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Know Thy Opponent 2015: Iowa Hawkeyes

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SO. MUCH. HATE!!!!

Phil Sears-USA TODAY Sports

WE HATE IOWA!!!!!!!!!!!!

Okay, now that we have that out of the way we can talk a little more rationally about our Most Hated Rival. The Hawkeyes are entering 2015 at a bit of a crossroads. Since winning the Orange bowl after the 2009 season Kirk Ferentz's teams have been rather unspectacular. They have gone 8-5, 7-6, 4-8, 8-5, and 7-6. It appears that Iowa has contracted a case of Joe Tiller's Disease. They have little trouble winning 6-7 games to reach a bowl game. But they aren't beating anyone of note. As a result, Ferentz is on the Grantland Hot Seat even if he has an enormous buyout.

Iowa really hasn't had a marquee win in some time, which is another symptom of Joe Tiller Disease. They beat a 9-4 Nebraska team in 2013, but Nebraska always goes 9-4. A win over a Northern Illinois team that eventually went 12-2 in 2012 is probably the best win of the last five years, but it is really earth-shattering when a Big Ten team beats even a great MAC team?

Still, there is something to be said for consistency, and as the longest tenured coach in the Big Ten, Ferentz regularly has Iowa as at least a good team. They have dominated the recent series with Purdue, winning seven of the last nine.

Iowa Hawkeyes

2014 Record: 7-6, 4-4 Big Ten

Bowl result: Lost to Tennessee 45-28 in TaxSlayer Bowl

Blog Representation: Black Heart Gold Pants

Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 46-36-3

Last Purdue win: 11/10/2012 27-24 at Iowa

Last Iowa win: 9/27/2014 24-10 at Purdue

Last Season for the Hawkeyes

The game against Purdue was terribly frustrating for Boilermaker fans. A first quarter pick-six by Frankie Williams and a second quarter field goal gave the Boilers a nice 10-0 lead, but the offense proceeded to do nothing in Danny Etling's final game. Etling had only 61 yards passing on 26 attempts with an interception and was replaced by Austin Appleby. The ground game only managed 84 yards as Purdue was held to just 156 yards.

Still, Purdue had a chance. The defense did everything it could before wearing down late as Iowa had 150 yards of TD drives before finally sealing it with 5:10 left on a Mark Weisman TD run. If Purdue had any kind of offense on the day it probably wins, starts the Big Ten at 2-0 after a win over Illinois the next week, and who knows what happens with some confidence. Instead, it was one of the most futile outputs ever from Purdue.

The rest of the season didn't go so well. A win over Indiana the following week put the Hawkeyes at 5-1 with a loss only in El Assico. Things were then downhill as they only beat Northwestern and Illinois the rest of the way. That was part three of Joe Tiller Disease: They beat the bad teams in the Big Ten (Purdue, Indiana, Illinois, and Northwestern) and lost to the good teams (Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Wisconsin).

Things could have been worse had Iowa not been so good in close games early. Wins over Northern Iowa, Ball State, and Pittsburgh were all within eight points. Later, they lost close games to Maryland, Wisconsin, and Nebraska. What does this all mean? Who knows!

Iowa Offense

The Iowa offense is about as missionary position as possible. There is not a lot of excitement and it shows. Jake Rudock could have returned for another year as the starting quarterback, but instead transferred to Michigan. That leaves C.J. Beathard as the possible starter. The junior had only 645 yards and 5 TDs against 2 interceptions in limited action. Most of that came against Purdue, where he started his only game and threw for 245 yards and a TD against an interception while going 17 of 37. He is the heavy favorite to start even with 4-star redshirt freshman Tyler Wiegers behind him.

Beathard has two solid receivers around him with Tevaun Smith (43-596-3) and Matt VandeBurg (14-256-1), but his top target in Kevonte Martin-Manley has left. Jake Duzey (36-392-3) is also a very solid receiver, so the passing game should be good.

It will need to be good, as AIRBHG has struck again, but in a more subtle way. Mark Weisman has finally graduated after rushing for 812 yards and 16 touchdowns, even though he had a paltry 3.8 yards per carry. He was pretty much the epitome of three yards and a cloud of dust. That leaves Jordan Canzeri as the most likely replacement. The senior had 494 yards rushing in a reserve role. Akrum Wadley should also get some carries, but the running backs are largely unproven.

Up front there is good news and bad news. The good news is that Austin Blythe returns after being named Second Team all-Big Ten in 2014. The bad news is that Brandon Scherff was the No. 5 overall pick in the NFL Draft after being named a unanimous All-American at left tackle and winning the Outland Trophy as the nation's best lineman. Jordan Walsh and Sean Welsh return at the guard spots, but both tackles must be replaced. For a team with a questionable offense this is not good. Overall, that helped Bill C. question a lot about what Iowa was doing:

Continuous use of Weisman really did confuse me. At 230-plus pounds, Weisman should have been a nice efficiency back, but his efficiency numbers were awful, and he didn't make up for it with explosiveness. He had two good games in 2014 (he had 212 yards at 6.4 yards per carry against Maryland and Illinois) and otherwise averaged 3.3 yards per carry.

Of course, there weren't superior candidates. Jordan Canzeri averaged 4.2 yards per carry until erupting for 120 yards in the bowl game. Akrum Wadley showed potential against Northwestern and Minnesota (24 carries, 174 yards) but fumbled twice in 33 total carries and had just nine rushes for 12 yards in the final four games. Jonathan Parker had outstanding averages but somehow managed to fumble three times in 16 carries.

Iowa would be smart to lean on the pass again, but with turnover atop the depth chart, it will be interesting to see if Ferentz leans more on players with high ceilings or those with high floors. Assume the latter.

Iowa Defense

The better Iowa teams have always had solid linebackers and a massive front four that is capable of beating up opposing offensive lines. That has been apparent in many of the recent wins over our Boilermakers. The front four could be a question mark this year even if the back seven is better with experience.

Drew Ott and Nate Meier provide leadership up front as a pair of senior defensive ends. Ott had7.5 sacks and an interception last year and should be one of the better ends in all of the Big Ten. The tackle sports need to be filled, however. Jaleel Johnson is probably the leader at one of the spots as a former 4-star recruit. The other spot is up for grabs. Faith Ekakitie, another former 4-star recruit, could finally see the field at tackle as a junior.

Last season Iowa needed to play three new linebackers and there were mixed results. Josey Jewell and Bo Bower return as starters, but Jewel had only 36.5 tackles as a middle linebacker, which is really, really low. Bower had 28 tackles, but two interceptions. Here is what Bill C. had to say:

In general, linebackers are the easiest players to replace on the defense. Or at least, losing your linebackers has less of a statistical impact than losing starters on the line or in the secondary. But Iowa's linebackers were as disruptive as almost any in the country in 2013; the three starters, all seniors, combined for 35.5 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, six interceptions, six break-ups, and six forced fumbles.

In 2014, five Iowa linebackers combined for 16 TFLs, 7.5 sacks, two picks, 10 PBUs, and two FFs. Those missing plays made the biggest difference in Iowa's decline. In theory, Iowa could return both starting DTs, all three starting LBs, and one of two safeties in 2016, creating a strong backbone for another good D. But it's hard to get a read on what this still-young spine might produce this fall.

The secondary should be pretty good with three starters returning. Jordan Lomax should hold down the middle as the starting free safety. He had 68 tackles to go with an interceptions. Desmond King and Greg Mabin also should start at the corner sports, with Maurice Fleming playing a lot in five DB packages as an extra corner. King had three interceptions and five pass break ups, making him a dangerous corner. Only John Lowdermilk, the team's leading tackler, needs to be replaced at strong safety.

Iowa Special Teams

Kirk Ferentz loves to punt. So much so that it is not unusual for him to punt inside the opponent's 40. Dillon Kidd and Connor Kornbrath split punting duties and punted a combined 64 times in 13 games. Neither averaged more than 39 points per game.

Kicking duties will be handled by senior Marshall Koehn,who regularly induced touchbacks and was 12 of 16 on field goal attempts. There is not a whole lot going on in the return game, and the SB Nation preview pointed out they were awful in punt coverage, which gives Purdue another area of strength with Frankie Williams.

Game Outlook

Iowa is just a bland team. There are not any big names that stand out as must-see guys. Their offense almost bores you to death, but does score some points. The defense is generally decent and has the advantage that it did completely handcuff the Purdue offense last year. They are going to likely go to a bowl again, but it could be another drab 6-6 or 7-5 campaign.

This was still a team Purdue could have beaten last year. Before the defense completely fell apart late they were pretty good even if the offense did not do a whole lot. This year they have questions and a weaker line after losing the top lineman in the country. Their typically strong running game (at least under Ferentz) isn't there and they will be forced to throw more. That could be good or bad, depending on who you talk to.

Honestly, there is not a lot that scares me about Iowa. Yeah, they are a decent, hardworking football team, but they aren't a favorite to win the league and they should settle somewhere in the creamy middle. That makes it a game that Purdue can possibly win.

Prediction:

OMHR is at home, but that is not as scary as it once was. Paul Griggs connected on a long field goal in our last visit to give Purdue its first win in Iowa City in 20 years. The road team has also won the last four in the series. Can we make it five? Possibly, but for now, I give the Hawkeyes the slight edge. Iowa 24, Purdue 21.