We hav another great guest this week to preview our opponent. Jonah Parker from SB Nation’s Black Heart Gold Pants to talk about the Hawkeyes as they host Purdue on Saturday for Iowa’s homecoming.
T-Mill: Iowa’s offense has really struggled the last two weeks. Was it more of a “Michigan and Penn State are really good” problem or are there some major concerns?
Jonah: Yes. That is, yes Michigan and Penn State have good defenses and more importantly, yes Iowa has some major concerns on offense. That’s been really the only topic around Hawkeye water coolers the last two weeks.
Iowa fans were mildly optimistic coming out of the first few games, but against anyone with a pulse, the offense has really sputtered. That’s not to say they haven’t moved the ball - they have. But they continuously shoot themselves in the foot at the worst possible time and have been abysmal at turning yards into points.
The major issue there, aside from some questionable (I’m being generous here) play-calling, has been the middle of the offensive line. The Hawkeyes boast two future first rounders at either tackle spot, but the guard play has been highly suspect. That’s led to real problems running the ball against decent front sevens and a ton of pressure on QB Nate Stanley. After allowing 8 sacks and no interceptions through the first four games, the Hawkeyes have now allowed 10 sacked and 4 interceptions over the last two.
T-Mill: On the other hand the Iowa defense has done extremely well. How do they match up with the Big Ten’s top passing offense?
Jonah: As we’ve come to expect under Kirk Ferentz, the defense has been carrying this team. While we expected the defense to be good this year, it’s been a strange defense to watch.
All the preseason hype was on the defensive line with a projected top-10 pick in DE A.J. Epenesa and talent across the board with Chauncey Golston, Cedric Lattimore and emerging stars like Daviyon Nixon. But the line is on pace for 14 fewer sacks this year than a season ago. That’s largely been due to the focus opponents have put on Epenesa and a lack of production from the others with the one-on-one matchups.
The lack of sacks though has not meant opponents have been able to pick apart this secondary the way they have in years past. Despite a slew of injuries at corner and safety, the Iowa secondary is holding opponents to just 160 passing yards a game, good enough for 7th nationally.
What the injuries has meant is Phil Parker has been unable to utilize the 4-2-5 defense he touted all offseason. Instead, we’ve seen the standard 4-3 with linebackers forced to cover slot receivers like K.J. Hamler. That should like like a dream come true for Purdue fans, especially if Rondale Moore can go. But this may be the week we finally see more of what Parker wants to do with guys finally getting healthy and reports they’ve been working out of it more this week in practice.
T-Mill: Injuries have really decimated Purdue to the point we’re playing a lot of freshmen. Who is out for Iowa and how is that a concern?
Jonah: As mentioned, injuries have been a major issue for Iowa this season as well. At some point this year, we’ve seen starting LT Alaric Jackson, RG Cole Banwart, backup RG Kyler Schott, starting S Kaevon Merriweather, starting CB Matt Hankins, backup CB Riley Moss and backup CB Julius Brents all out with injury.
Fortunately for Iowa fans, it sounds like all but the two guards and Indianapolis native Brents will be back this week. That should mean Iowa has more flexibility on defense, but also means the problems we’ve seen in the middle of the offensive line likely aren’t going anywhere any time soon.
The Hawkeyes will need someone to step up at guard if they’re going to be able to run the ball effectively or have any hope of keeping Stanley clean in the pocket.
T-Mill: Jeff Brohm has had Kirk Ferentz’s number in his first two years at Purdue. How does that change this year?
Jonah: The biggest hope for Iowa fans is Phil Parker does what Phil Parker is expected to do. We all expect the offense to be both bad and boring, but the defense is supposed to be where we see the Hawkeyes adapt and make teams pay.
The last couple years, that hasn’t been the case. Each time we’ve seen Parker stick with a young corner in man coverage on the outside despite being beat repeatedly on simple fade patterns. That’s cost the Hawkeyes points in games where we haven’t expected the offense to get those points back (although they were able to largely do so last season).
With the offensive struggles and more healthy bodies, I think we seen Parker adapt on the fly more quickly to Brohm’s attacks and hold the Purdue offense relatively in check.
T-Mill: Nathan Stanley is the most experienced quarterback in the conference. Is he due for a breakout game?
Jonah: Nate Stanley is a really interesting case study. He’s going to leave Iowa City as the Hawkeyes’ all-time leader in passing touchdowns, but you’d be hard pressed to find an Iowa fan who considers him a great QB.
He’s built a very good statistical resume and will likely get a shot in the NFL (as a backup), but he has had his worst moments when the Hawkeyes have needed him most (sans 2016 Iowa State and the 55-24 win over Ohio State in 2017, which people often forget). This season, Iowa’s two losses have come when he’s looked his worst with poor pocket presence, checks into bad plays at the line and all four of his interceptions.
This feels like one of those games where Stanley doesn’t win the game, but also doesn’t lose it and instead boosts his stats in a less than meaningful way. I could see him going something like 15 for 25 passing for ~200 yards but getting 2-3 touchdowns that could have just as easily been FB dives.
T-Mill: What is your pick for Saturday?
The way the Iowa offense has looked the last two weeks it’s hard to predict them scoring more than two touchdowns and the way Brohm has schemed Iowa these last two meetings it’s hard to feel great about the defense. But, I’m nothing if not a Hawkeye homer and Ferentz apologist.
I think the Iowa staff has had this one circled for a year and this feels like a chance for the offense to figure out the run game. I’ll take Iowa to win but not cover.
Iowa 27, Purdue 16