Ready for Round Two? We are! This time we get Max Brekke, the new sheriff over at Black heart Gold Pants to stop by for a Q&A:
T-Mill: What's the deal with Iowa? There are practically Ferentzian again. The wins haven't been pretty and the losses were practically punchless.
Max: Isn't it beautiful? You never know what's going to happen next. Some weeks, Iowa has a defense and other weeks, Iowa has an offense, and it's only been truly put together against an abysmal Iowa State squad in Week 2, but otherwise, they haven't been able to combine the two. Sometimes they can't even manage to do one of them well in a game, and that's where the losses come in.
But here's the deal. On offense, the guys in the trenches are not very good. In particular, Cole Croston was the left tackle but was mercifully shifted to right tackle after some horrendous performances. Center James Daniels and guard Sean Welsh have been mostly solid, but this offensive line has mostly just been a turnstile on the way to the backfield and it appears to be affecting C.J. Beathard in the worst way. His internal clock looks messed up and he's taking a lot of hits. Pair this with a lack of trust in his receivers after Matt VandeBerg went down (all of them are freshmen and sophomores, with the exception of Riley McCarron), and the results just aren't there on offense.
On the other side of the ball, it's a mixed bag. Some games, they can't defend the pass. Mostly, they've had trouble stopping the run. They've had the most trouble when the opposing team is in the spread and Josey Jewell is forced to vacate his spot in the middle of the field. The defensive line has been spotty when it comes to preventing the run, and once opposing running backs get through them, the linebackers and safeties have been suspect at tackling their defenders or taking a good angle. However, when it all works like it did against Minnesota, they've been pretty good. It's just a matter of who shows up on what days.
T-Mill: As usual, the running game is strong with Akrum Wadley And LeShun Daniels. How excited are you to see them run against a very poor Purdue run defense?
Max: THIS IS VERY EXCITING. The running game has been pretty inconsistent, believe it or not, but I think it's mostly because teams look for the run because they know that the passing game has been less than stellar all season. Akrum Wadley has produced in the most critical moments, scoring the go-ahead touchdowns against Rutgers and Minnesota on big runs in the 4th quarter, and LeShun Daniels has had two vicious 70+ yard touchdowns called back due to some phantom penalties, but they're both great in the run game. I wouldn't sleep on 3rd down running back Derrick Mitchell, Jr. either, as the former wide receiver is their best pass blocker and also obviously a solid pass catcher out of the backfield.
I think this offense is at its best when Wadley is in the game, as he has the type of quickness that can devastate opposing defenses in an instant, but I wouldn't sleep on Daniels. He's had some really great games, too, and I think is a perfect complement to Wadley, as he's not afraid to shy away from contact. If the playcallers get it right and get Wadley the ball in space instead of running stretch plays to the short side of the field, it could be a long, long day for this Purdue defense.
T-Mill: Does C.J. Beathard really have to do more than hand off to those two? What do you expect from him?
Max: He really doesn't have to do a whole lot, honestly, if the rest of this season is any indication. The most yards he's thrown for in a game was in the 42-3 blowout against Iowa State, where he threw for 235 yards in three quarters of action. Due to the lack of receiving threats this team has developed and the crumbling offensive line that I mentioned before, he hasn't had a whole ton of chances to get the ball out to his receivers.
At the beginning of the season, fans expected another epic campaign like he had last season, where he ran for first downs and threw bombs down the field. Now, fans just kind of hope he stays upright and manages the game well enough for the Hawkeyes to win. There's always hope that he'll return to his gunslinging ways of 2015, but there isn't really an expectation that he will anymore.
T-Mill: The defense seems like it has been a little up and down. What are the strengths and weaknesses of it?
Max: The strengths are in their three big players. Desmond King is still one of the best corners in the country. He has no interceptions, but a lot of that has to do with how opposing teams are terrified to throw the ball towards him. If Purdue is smart, you won't hear his name called a whole ton on Saturday. Josey Jewell is still great and on pace for over 100 tackles this season - there was a particular goal line stand against Rutgers where he singlehandedly made four tackles inside the 5-yard line to keep them out of the end zone. And on the line, Jaleel Johnson is a beast who hasn't quite lived up to the lofty expectations that people had for him, but he has 27 tackles and 3.5 sacks. That's still really good.
One surprise this season has been the Nelsons. Anthony Nelson and Matt Nelson both have four sacks apiece at the defensive end spots, and Anthony Nelson forced two fumbles against Miami (OH) in the first game this season to help put the game away early. People complain a lot about the defensive line, but they're pretty solid in pass rush.
The weaknesses? As previously mentioned, the safeties. Some people think that Miles Taylor is covering for Brandon Snyder's poor play, and other people think it might be the other way around. The more likely scenario to me, however, is that they both aren't great in pass protection and neither of them want to wrap up on tackles. I've seen a lot of these two going in for the big hit only to come up empty this season. There have been some clutch moments from Snyder (a forced fumble that led to the game-winning touchdown against Rutgers, for example), but all-in-all, safety play has been lacking.
On top of the safeties' tackling woes, there have been a lot of missed tackles and bad angles taken by some other players on the team. It's helped turn some lackluster offenses (hey, Northwestern) into potent looking offenses in a lot of instances. But when they're on, they sure are on, as evidenced by the showing at Minnesota this past weekend.
T-Mill: Illinois had a great defensive front, but Purdue countered by rolling Davis Blough and completing quick passes to the edge. How does Iowa matchup to that?
Max: Iowa doesn't have a great defensive front like Illinois, although the Nelsons have proved to be pretty competent pass rushers. I would venture to say that Iowa's defensive line can be very good when up to the task, but they lack the playmakers that Illinois has on their DL. With the exception of Johnson, the rest of the guys on the line are all high motor guys at this point in their careers, which is great, but they're not going to rip anyone's head off. They'll get pressure on Blough if he stays in the pocket long enough, and if they're having a particularly great game, they'll bring him down in the backfield, too.
If Purdue wants to roll out and complete quick passes to the edge, their success will depend on which side of the field they throw to. As mentioned, cornerback and all-around god Desmond King hasn't been thrown at a whole lot, but when teams do throw at him, he's been pretty good at stepping up in coverage.
On the other side of the field, Greg Mabin will be a fairly easy target if they want to complete quick passes. Mabin has a tendency to play off the receiver and also struggles to turn his head around, leading to lots of these kinds of completions on him. Manny Rugumba is the third CB on this team, and could see some playing time as well. He's been pretty good so far this season and fans are really excited about him.
The linebackers will split out into coverage a lot, too, and they've been pretty successful against wide receivers. Quarterbacks will have an opportunity to complete passes against them, but very rarely are they going to be big plays. The linebackers are pretty solid, especially Niemann and Jewell.
T-Mill: Iowa hasn't looked great in B1G play, but is still 2-1. Are you confident they pull this off on the road.
Max: I'm pretty confident, but I don't think it's because Iowa's necessarily good. I think I'm more confident because Purdue is Purdue. I think Iowa will be able to get the ground game going against the Boilermakers and that will open up the passing game just enough to break this one open. I think the Hawkeyes can win by a couple touchdowns, although it would likely be a 21-7 or 28-14 score, rather than a shootout. Iowa will win and win ugly.