Purdue football is trying to pull us all back in. A week ago at this time we were expecting an unmerciful beatdown at the hands of Illinois (think about that. WE THOUGHT ILLINOIS WAS GOING TO BLOW US OUT. I-L-L-I-N-O-I-S!). Instead, we were gifted with an actual Big Ten conference win. Sure, it was only Illinois (who might be horrid), but we long ago lost the ability to be picky about who Purdue beats.
And now we get Iowa, who has lost to an FCS team (an all-time great FCS team, but an FCS team no less) and a Northwestern team that has also looked pretty bad. On paper this looks much more winnable than earlier in the year when Iowa was the only ranked team on the schedule. If Purdue does win, it would mean the following:
· A 4-2 first half of the season when most people felt a best case scenario was 4-2.
· Back-to-back wins for the first time in four years.
· A homecoming win for the first time in five years
· Purdue would be two (!) wins from actual bowl eligibility.
· A win over the Big Ten’s last Rose Bowl representative for the first time since 2000.
· If Indiana beats Nebraska, Purdue would be in first place in the Big Ten West headed to Lincoln.
· We might, MIGHT actually be turning things around a bit under Hazell.
· Purdue would have at least four wins in a season and two Big Ten wins in a season for the first time since 2012.
There is reason to be skeptical. Here are Purdue’s results following a victory under Darrell Hazell:
vs. Notre Dame L 31-24
vs. Central Michigan L 38-17
vs. Iowa L 24-10
vs. Michigan State L 45-31
vs. Virginia Tech L 51-24
vs. Illinois L 48-14
vs. Cincinnati L 38-20
at Maryland L 50-7
A victory over the Hawkeyes would be an actual, tangible step forward. Would it be enough to save Hazell’s job in and of itself? No, but it would at least be on the path back. Illinois might just be a terrible football team Purdue barely squeezed past. Iowa was undefeated in the regular season last year and is still a solid bowl team this season. Beating the Hawkeyes would easily be Hazell’s best win and you can suddenly dream about winning a few more games like Northwestern, Minnesota, or even Indiana.
We won’t believe it until we see it, however.
2015 Record: 12-2, 8-1 Big Ten (Lost in Big Ten championship game)
2015 Bowl result: Lost Rose Bowl 45-16 to Stanford
Blog Representation: Black Heart Gold Pants
Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 46-37-3
Last Purdue win: 27-24 at Iowa on 11/10/2012
Last Iowa win: 40-20 at Iowa on 11/21/2015
Iowa So Far
Iowa began the year with comfortable wins over Miami (OH) (45-21) and Iowa State (42-3) before packing up their offense and shutting it down for the year. They had the memorable 23-21 loss to North Dakota State where the FCS Bison dictated the entire game. They also had an ugly 38-31 home loss to Northwestern, who looked pretty awful the rest of the year.
The Hawkeyes do have a pair of 14-7 wins in Big Ten play, however. Akrum Wadley won the Minnesota game with a 54-yard TD run with about five minutes left. He also won the Rutgers game with a 26-yard TD with 8:35 left. The fact that Iowa played down to Rutgers in a dull 14-7 affair gives me some hope. Rutgers is pretty awful and we may see how awful this week when they host Illinois.
Who to Watch on Offense
Akrum Wadley – RB – Purdue has given up 711 yards rushing in Big ten play, so Wadley (416 yards, 7 TDs) has to be licking his chops. He had 107 yards rushing and a touchdown against the Gophers this past week and a season high 121 yards on 12 carries against Miami (OH). He averages a healthy 6.4 yards per carry, giving Purdue a hard enough job on Saturday before you even consider…
LeShun Daniels – RB – Daniels has been just as good as Wadley over the season. He has 439 yards rushing to lead the team along with four touchdowns. His best game was 112 yard effort against Iowa State, but he has been getting the complimentary yards to Wadley of late. Either way, Purdue has two pretty tough backs to slow down this week.
C.J. Beathard – QB – Beathard has only 1,087 yards and 9 TDs against 4 INTs through half the season, but he has been a Purdue killer in his career. Last year he had three touchdown passes and his best game of 2014 was a 245 yard 1 TD effort against Purdue. Even as a freshman backup in 2013 he had a 5 yard TD run.
Third Down conversions – Obviously this is not a specific player, but Iowa is one of the worst teams in the country at converting on third down. They convert only 36.7% of the time, good for 89th nationally. That is going against Purdue, who is the worst team out of 128 in America at getting a third down stop. Even after a good week against Illinois, where the Boilers held the Illini to 3 of 11 on third down, Purdue is dead last in America with opponents converting 50.6% of their third downs. By comparison, Michigan opponents convert third down 12.2% of the time.
Who to Watch on Defense
Josey Jewell – LB – Jewell leads the Hawkeyes with 54 tackles and even has three pass breakups. He only has 3.5 tackles for loss, but he does get in on a ton of stops. The Iowa run defense isn’t great (72nd nationally at 169.3 yards per game), but it is far better than Purdue (118th nationally at 244.2 yards per game).
Matt Nelson – DE – Nelson is a massive defensive end at 6’8” 282 pounds and will present a problem on the edge, especially as Purdue tried to execute the east-west passing game that worked well against the Illini. He has four sacks on the season, two of them coming at Rutgers.
Brandon Snyder – DB – Snyder leads Iowa with a pair of interceptions and he also has 41 tackles and 2 fumble recoveries. Whenever there is a turnover this guy seems to be there for Iowa.
Desmond King – CB – King was the Jim Thorpe Award winner from last season as the nation’s best defensive back. He was a First Team All-American and, in general, a player htat teams have tried to avoid as much as possible this year. Last season he had 72 tackles, 8 interceptions, and a touchdown.
Who to Watch on Defense
Ron Coluzzi – P – Kirk Ferentz loves the conservative punt, so if Purdue can get some third down stops we will see Coluzzi. He has 32 punts on the season already and averages almost 42 yards per kick.
Keith Duncan – K – Duncan is 4 for 4 on field goals, but only has a long of 28 yards.
Desmond King – KR, PR – King is also a very good returner, averaging 10.18 yards on punt returns and 28.58 on kickoff returns. Last season he averaged 14.2 yards on punt returns and 24.2 on kickoff returns.
Iowa has really underachieved this season and has not looked good even when winning. Ferentz, after signing a huge extension, has gone back into conservative Kirk mode and they take very few risks. They still have a strong defense, but offensively they are going to hand off to Wadley and Daniels a lot. Could you blame them, however? Purdue has been atrocious against the run in Big Ten play. There is no reason to deviate from that plan until we prove we can stop them.
If Purdue can slow down the run, however, it has a chance. The Iowa defense has been a little suspect against the run and Purdue is coming off of a great rushing performance. Markell Jones should be back. Richie Worship and Brian Lankford-Johnson were excellent last week. Terry Malone also called a great game plan.
That feeling in your gut again is hope. Once again, Darrell Hazell has a chance to capitalize on some momentum and actually start building something. I have my doubts it will happen, but I suppose there is always a chance.