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Know Thy Opponent 2018: Iowa Hawkeyes

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HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAATTTTTEEEEE!

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

One of the most shocking results of last season is what delivered Purdue a bowl game. After dropping very winnable games against Rutgers and Nebraska, the Boilers headed to Iowa City as more than a touchdown underdog with a quarterback playing on a torn ACL (though we did not know it) and it somehow walked away with a 24-15 win. Anthony Mahoungou had a career day that included two straight possessions where the offense was basically “throw him the football because Iowa cannot stop him”. The defense played out of its mind and delivered 6 sacks. This was all on a day where gusty winds made moving the ball in one direction of the field all but impossible.

Of course, what made the win extra delicious is that Ohio State got absolutely pantsed by the Hawkeyes in the previous game in Iowa City. College football is amazing because of random results like “Iowa 55, Ohio State 24” followed by “Purdue 24, Iowa 15” on the same field two weeks later.

Now we get Our Most Hated Rivals at home. Once again, bowl eligibility may hinge on the result of this one. The last time Iowa came to Ross-Ade they ran over, around, and through Purdue so thoroughly we fired Darrell Hazell. For that we are eternally grateful, but it is time to get consecutive wins over the Hawkeyes for the first time since 2001.

2017 Record: 8-5, 4-5 Big Ten West

Bowl Result: Beat Boston College 27-20 in Pinstripe Bowl

Blog Representation: Black Heart Gold Pants, Go Iowa Awesome

Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 47-38-3

Last Purdue win: 24-15 at Iowa on 11/18/2017

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

Head Coach: Kirk Ferentz (143-97 in 20th year at Iowa, 155-118 in 23rd year overall)

Last Season for the Hawkeyes:

It was an odd year for Iowa last season. They had a nice 3-0 start that included a 44-41 overtime win in ¡El Assico! over Iowa State. They were leading No. 4 Penn State until the Nittany Lions scored on the game’s final play to win 21-19. In a four week period they had three games end in very Iowa-like scores of 17-10 (in their favor against Minnesota and in losses to Michigan State and Northwestern).

Then there was that explosion against Ohio State.

The Buckeyes rarely lose in Big Ten play under Urban Meyer. They often go weeks without giving up 55 combined points. They hadn’t given up so many points since 1994, and that it came from Iowa, a team known for its conservative, missionary position offense was absolutely bizarre. It’s like college football broke for a week. I know we’re supposed to hate Iowa around here, but seeing them absolutely beat the living crap out of Ohio State was cathartic not just for us, but for most of the Big Ten. Normally it is Ohio state handing out such beatings. It was very nice to see them receive one for once.

The encore was a 38-14 loss at Wisconsin where they did not have an offensive touchdown and the above mentioned home loss to Purdue. They finished a rather mediocre 8-5, but at least won their bowl game.

So what do we get this year? Well, we know it is Iowa, so expect 7-8 wins and generally competent football. Expect good defense with a sound running game. Expect the Shoop special of a 5 yard out on 3rd and 7, then a nice, conservative punt.

Iowa Offense

Iowa is in good hands with the return of Nathan Stanley at quarterback. He had a solid first season as a starter with 2,437 yards and 26 TDs against 6 interceptions. Navon Mosley was the recipient of one of those interceptions on a tipped pass that helped to seal last year’s Purdue win. Twice last season Stanley threw for 5 TDs and no interceptions: against Iowa State and Ohio State. He is also virtually no threat to run with -115 yards on the ground last year.

There is not a lot returning on the ground, however. Akrum Wadley is gone after a 1,000 yard season, leaving Toren young and Indiana product Toks Akinribade as the likely candidates to start. Angry Iowa Running Back Hating God has been quiet in recent seasons, and normally you could plug anyone into that backfield and they are good for 1,000 yards as a feature back.

That fact may be questioned this year as Iowa must replace its three interior linemen. Stanley does get most of his top receivers back. Noah Fant had an excellent season at tight end with 30 receptions for 494 yards and 11 touchdowns. Nick Easley led the team in receptions with 51 for 530 yards and 4 scores. Matt VandeBerg (28-384-2), T.J. Hockenson (24-320-3), and Ihmir Smith-Marsette (18-187-2) are all back to give the passing game some lethality.

Iowa Defense

Iowa is always going to have a stout defense. It is what they do. They are always excellent up front against the run. Even last year they mostly held the Purdue run game in check until it was late. The biggest difference in the game was the two second half drives where Mahoungou went crazy. For about 6 straight plays Mahoungou was completely unstoppable until Iowa was forced to put All-American corner Josh Jackson on him. By then the damage was done and Purdue led 21-9.

Jackson is off to the NFL, and top linebacker Josey Jewell, who had 136 tackles, is also gone. Overallt he secondary was great last year. Manny Rugamba should take over as the top corner after having 36 tackles and four pass breakups. Micheal Ojemudia also returns as the other corner with 29 tackles last season. Those guys are good, but they are also the guys Mahoungou torched until Jackson moved over. Brandon Snyder and Jake Gervase also return at safety to shore up a pretty good secondary. (Ed. Note: Rugamba apparently transferred.)

The Hawkeyes must replace all three linebackers though, including Jewell. The competition there is wide open, per SB Nation’s Bill C.:

If nothing else, there are plenty of options: seniors Jack Hockaday and Aaron Mends, juniors Amani Jones and Kristian Welch, sophomores Nick Niemann and Barrington Wade, redshirt freshmen Djimon Colbert and Nate Wieland, and true freshmen Dillon Doyle and Jayden McDonald will pretty much all head into fall camp thinking they have a chance at a spot.

Of course, “rotation” is a theoretical concept at Iowa, where coordinator Phil Parker, like Norm Parker before him, tends to play the smallest number of guys possible — the fourth-leading tackler at LB last year had only 6.5 tackles.

The defensive front four should also be pretty good. Parker Hesse, Anthony Nelson, and A.J. Epenesa were all great at getting to the quarterback last season. The trio combined for 16 sacks and 25.5 tackles for loss. The top three defensive tackles also return in Matt Nelson, Cedrick Lattimore, and Brady Reiff.

Overall the Iowa defense should be pretty good if it can find answers at linebacker. We also know from history that Kirk Ferentz can produce some excellent talent at the position. How early those guys develop will be critical.

Iowa Special Teams

Last season we had a punter controversy in Iowa! Colten Rastetter struggled early on, leading to the extremely rare redshirt removal of a freshman punter. Ryan Gersonde averaged over 42 yards per kick and likely has the job going forward. Miguel Racinos was solid as the kicker, going 11 of 13 with a long of 48 yards.

In the return game VandeBerg averaged a healthy 5.36 yards per punt return. Ivory Kelly-Martin and Ihmir Smith-Marsette should handle kickoff return duties. Smith-Marsette only had 4 returns last year, but had a season long of 74 yards.

Game Outlook

It is so strange to see an Iowa team that has large questions at positions where it is normally set. The Hawkeyes need answers at running back and at linebacker. There are no definite answers. If there were, this would be a potential 10-win team. They do have weapons though in a pair of dangerous tight ends (Fant and Hockenson). The passing game should be fine and the defense has enough returning talent to cover for the noobs.

I expect this to be another close game. Iowa is Iowa. With the Ferentz as the longest tenured coach in the Big Ten you know you’re going to get a tough, physical football team that is going to try and play a slow, conservative pace. Often that leads to success. Sometimes it can be a detriment as they struggled to play from behind against Purdue last year.

This is a game Purdue can win at home though. The only things that gives me pause are the questions we have in our own front seven.

Way-too-Early Prediction

After a couple of very tough games I think Purdue does well at home. It hits on a few big plays and makes Iowa play from behind again. Purdue 24, Iowa 17