Even though it is no longer a cross-divisional protected rivalry, Our Most Hated Rival remains on the schedule as our new mates in the West Division. They are also part of a scheduling oddity. Because of the realignment and addition of Rutgers and Maryland, Iowa will now come to Purdue two seasons in a row. It is the same type of oddity that has Purdue going to Bloomington two years in a row.
So, Iowa will start the Big Ten season by visiting West Lafayette. For Purdue, it is our first chance to break an eight game losing streak in league play. They should be a good team in 2014 with another tough defense, which is often the hallmark of Iowa teams.
2013 Record: 8-5, 5-3 Big Ten
Bowl result: Lost to LSU 21-14 in Outback Bowl
Blog Representation: Black Heart Gold Pants
Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 46-35-3
Last Purdue win: 11/10/2012 27-24 at Iowa
Last Iowa win: 11/9/2013 38-14 at Purdue
Last Season for the Hawkeyes
I did not expect a lot from the Hawkeyes last season, but they ended up taking advantage of their schedule to make a New Year's Day bowl game. They opened with a loss to Northern Illinois (no shame in that), before winning four in a row. They pretty much beat the teams they were supposed to and lost to the teams they weren't supposed to beat. Against teams with a winning record they were 3-5, beating only Michigan (7-6), Minnesota (8-5), and Nebraska (9-4).
That doesn't mean Iowa was a bad team though. After giving up 34 points to Ohio State the defense got quite stingy. Its best effort was a 38-17 win at Nebraska to close the season that was very impressive. Basically, they looked like the good Iowa teams under Kirk Ferentz.
The Iowa offense wasn't bad in 2013. It didn't light up the scoreboard, but it was a typical Ferentz team that preferred to run the ball and pound opponents into submission and the passing game was more of a short game than one full of long bombs. Many of the key players return to a unit that averaged 26.3 points per game. That's not great, but it is enough to win when the defense holds a team under 20.
Junior QB Jake Rudock was serviceable as a first-time starter. He had 18 TDs against 13 INTs, and threw for 2,383 yards. Again, these aren't great numbers, but they are perfectly fine in the Ferentz offense and will be even better if he cuts down on the interceptions. Rudock can even run a bit with 271 yards on the ground.
After years of a vengeful AIRBHG striking down running backs things look decent for the Hawkeyes coming into 2014, and that is where the strength of the offense will lie. Mark Weisman (974 yards, 8 TD) has been the main beneficiary of AIRBHG's capriciousness. He went from buried on the depth chart walk-on to team Captain and Third Team all-B1G selection. There is depth at the position as well, with Damon Bullock (467-1) and Jordan Canzeri (481-2) both back. Last year Canzeri had a big game against Purdue with 165 yards and a score on 20 carries.
There is also plenty of experience at receiver. Kevonte Martin-Manley is a former two-star recruit that caught 40 passes for 388 yards. Tevaun Smith and Jake Duzey will present match-up problems as the typical big receivers we always struggle with. Last year Iowa did not need to pass much against us, however. Rudock only threw 20 times against 52 rushing attempts (which generated 318 yards.
When I look at Iowa's offensive line I am envious. Austin Blythe, Jordan Walsh, and Andrew Donnal are all four-star guys that enter with staring experience. That does not even take into account Brandon Scherff, a 6'5" 320 left tackle that was First Team all-B1G and could be the first tackle selected in the 2015 NFL Draft. Both Donnal and Scherff are expected on the ends and Blythe anchors the middle with 22 starts at center. The biggest question is left guard, but it just so happens the sophomore Ryan Ward is a 4-star recruit and a left guard.
This line could be among the best in the conference and is perfect to clear paths in the ground game.
This is pretty much a worst case scenario for Purdue. There are three seniors starting up front that are really, really good against the run and we have an unproven line that struggled mightily to run at all last year. Purdue had only 53 yards rushing last year on 28 attempts and it is hard to see a performance much better than that unless our own line is light years better. Louis Trinca-Pasat and Carl Davis are 600 pounds of defensive tackle that can also get into the backfield and plug holes. The pass rush is not great, but the line alone can stuff the run.
Fortunately for us the linebackers are almost completely new. All three starters need to be replaced and Quinton Alston, Travis Perry, and Reggie Spearman look like the top candidates to replace them. Here is what Bill C's big preview had to say:
Unfortunately, all three starting linebackers are gone. Two of the three (Anthony Hitchens and Christian Kirksey) were picked in May's NFL Draft. The three combined for 35.5 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, six interceptions, six breakups, and six forced fumbles last season -- good luck finding a unit much more productive than that; the top three returnees, meanwhile, combined for 22.0 tackles and zero of everything else.
Toss in the loss of cornerback B.J. Lowery, with his 19 passes defensed and three forced fumbles, and you've got grounds for concern.
There is quite a bit of youth and potential in the back seven, from sophomore corner Desmond King (one of the best freshman DBs in the country last year), to sophomore WLB Reggie Spearman, redshirt freshman OLB John Kenney, to redshirt freshman corner Malik Rucker. But in terms of experience, it's safety John Lowdermilk ... and that's about it.
As long as Purdue can protect the quarterback we have the receivers to at least move the football in this game. Danny Etling struggled against them, but Austin Appleby had his only career action against Iowa last season and was 5 of 6 for 68 yards and a score. Yes, it was late in the game against the scrubs, but considering all the trouble we had moving the ball it was at least a positive.
Iowa Special Teams
Martin-Manley was the best punt returner in the Big Ten last year with two taken back for touchdowns. Considering that he will likely field quite a few punts in this game, it is a huge advantage for Iowa. The Hawkeyes do have to work in a new kicker, but Connor Kornbrath was an effective punter at 40 yards per kick.
As is the case against most of the Big Ten, Akeem Hunt and Raheem Mostert are huge weapons for Purdue on kickoff returns. The downside, of course, is that the more attempts they get per game, the more points we're giving up.
Last year's Iowa game followed a very familiar script. The defense did not play poorly for a half or even three quarters, but the inept offense kept the defense on the field far too long and it wore down. Purdue was actually tied 7-7 just before halftime after a turnover gave us our first red zone possession in over a month. Purdue gave up a score two minutes before halftime and still only trailed 21-7 going into the fourth quarter thanks to a late third quarter TD from Weisman.
My point is that an improved offense makes a huge difference in this game. Last year was full of blowouts, but there were games (Cincinnati, Notre Dame, Michigan State, Iowa, and Illinois) where Purdue was either leading, tied, or within 7 points at halftime. Yes, it is not much, but if there is any kind of offense whatsoever it allows the defense to rest, maybe puts a score or two on the board, and changes the momentum in those games.
So what happens when Iowa comes to Ross-Ade? Well, as we'll see in almost every Big Ten game, they're going to be the better team. The way both teams look in the heat of June points to a comfortable Iowa win. Who knows what happens by late September, however. It is very possible Purdue enters at 3-1, and if things are at least moving on offense there should be some momentum in the right direction. Maybe that all leads to an upset. Iowa is a good team, but not impossible to beat. Still, they are better than Purdue. Prediction: Iowa 31, Purdue 14