The Big Ten season is here and with the league's struggles it actually looks promising for Purdue. Sure, most people think we have already won our last game of the season, but a semi-easy stretch of a struggling Iowa and a struggling Illinois means Purdue could get off to a 2-0 start in league play. While I don't expect wins against Wisconsin, Nebraska, or Michigan State, finding a way to get the next two games would be a major step forward.
It all begins on Saturday against the Hawkeyes. Iowa enters at 3-1, but it is a very shaky 3-1:
- In Week 1 Northern Iowa, a team very similar to Southern Illinois, trailed by only a point with less than 10 minutes to play. Sawyer Kollmorgen threw for 380 yards for UNI.
- In Week 2 Ball State had Iowa beat. The Cards led 13-3 before Iowa scored twice in the final three minutes to win 17-13. Ball State needed a single first down to clinch it, but was unable to do so. Iowa also missed three field goals on the day.
- In week 3 the opposite happened. Iowa led Iowa State 14-10 going into the final quarter, but gave up a TD with 7:33left and the game-winning field goal with two seconds left. The Hawkeyes had only 275 yards of offense.
- Finally, last week Iowa was down 17-7 at halftime on the road before the backup QB came in and led them to a 24-20 win at Pittsburgh.
That is a major advantage for Iowa. They have been a fourth quarter team that knows how to win close games so far, and any Purdue victory likely results in a close game.
Who to Watch on Offense:
Mark Weisman - Running Back - The former walk-on fullback as been productive with four touchdowns, but overall the Iowa ground game is not as dominant as years past. Weisman is averaging less than 50 yards per game and more than half of his season total came last week at Pittsburgh. Purdue held him to only 30 yards last season and he was injured in the 2012 game. Jordan Canzeri, Weisman's backup, had the far better game at Ross-Ade last season with 165 yards and a touchdown.
C.J. Beathard OR Jake Rudock - Quarterback - Coach Ferentz has not stated who is starting, but our friends at Black Heart Gold Pants are howling for Beathard. The sophomore came in and provided a spark last week in the second half and is 9 of 11 for 118 yards on the season. Last week he was 7 of 8 through the air. Rudock has been the starter in all four games and has798 yards with 5 TDs and only two picks. Last season Rudock was a pedestrian 12 of 20 for 191 yards and two scores against Purdue. Of the two he is more conservative, but that is the Ferentz offense in a nutshell.
Kevonte Martin-Manley - Wide Receiver - Martin-Manley caught only one pass against Purdue last year, but it was for a 22 yard touchdown. He is the top target offensively with 21 catches for 158 yards, but he has yet to haul in a touchdown pass.
Damon Bullock - Running Back - He is rushing a lot less than in the past, but Bullock has been effective catching passes out of the backfield with 15 catches for 92 yards.
Brandon Scherff - Offensive Tackle - Rarely is a lineman labeled a player to watch, but Scherff is one of the best in the country. He is expected to be one of the first 10 players picked overall in the 2015 NFL Draft. He'll likely be matched against Ryan Russell one-on-one.
Who to Watch on Defense:
Drew Ott - Defensive Line - Ott leads the Hawkeyes with three sacks, already topping his total from last season. He has been disruptive in the backfield and has 22 total tackles on the year.
Louis Trinca - Pasat - Defensive Line - Another hyphenated name means another good player. Maybe they combine the powers of two people? I don't know. Trinca-Pasat leads the Hawkeyes with 31 tackles from the defensive tackle spot. Given Purdue's trouble at running the ball between the tackles a solid DT like this guy will be problematic.
Pass defense - As usual, Iowa is stout against the run, but Danny Etling should find some passing lanes. The Hawkeyes have given up over 1,000 yards passing as opposed to less than 400 rushing in four games. This not a great defense, but it is still a pretty good one giving up less than 20 points per game.
Who to Watch on Special Teams:
Marshall Koehn - Kicker - Koehn had a rough game against Ball State, but is 4 of 7 on the year with a long of 52 yards. Paul Griggs has been more accurate for Purdue and does have the game-winner he hit two years ago in Iowa City.
Dillon Kidd - Punter - He is averaging only 37 yards per punt and Frankie Williams is one of the best punt returners in the Big Ten. That could mean very good field position when the defense gets stops.
I feel like I will say this a lot during the Big Ten season, but this is a winnable game as long as the Purdue of Central Michigan doesn't show up. I have been pleased that Purdue has limited its self-inflicted mistakes in each of the last two weeks. We're just not good enough to make multiple major mistakes in a game and hope to beat anyone. That's probably the first key for this game.
I also think that Purdue gained some confidence by running out to a big lead last week. It had been a long time since we had done that. With the number of freshmen and sophomores we're playing it was the first time they had done that in a game. While I don't except that to happen against the Hawkeyes, at least now we know we can get off to a good start.
Iowa has been far from explosive on offense. They are going to try and win the time of possession battle and allow their defense to do the rest. A game in the high teens and low 20's is perfectly fine with Ferentz. If The Boilers can come out and get a couple of scores early It will help, but just like last week the Iowa defense can clamp down and allow the offense to slowly come back into it.
Iowa is going to be a poised football team. They always are. They haven't panicked despite being behind against Ball State and Pittsburgh and it led to comeback wins. That's where a guy like Keyante Green can come in handy. I know it was only Southern Illinois, but last week he gained the tough yards and kept the clock moving while Purdue held a fourth quarter lead. When is the last time we did that against anyone?
I am thinking we see a close game here. It is homecoming so there should be a larger than usual crowd. Purdue at least has some confidence and looks like a living, breathing football team as opposed to the mess it was in last year when Iowa visited. A victory on Saturday could be a springboard to a strong finish as this team continues to grow.