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Know thy Opponent 2017: Iowa Hawkeyes

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Last season Iowa got Darrell Hazell fired, and we are grateful for that.

NCAA Football: Purdue at Iowa Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

Never forget: We still, and always will, hate Iowa.

This is the seventh season since Jim Delaney made us permanent bitter rivals, and fourth since we were placed in the same division as the hated Hawkeyes. They will always be Our Most Hated Rivals, and it burns that they have won 6 of the last 7 meetings and 8 of the last 10.

We do owe them a thank you, however. Last season they were the coach killer. They came to West Lafayette and a completely dominant first half is what ended up sealing the fate of one Darrell Hazell a week after he had saved himself with a win at Illinois. Yes, if Purdue had somehow won against Iowa last year we might still have Hazell. Think about that for a moment.

We still hate you, Iowa, but thank you.

Iowa Hawkeyes

2016 Record: 8-5, 6-3 Big Ten West

Bowl Result: lost 30-3 to Florida in Outback Bowl

Blog Representation: Black Heart Gold Pants, Go Iowa Awesome

Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 46-38-3

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

Last Iowa win: 49-35 at Purdue on 10/15/2016

Head Coach: Kirk Ferentz (135-92 in 19th season at Iowa)

Last Season for the Hawkeyes:

Don’t let last year’s final score of 49-35 fool you into thinking Purdue played Iowa close last year. On paper a two touchdown loss could have been a close game. This one was over early and not worse because of Iowa’s largesse. In fact, it should be even more frustrating because Purdue attempted a furious comeback in the 4th quarter only for a 41-yard interception return for a touchdown that sealed the game. The Hawkeyes ran all over Purdue in the first half as Darrell Hazell’s team looked completely and utterly unprepared. In the second half they kept Purdue at bay and were disinterested in giving up 3 fourth quarter TDs.

The final straw occurred right before halftime. Purdue had scored with 1:29 left to make it 28-7 and have the smallest amount of momentum going into the second half. That joy lasted 11 seconds as Akrum Wadley broke off a 75 yard touchdown run that was basically the final nail in Hazell’s coffin. The largest crowd of the season either rained boos down on Hazell or left the stadium with a quickness. What made it worse is that it was a simple handoff up the middle designed to run out the clock, and Wadley made one move to go to the end zone untouched.

David Blough still threw for a career high 458 yards and 5 touchdowns, but Wadley had 176 yards and Iowa ran for 365 yards as a team. It was the third straight game where a Big Ten team rushed for as many yards as it felt like on Purdue, mostly because of Purdue’s ridiculous defensive scheme, and Hazell was done.

The 49 points scored was a season high for the Hawkeyes, who finished a relatively mundane 8-5. They won their important rivalry games against Nebraska and Minnesota, but close losses to Northwestern and Wisconsin prevented them from winning the West. They had the famous loss to North Dakota State, but it is pretty obvious by now that North Dakota State is the one FCS team that there is little shame in losing to.

Iowa Offense

The best Iowa teams have had a great offensive line, a great running back, and a quarterback that limits his mistakes in the passing game. The Hawkeyes will be breaking in a new quarterback, likely Nathan Stanley. He threw for 62 yards on 5 completions last year in very limited action, so he is a bit of an unknown.

What is known is the ground game. Wadley is back after a 1,000 yard season with 10 touchdowns. LeShun Daniels also rushed for 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns last season, but he is off to the NFL. They added grad transfer James Butler, who Purdue is also familiar with. Butler rushed for 1,336 yards and 12 touchdowns for the Wolfpack last season and has 3,316 yards in his career. Purdue miraculously held him in check last season when we played Nevada. He had only 38 yards on 14 carries.

So with a pair of 1,000 yard backs and Brownsburg name-of-the-year candidate Toks Akinribade also in the backfield the ground game is set. They will have plenty of room to run with one of the best offensive lines in the Big Ten. The front line has over 100 career starts combined and both Sean Walsh and James Daniels were all-Conference selections last year.

The passing game could be in question though. The only receiver that had even one reception last year was Matt VandeBurg, who is coming off of a pair of injuries. He was Iowa’s top receiver during their great 2015 season, however. JuCo transfer Nick Easley will help out, but he is a smaller receiver at 5’11”, 200 pounds. Butler and Wadley will catch a lot of passes out of the backfield, too.

Iowa Defense

The Iowa defense was pretty good last season under Ferentz, but in most seasons it is good. Purdue ran up a ton of yards, but it was against a mostly disinterested second half defense that had a big lead. Even when it was finally pushed late it only needed to make one play to undo all the hard work the Boilers did in getting back into the game. As a unit Iowa gave up only 18.8 points per game and 201 yards through the air.

The defensive line should be good for this alone:

Few teams return as much depth as the Hawkeyes do at end, linebacker, and safety. Junior ends Matt Nelson and Parker Hesse and sophomore Anthony Nelson combined for 22.5 tackles for loss, 15.5 sacks, four breakups, and three forced fumbles in 2016. Nelson and Nelson are lanky (6’8 and 6’7) pass-rush specialists, and the 6’3 Hesse is excellent in run support. And I haven’t mentioned incoming blue-chipper/legacy A.J. Epenesa, a 6’5, 270-pound specimen.

The linebackers will be good too. Josey Jewell had 124 tackles to leads the team last year. Bo Bower and Ben Niemann were also very good. Bower had 91 tackles and Niemann had 69. Jewell was good in the passing game too with nine pass breakups.

The secondary needs to be completely rebuilt, however. King was a former All-American that basically shut down an entire side of the field. His cornerback partner in Greg Mabin is also gone. That leaves Manny Rugamba as the only returning player with much experience in the back 4. Joshua Jackson should also start in the defensive backfield, but there is not a lot of proven production.

Iowa Special Teams

The return game will also suffer from the loss of King, who was a very good punt returner. Riley McCarron was also a good return man, but he too is gone. There is even a vacancy at punter after the departure of Ron Coluzzi.

Basically, the only known quantity is kicker Keith Duncan, who was okay as a freshman last year. Duncan was 9 of 11 on field goals and 38 of 39 on extra points.

Game Outlook

Iowa is going to be at least a bowl team again. The offensive line and running game are good enough for at least 7 wins if not 8 or 9. They should be able to hand off to Wadley and Butler all day and accidentally run for 200 yards on almost anyone. Their two toughest games are against Penn State at Ohio State at home, so if they get one of those and win at Wisconsin they could be looking at another West Division crown before this game.

I do like a revamped Purdue offense going against an inexperienced secondary though. I think we can score a few points at least, but I need to see our run defense get fixed first. I like that Nick Holt is actually going to attack the run as opposed to play a 4-2-5 that has both linebackers thinking pass first, then being shocked when a team runs for 400 yards with ease. That said, this is a road game in Iowa City. It will be awfully tough to win.

Way-Too-Early-Prediction

Brohm will have Purdue more prepared than Hazell ever did against Iowa. The talent isn’t there yet, however. This is probably a game where Purdue can hang around a bit, but look for Iowa to grind us into paste with that offensive line and running game. Iowa 27, Purdue 14