more criticism. Purdue’s strategy the past two years was quite literally: pick on Iowa’s weakest corner. Relentlessly. This year the unfortunate victim was Matt Hankins, who was tasked with covering David Bell. On Purdue’s drive to close out the first half with a score, Jack Plummer connected with Bell four times, the last pass being a touchdown. Matt Hankins had been abused by Bell a series earlier but the Hawkeyes were fortunate enough to force a fumble. This time, they weren't so lucky.
The third quarter started out the same, with Bell absolutely torching Hankins. And credit to Phil Parker for finally seeing the light and sitting Hankins, giving Riley Moss the call. Naturally, Moss getting the call was somewhat ironic, as he’d lost his starting job at Purdue a season ago because Brohm did the exact same thing. Moss answered:
Now, Bell continued to have his way with the secondary, finishing the day with an absurd 13 receptions for 197 yards and a touchdown, but if anything, that interception gave Plummer pause, as he wasn’t nearly as effective the remainder of the game. In all, the Hawkeyes gave up 327 passing yards. That’s…a lot.
The Ugly: The Offensive Gameplan
Iowa won -- but they only managed 26 points against a lousy defense. That's concerning. How bad is Purdue’s defense? Going into the game, the Boilermakers ranked 104th in total defense and 78th in scoring defense, out of 130 teams. Want to know what’s worse? They actually moved up in the rankings after playing Iowa, to 101st in total defense.
Iowa, simply, cannot run the football in Big Ten play. They rushed 33 times for 102 yards, a paltry 3.1 YPC. Mekhi Sargent’s 21-yard gain late in the fourth quarter is the only reason why the Hawkeyes eclipsed the 100-yard mark. The reason why Iowa’s wide-receivers put up such gaudy numbers is because they were the only ones who could put together anything on offense.
Remember on the first drive when the Hawkeyes were facing 3rd and 1 and they went to a fullback only backfield, then Brady Ross picked up the first down with a one-yard gain? Then, remember when they tried the exact same thing a couple series later and Ross was stuffed, forcing a punt? It’s hard to keep offensive drives moving when you run the same exact play to a fullback twice in one half. It’s also hard to sustain drives when you throw 3-4 quick passes to wide-receivers behind the LOS on 3rd and long. The play that Brandon Smith was injured on? It came on a 3rd and 7. He only picked up 5 yards and Iowa got screwed on a false start penalty, forcing them to punt.
A win is a win. True. But there's not much to celebrate when you only managed to muster 362 total yards against a team that was giving up an average of 444. The next three games are at Northwestern, at Wisconsin and at home vs. Minnesota so stuff like this:
In a play that perfectly sums up Iowa's last 3 games, Iowa Alaric Jackson stands outside the huddle waving his arms to the bench. There's no left guard.— Scott Dochterman (@ScottDochterman) October 19, 2019
Finally, Cody Ince runs out on the field and is quickly told the play as they were lining up. Sargent runs for 1 yard.
It can’t happen anymore.
PS: The refs this season have been absolutely garbage in the Big Ten. See:
In no way, in no circumstance, in no world, is this a false start. If anything, this is targeting. At the time Iowa was facing a 4th and 2, up 19-10 in the fourth quarter. It’s already a nine point game but getting more points on the board would all but seal the deal. Instead, Linderbaum gets flagged for this garbage false start, Iowa punts, Purdue kicks a field goal on the ensuing drive and it’s suddenly a six point game.