We have DOUBLE SHOCK POWER this week for our blogger interview! First, we have Max Brekke from Black heart Gold Pants stopping by to answer questions. We also have RossWB, formerly of BHGP but now of Go Iowa Awesome. Both were sent the same questions for this week’s interview, and here is what they had to say:
T-Mill: Iowa looks to be wildly inconsistent. How else do you explain dropping a nuke on Ohio State, then struggling to only 66 yards and 0 offensive points vs. Wisconsin?
Max: First off, I think that Wisconsin DC Jim Leonhard put together a fantastic game plan for Iowa's offense and the Badger defense executed it perfectly. Iowa's offense flows through the running game and the tight ends, and Wisconsin was able to take away both these aspects of Iowa's game. They deserve a lot of credit for Iowa only gaining 66 yards of total offense in Camp Randall.
All that said, the Hawkeyes have yet to really show up to any of their road games this season. Their sole road win came against the Cyclones just a couple hours west in Ames, and even then, the offense wasn't particularly good for the majority of that contest. They came to play against a Top 5 Ohio State team at home in a game that ended under the lights and everything about that was perfect - the offensive line was great, Nate Stanley was excellent, and the receivers/tight ends limited drops. Fast forward a week, and the play-calling was horrendous, the offensive line played its worst game of the season, and no one could catch. Iowa's season has been more of the latter, but the Wisconsin game was a whole new level of ineptitude.
Ross: No, I think "wildly inconsistent" about sums it up. Those two performances are pretty much on opposite ends of the spectrum, that's for sure. The fact that they came just seven days apart is especially mindblowing. Although the one caveat I would add is that Iowa's offense has been consistently pretty sub-par for most of this season. The Ohio State game was a massive outlier in that regard -- the offense just clicked in an incredibly perfect (and potent!) way in that game for some reasons. And while the Wisconsin game was a clear nadir (that's the worst Iowa performance in decades) Iowa has had several other poor offensive performances this season, especially on the road. It turns out breaking in a new offensive coordinator, new quarterback, mostly new receivers and tight ends, and two new offensive tackles can be kind of difficult. In general, the Iowa offense has been stronger at home this season, although they did score just 17 points against Minnesota a week before their explosion against Ohio State. I guess this is a long-winded way of saying: yes. The Iowa offense is definitely very inconsistent this year.
T-Mill: Joshua Jackson has been on fire with the interceptions. How much of a difference does he make when Purdue had to throw 60 times at Northwestern.
Max: Josh Jackson has been one of the best players in the nation this season - he has five picks in his last two games and is among the nation's best in pass breakups. He's essentially shut down one whole side of the field in the pass game, much like Desmond King did in his last couple years on campus. Some people (myself included) think that Jackson might actually be better than King from a coverage standpoint, while he has shown the ballhawking abilities that made King a fan favorite in his time donning the black and gold. If Sindelar tries to go his way on Saturday, he shouldn't expect to have a lot of success.
Ross: Throw in his direction at your peril. I mean, I hope you do because I'd love to see him get a few more interceptions, especially if he can return them for more touchdowns. Jackson has been playing great all season -- he was leading the nation in pass deflections for a while and making life miserable for opposing quarterbacks and wide receivers for months. The difference the last two games is that he's been able to take the next step from just getting a hand on the ball and deflecting it away to actually hauling it in as an interception. He's in an unreal zone right now and if I were your quarterback, I wouldn't challenge him much right now. That's especially true because Iowa may be starting a backup cornerback (Michael Ojemudia) at the other spot and a freshman (Matt Hankins) at nickel corner; there are better spots to try to and exploit the Iowa pass defense than through Josh Jackson, is what I'm saying.
T-Mill: Last year Iowa ran all over Purdue, but this year the run defense has been greatly improved. How does the Iowa run game stack up?
Max: Iowa's run game is... not great. The Hawkeyes average 131 yards per game on the ground, good for just 11th in the Big Ten, and are managing a paltry 3.7 yards per carry on the season. Both of those numbers are actually pretty in line with Purdue's season averages (139 yards per game and 3.7 YPC allowed), so it wouldn't be a surprise if they had a pretty average game. Iowa's rushing totals are pretty bogged down by their road games (2.4 YPC and 74 per game on the road), so I suppose it also wouldn't be a surprise to see them run the ball decently well against the Boilermakers this Saturday.
As for the rushers, you already know all about Akrum Wadley, who is going to receive the bulk of the carries for the Hawkeyes this weekend. Spelling him periodically will be graduate transfer James Butler, who has actually been Iowa's most effective rusher when he hasn't been on the shelf with an elbow injury. Akrum Wadley reprises the role of 2016 Wadley, while Butler serves as the change-of-pace back who's most effective running between the tackles. If Iowa can get either of them going, they should be able to have success - it just hasn't happened consistently enough this season.
Ross: It ain't 2016 anymore, unfortunately. Iowa has struggled to get their run game going on offense all season. They're 11th in the Big Ten right now, averaging just 3.68 yards per carry and 131.4 yards per game. Not good. They've been held under 125 yards in five Big Ten games this year (and under 100 yards in four games), with Michigan State (19 yards on 25 carries) and Wisconsin (25 yards on 26 carries). Their only good rushing performances in B1G play have come against Illinois (38 carries for 191 yards), which makes sense because Illinois stinks, and Ohio State (38 carries for 243 yards), which makes no sense because Ohio State does not stink. Two freshmen offensive tackles and a lot of injury-induced rotation on the offensive line have contributed a lot to Iowa's inability to run the ball; a new offensive line coach and an inexperienced quarterback probably haven't helped matters, either. Akrum Wadley is still very good and very dangerous, so if he gets any room, he can do a lot of damage... it's just been all too rare for him to actually get much room to work.
T-Mill: Conversely, Purdue has struggled a bit against the pass of late. Will Iowa be able to take advantage.
Max: Nate Stanley has been able to hold his own in his first season and has had one of the better statistical seasons in Iowa history this season. He's five touchdown passes away from tying Chuck Long's single season TD record (27) and has also been able to limit his bad decisions enough, only throwing five interceptions this season. He's developed a good rapport with JUCO transfer Nick Easley and relies heavily upon his tight ends, both of whom can be matchup nightmares for opposing defenses - TJ Hockenson and Noah Fant were blanked against Wisconsin, but have combined for 43 receptions, 630 yards, and 10 touchdowns on the season. Add in Matt VandeBerg and Ihmir Smith-Marsette, and Iowa has itself a nice little passing game that they can rely upon if things go awry in the run game.
Despite this, the passing game hasn't always been super effective this season. Iowa averages only 200 yards per contest through the air and would much rather make their way down the field on the ground, which as you can probably guess from above, has not always lent itself to favorable results. I'd say that Iowa can take advantage of Purdue's suddenly porous pass coverage, but Ferentz's (Which one really calls the plays? We may never know) game plan may not allow for it.
Ross: Iowa ranks 8th in the Big Ten in passing yards per game (200.6) and 4th in the league in QB rating (138.1), which is pretty solid. Sophomore Nate Stanley, has a very enviable TD:INT ratio (23 to 5) and his performance has generally been a bright spot for an otherwise pretty dreary Iowa offense. He's made mostly good decisions throwing the ball and has rarely put the ball in bad spots. He's struggled with his touch, especially on deep balls. The biggest problem with the Iowa passing game hasn't been Stanley, though, but his targets, who have dropped an incredible number of passes this year. So the question of whether or not Iowa will be able to take advantage of Purdue's struggling secondary is probably going to come down to drops: if Iowa's receivers are actually holding onto the ball, it should be a good day for Stanley and the Iowa offense and Purdue could be in trouble. But if the receivers are dropping passes and killing drives, then Purdue is going to have an excellent shot to win this game.
T-Mill: What else is Purdue facing defensively? We have been notoriously slow to start games and we know we are missing our top QB, RB, and left tackle.
Max: Outside of Josh Jackson, Iowa's secondary has been suspect this season depending on personnel. Amani Hooker has been a bright spot, but hasn't practiced since missing the Wisconsin game and is questionable to participate this upcoming weekend. Corner Manny Rugamba has been badly burned in what seems to be just about every game this season, so Purdue could have success throwing to his side of the field.
The defensive line has been solid for the most part and are led by Anthony Nelson and Parker Hesse, who have lived in the opponents backfield but have inconsistently put pressure on the quarterback from the edges. True freshman DE A.J. Epenesa has been a force, but has seen his usage limited to mostly obvious passing situations because he's been blocked by the aforementioned defensive ends. And of course, Iowa's linebackers are their linebackers. Josey Jewell, Ben Niemann, and Bo Bower have been playing together for what seems like forever and are as solid a linebacking corps as they come.
What you can expect from Purdue is to rack up some yards this weekend - Iowa is as true as ever to the "bend, don't break" mantra this season, as evidenced by their defense being in the bottom half of the league in yards allowed but also the top five in points allowed.
Ross: Outside of Jackson, the strength of Iowa's defense is in its linebackers; they have three senior starters back there, led by Josey Jewell who's up for a whole bunch of defensive player of the year awards. He's been a four-year starter at Iowa and he's a magnet for the ball-carrier, which helps him rack up tackles; he'll also blitz occasionally and is good in pass coverage. He's the middle linebacker so he's responsible for getting the defense organized, too. His fellow linebackers, Ben Niemann and Bo Bower, are also very solid, though not as spectacular or productive as Jewell. Iowa's sixth in the conference in sacks, with 22, led by Anthony Nelson with six and true freshman A.J. Epenesa with 3.5. Overall, it's a pretty typical Iowa defense; although it's bent a bit more than normal (Iowa is 9th in total defense, 10th in rush defense, and 9th in pass defense), they still don't break much (5th in scoring defense, allowing 20.1 ppg).
T-Mill: Which Iowa team shows up on Saturday?
Max: Well we definitely shouldn't see the version of Iowa from the Wisconsin game, but you'd be hard pressed to find someone who thinks this team is going to duplicate what they did against Ohio State. I think that you'll see more of the Iowa team that showed up against Minnesota, honestly - they'll take their chances downfield, but they're mostly going to try to control the time of possession and wear down the Boilermakers defense. On defense, they're going to give up their fair share of yards but will rely upon their defense to create turnovers and keep Purdue out of the end zone. It'd probably be fair to expect the Hawks put up about 20-24 points this weekend.
Ross: In general, Iowa has been quite a bit better at home than on the road this season (the meh-worthy performance against Minnesota notwithstanding), so I'm going to trust in some home cooking and familiar routines to help the better version of Iowa show up on Saturday. That said, Iowa's offense still has a lot of problems and Purdue's defense has been impressively stingy this year, so I expect a pretty close game -- and also a pretty low-scoring game. Who's ready for a rock fight? I'll go Iowa 24, Purdue 17