Finally, we have real, live football to talk about as we’re within 100 hours of kickoff for the abridged 2020 season. It really feels like it will happen to since so many programs have been playing for weeks. Sadly, this will be the first time since September 16, 2006 that I have not attended a Purdue game played in Ross-Ade Stadium. I was going to apply for a media pass, but my wife and son would be pissed that I got to go and they couldn’t. I can get myself into trouble other ways, thank you very much.
H&R will have a member of the staff in attendance, however. Our young buck Jace Jellison, he of the excellent podcast interviews, is on campus as a student and was approved this week for a site media credential. Jace has done a great job for us since coming aboard and is essentially our on campus correspondent. He will do well.
With those administrative things out of the way it is time to talk actual, live football. It is weird to be thinking actual games because our normal offseason led to nothing for weeks on end, then a few games were cancelled, then was cancelled, then it was back on, then it was somewhat in jeopardy with Jeff Brohm being out, but it is still on. Season openers have been a struggle under Brohm. He is 0-3 with a trio of narrow losses, none more frustrating than last year where Purdue dominated for most of the game, but blew a 17-point second half lead and lost in Reno on a bomb of a field goal.
Can Purdue change that opening season luck? Iowa is far from an easy opponent and we are in the weird COVID times, but we at least have a chance. Given the shortened season it can be a great table-setter for the rest of the year to get a win on Saturday.
2019 Record: (10-3, 6-3 Big Ten West)
Bowl Result: beat USC 49-24 in Holiday Bowl
Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 48-39-3
Last Purdue win: 38-36 at Purdue on 11/3/2018
Last Iowa win: 26-20 at Iowa on 10/19/2019
Head Coach: Kirk Ferentz (164-104 in 22nd season at Iowa)
2019 so far for Iowa
Pay no attention to what’s been going on behind the curtain in Iowa City. The largest story this offseason (aside from COVID) has been the near player revolt behind closed doors against the coaching staff. There is a lot not known and some wild accusations thrown around, but it is safe to say that things have been tense in the locker room.
That said, the Hawkeyes are coming off the sixth 10-win season under Ferentz. Eight of their wins were against unranked opponents, but beating rival Minnesota when the Gophers were in the top 10 and blowing out USC in the bowl game were excellent victories. The three losses were very narrow as they lost to Michigan by 7, Penn State by 5, and Wisconsin by 2. They also had narrow wins over Iowa State by 1, Purdue by 6, Minnesota by 4, and Nebraska by 3.
It was a very experienced team that finished the year in the top 15. Still, Purdue played them relatively well on the road with a freshman quarterback. They couldn’t stop David Bell all day long, and the defense forced them into several field goals or it would have been worse. David Bell did have a monster game with 197 yards and a score on 13 receptions, however. Jeff Brohm teams have done really well against the Hawkeyes with a pair of surprise wins. The 2017 win in Iowa City was a shock that propelled us to Brohm’s first bowl game. The next year Purdue got its third win over a ranked opponent on a late field goal. With Iowa breaking in a new quarterback and some questions on defense it makes for an interesting game.
Who to Watch on Offense
Spencer Petras – QB – Gone is three-year starter Nathan Stanley. Enter the 6’5” sophomore from California that looks like a quarterback out of central casting. The last two years he has seen some mop-up action in five games, completing six passes for 25 yards all last season. He was originally a three-star recruit, but with two years in the system as Stanley’s caddy he has had plenty of time to grow and learn the offense. It will be interesting to see how he does in his first significant game action.
Ihmir Smith-Marsette – WR – Iowa’s leading receiver from a year ago is back and that will help. He caught 44 passes for 722 yards and 5 TDs. Againt Purdue a year ago he had three receptions for 57 yards. Along with Brandon Smith (39-439-5), Nico Ragaini (46-439-2) and tight end Sam LaPorta (15-188-0) Petras has plenty of experienced targets to throw to. This means both teams have a lot of receiving talent, but can the quarterbacks get them the ball?
Tyler Goodson – RB – Goodson (638 yards, 5 TDs) and Mekhi Sargent (563 yards, 4 TDs both return to have a solid 1-2 backfield option. Sargent led them last year with 68 yards and a touchdown against Purdue. The running game was the largest difference as they had more than 100 yards rushing against us and Purdue had 33. Iowa also has the expected excellent offensive line with Coy Cronk, who has continually plagued Purdue since Darrell Hazell didn’t recruit, as a graduate transfer.
Who to Watch on Defense
Iowa has a normally stout defense, but this year there are a lot of questions, especially up front. There is not a lot of proven returning talent on the front four and Brohm’s biggest marker for success has been throwing the deep ball over an overmatched secondary. Anthony Mahoungou torched them in 2017, in 2018 it was Terry Wright, and last year it was Bell. The huck it and chuck it method can have success again.
Jack Koerner – S – Koerner was no. 2 on the team in tackles last year and gives them experience in the secondary. He had 81 tackles and an interception and should be solid in the middle. He can play up against the run and had several tackles for loss.
Matt Hankins – CB – Hankins was good on the edge with 58 tackles and a pair of interceptions. He also broke up seven passes, but it is a matter of who is he chasing, Bell or Rondale Moore? Riley Moss is at the other corner spot and he had an interception against Purdue a year ago.
Jack Heflin – DT – Heflin is a graduate transfer at defensive tackle who was brought in to shore up the defensive front four. He was a first team all-MAC performer last year and honorable mention All-American. At 6’4”, 312 pounds he will be an excellent run stuffer in the middle.
Who to Watch on Special Teams
Keith Duncan – K – Duncan was a large reason Purdue lost a year ago, as he was 4 for 4 on field goals against us with a long of 44. He was 29 of 34 as a whole, which is a ridiculous number of kicks. We know Ferentz loves to settle for field goals though, so he should have a large role again.
Ihmir Smith-Marsette – KR – He is also a very dangerous kick returner as well. He took two to the house last season, and if he stays in this role our best bet is to have J.D. Dellinger to just boot it deep.
This is the hardest year to call games because who knows what is going to happen with COVID between now and Saturday. Right now our own head coach is doubtful for crying out loud, yet once he recovers he will be a Daywalker for the rest of the season. Purdue, as usual, has a lot of questions. How does the new 3-4 defense look? Who is starting at QB? Can the offensive line finally be better? Can the secondary actually stop the pass?
This game is going to say a lot about Purdue going forward this year. The talent is unquestionably better than the Hazell/Hope years and there is an absolutely lethal list of targets to throw to. If the line can protect the QB whoever wins the derby will have a ton of targets to throw two, including possibly the best duo in the country in Bell and Moore.
The idea of a questionable defense for Iowa is foreign to me, but I do like facing a first time starter at quarterback. Whoever Purdue is starting at QB, they at least have some real game experience. That can be a big edge, especially against a line that is missing a lot form its pass rush a year ago. That puts it on Purdue’s defense. At least it will be different. I think we see a fair amount of points from Purdue on Saturday. The question is can we avoid giving up more with the talent Iowa has returning.