Justin K. Aller
Two struggling offenses face off in Iowa City.
Danny Hope somehow believes this can still be a successful season. Sure, at best Purdue can go 6-6 with no wins over a bowl eligible team and still reach a bowl game, but that is hardly a measure of success given the hype this team was getting as recently as six weeks ago. For now, a bowl game is still possible. Because of that, I am holding out hope that it may happen.
We also have a relatively easy path to it as well. We have to beat Iowa, who has struggled greatly and is looking worse each week. We then must beat the consensus worst team in the conference in Illinois, who has somehow looked worse than us. Finally, there is Indiana, who is the toughest of the three, but is a team we should always beat in West Lafayette regardless of circumstances.
Should fortunes turn and those three games become victories we're looking at a likely bid against a Big 12 team in the Heart of Dallas Bowl on New Year's Day. I say that because it is highly unlikely that the Big Ten will have eight bowl eligible teams if we reach six wins, thus leaving the Pizza Bowl open. Ohio State, Penn State, and Illinois are already out. Nebraska, Michigan, Northwestern, and Wisconsin are already in. If Purdue reaches 6-6 it is unlikely that Iowa beats both Michigan and Nebraska to get two more wins. Indiana would also have to sweep Penn State and Wisconsin if Purdue is to become eligible. Michigan State and Minnesota are both on the outside right now, but they face each other, so one is getting in. Minnesota also faces Illinois this weekend and likely gets win No. 6.
Even in a lost season such as this getting to any bowl game is important for the extra practices and the development of younger players. Guys like Austin Appleby, Kingsley Ike, Cameron Cermin, Andy Garcia, and others who are redshirting can benefit from more time on the practice field even if there is a regime change after the Bucket Game. If anything, half of college football gets the benefit of bowl practices and such, so not reaching a bowl game means Purdue falls that much further behind everyone else.
So yes, there is something to play for even now.
2011 Record: 7-6, 4-4 Big Ten
Bowl Result: Lost to Oklahoma 13-14 in Insight Bowl
2012 Record: 4-5, 2-3 Big Ten
Blog Representation: Black Heart Gold Pants
Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 45-34-3
Last Purdue win: 31-6 at Purdue on 10/20/2007
Last Iowa win: 31-21 at Purdue on 11/19/2011
Time & TV: Noon, Big Ten Network
Weather: 70 degrees and 30% chance of rain
Odds: Iowa by 5
The Hawkeyes should consider themselves lucky to be even 4-5. they have a last minute win over Northern Illinois (who is a very solid 9-1) at 18-17 in week 1. They also have a double overtime win over Michigan State and a 27-16 struggle over Northern Iowa. The only game in which the Hawkeyes looked good was a dominant 31-13 win over Minnesota where they retrieved their pig.
Aside from hating them as Our Most Hated Rival, we should hate them for actually giving Indiana fans football hope last week. When Indiana won 24-21 in Bloomington it was the first home Big Ten win for IU since 2009 and first two-game conference win streak in five years. It also gave the Hoosiers and actual chance to win the Leaders Division, which should be the final indictment against Danny Hope if it does happen.
Iowa Offense vs. Purdue Defense
We make fun of the Nordfense, but Iowa's offense has been just about as inept. They have only topped 30 points twice, reaching 31 in consecutive weeks against Central Michigan and Minnesota. They rate 105th out of 124 FBS teams in scoring at a paltry 20.4 points per game and have such gems as a 9-6 loss to Iowa State.
They too blame their offensive coordinator in Greg Davis. In today's Q&A Ross pointed out that the change in offensive scheme has handcuffed James Vandenberg. Last season Vandenberg threw for 3,022 yards and 25 scores against only seven picks. He enterted this year as possibly the best returning passer in the league, but so far he has dismal numbers of 1,786 yards and only four touchdowns against six interceptions. He has thrown every pass for Iowa with his best day being last week when he was 21 of 34 for 249 and a score and a pick.
Clearly, if he replicates last year's 22 of 32 for 273 and three scores we have done something terribly wrong. This is one of the worst passing teams in the county and possibly the worst in the conference. Kevonte Martin-Manley (43-482-2) and Keenan Davis (44-542-1) are both good receivers, but they are far from the best we have faced this year. Tight End C.J. Fiedorowicz is the only other receiver with more than 20 catches with a 27-261-0.
At running back we have the remnant of the infamous Angry Iowa Running Back Hating God. Mark Weisman has 670 yards rushing and 8 TDs, but he is likely out. Damon Bullock has 485 yards and two scores had a concussion earlier in the year and is really the only running threat left on the team if Weisman can't go. Greg Garmon has 75 yards rushing, but on 23 carries. It could not be easier this week to stop the running game: Stop Bullock and we stop the ground game. Period. He's going to be the only player running the ball, so if we can't stop him it won't be because we're shocked he is carrying it.
The offensive line is somewhat in flux after a rash of injuries against Penn State. James Ferentz and Matt Tobin are the lone seniors at the top of the depth chart. It is a much lighter line than we are used to with all five starters listed well under 300 pounds. If the defensive line is going to wake up and start playing well again this appears to be the week.
So there you have it. We're facing a team with a struggling offense, banged up offensive line, a messed up passing game, and a running game that features one and only one option. This should be the week where Purdue's defense finally has a solid game throughout. Martin-Manley and Davis are the only major offensive threats and they have to be covered on third downs. Kawann Short and Bruce Gaston have to get back to dominating the middle and creating pressure. I know Ryan Russell is nicked up, but if he can't go someone has to create pressure or Vandenberg can carve us up. Hell, we've twice let freshmen carve us in Joel Stave and Philip Nelson because of no pressure, so an experienced senior should have an easy time doing so unless we get after him.
Iowa Defense vs. Purdue Offense
Iowa's defense has been decent this year, but much like our own they have often gotten no help whatsoever from the offense. Like Ricardo Allen and Josh Johnson they have two very good, experienced corners in Micah Hyde and Greg Castillo. The defense is led by Anthony Hitchens though, who already has 106 tackles on the season and a sack. Hitchens does not help in the passing game much, but against the run he is quite fierce.
James Morris and Christian Kirksey assist Hitchens forming a very nice linebacking trio. Joe Gaglione with five sacks can get to the quarterback, but he is the only player with more than two sacks. Teams are running for 148 yards per game against Iowa, but I don't expect Gary Nord to be smart enough to try and establish a running game because he hasn't been doing it against worse run defenses.
Iowa also gives up 220 yards through the air and has nine interceptions as a team. Kirksey and Castillo each have two picks.
Overall this is a balanced defense that is good, but hardly fantastic. They will likely look like the 1985 Chicago Bears against the Nordfense as we futilely try to run screens all day after Akeem Shavers has his 40 yard run to show everyone but the two people who most need to know (Nord and Hope) that we can run on them. There are weaknesses here, but our coaches have excelled at refusing to exploit weaknesses or making teams adapt to us, so I expect to struggle.
It appears as if Sam McCartney has won back the starting kicking job as he has done all placements for two weeks in a row. Last week he banked in his second career field goal while Paul Griggs missed a longer attempt. Iowa does have a definite advantage in Mike Meyer, who is an impressive 15 of 18 on the season. We could get field goaled to death.
Connor Kornbrath and John Wienke (a former quarterback) have split punting duties this year but average a combined 36 yards per kick. That means Cody Webster is an advantage as long as he doesn't have any more blocked.
Jordan Cotton is a dangerous returner. Like Akeem Hunt, he has a touchdown return and averages 28 yards per attempt.
Well, it's two shitty offenses going against defenses that have looked good at times, but bad at others. Overall, Iowa has an advantage because their defense is actually quite good at 21.4 points per game. We've been giving that up by halftime of late while not scoring enough to match. This makes for a likely very ugly game where the teams flail at each other and whomever makes the fewest mistakes will win.
Since our new M.O. is to give up deep passes on post routes, something that was not a problem until inexplicably appearing at Minnesota, I would send Martin-Manley and Davis deep as much as possible. If it gets to third down Fiedorowicz will be wide open over the middle, as is tradition.
I hate to be so down but with the way this team has looked outside of the Ohio State anomaly I fully expect the Iowa defense to stonewall us (after the first drive, of course) and just wear our defense down because they are probably smart enough to at least attempt a running game.
I do think we have more than enough talent to win this game with ease. Shavers and Hunt can have a big day and Robert Marve should have more time to throw this week, but have less than no confidence in the coaching staff even recognizing this, let alone attempting it.
Casually peruse Hotwire for Dallas travel info if:
- Marve throws for 300 yards
- We actually attempt a running game and give Shavers the 20 carries he deserves.
- The Iowa offense continues to flounder
- Purdue forces multiple turnovers
- Iowa just out-sucks us
- The Iowa running game does nothing.
E-mail Morgan Burke every 5 minutes asking why Hope and Nord haven't been fired yet if:
- Bullock has a 150 yard day with three scores.
- Vandenberg throws more than one touchdown pass.
- The Nordfense accumulates five more three-and-outs.
- Shavers breaks a big run, then has three more carries in the game.
- The defensive line continues to get no pressure.
- The quarterback carousel begins again.