Purdue’s 24-20 win over Iowa feels greatly significant. The Boilers were shorthanded in a number of ways. King Doerue, last season’s leading rusher, was a late scratch. Rondale Moore was announced out yesterday. Jeff Brohm, who is getting paid north of $5 million to win football games, was out. Tyler Coyle, Jackson Anthrop, and Mershawn Rice were also officially ruled out.
It didn’t matter.
That’s what stands out to me. This is the type of game Purdue loses given what we have seen over roughly the last two decades of the program’s history. Interception in the red zone? Getting dominated by the opposing team’s offensive line? inconsistent offense? Needing an inconsistent defense to get a key late stop? None of that ended up being a factor.
First, there is Bell. David Bell won Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week. When you catch 13 passes for 121 yards and 3 TDs, just miss a 90 yard TD as a fourth one, and generally put your team on your back and carry them for a half like he did in the first half, that is just what happens. Go ahead and drop it in the mail now. This was an All-American type performance and (whispers) he didn’t even really play with Rondale yet. We essentially had no slot receiver in this game because Moore and Anthrop were out (where was TJ Sheffield?). We didn’t have a running game for a half. It didn’t matter. We had Bell, and that was enough for 14 first half points. In two games against Iowa David Bell has 26 receptions for 318 yards and 4 touchdowns. We will play them again next year.
Then there were other unsung contributions. Zander Horvath started slow, but got stronger as the game went on and racked up his second consecutive 100 yard rushing game. Horvath didn't find the end zone, but he definitely deserved to, especially since he punished the Hawkeyes on that last drive. Milton Wright also had his best game as a Boiler and showed that we’re going to be just fine at receiver. He was steady with 7 catches for 85 yards and a great second option.
Then there is Aidan O’Connell. I admit, I was surprised he won the QB derby. There was grousing as he struggled at times. The common theme was, “What does it say when a former walk-on is beating out all those four-star QBs?”. Well, AOC evenly distributed the ball to each receiver according to his needs, and Bell needed it a lot. The first pick was him forcing it and the second was him rifling a ball to Payne Durham when a lighter touch means a TD. Overall though, he was steady and for the third time in his career he led a game-winning drive with less than 5 minutes left. Give credit where it is due. He has had major playing time in six games in his career and he has done that in three of them. He also damn near did it against Indiana last year. The kid is clutch. If you can win with him, put him in there.
Purdue also was generously aided by two gigantic Iowa turnovers. The above-mentioned throw to Durham cost Purdue at least three points, but twice the Hawkeyes fumbled while driving and it cost them at least 6 points, with Brennan Thieneman and Cam Allen each recovering fumbles at the Purdue 10 and Purdue 28, respectively. The Hawkeyes were also most helpful with 10 penalties for a free 100 yards, including a very helpful 15 yard facemask on the final drive when they had sacked O’Connell
That second fumble was gigantic. Purdue had just had to settle for a field goal to cut it to 20-17 and the Hawkeyes were driving. Mekhi Sargent had already gained 13 yards and was stripped by Dedrick Mackey while looking for more. Cam Allen as there. 12 plays and 72 yards later we rang the Bell for the win.
And again, you have to credit Horvath on that last drive. He had six carries for 31 yards on the last drive. He also had that critical fourth down conversion on the previous field goal drive. He had 10 carries for 46 yards on the last two drives, and Purdue does not win without him. When was the last time Purdue just punished a team with a running game? Was Brian Brohm taking lessons from my virtual season?
A few defensive players I must cite:
DaMarcus Mitchell - He was all over the place in his Purdue debut and disrupted a ton.
Jaylan Alexander - Led the team with 10 tackles.
George Karlaftis - He had only one sack, but he was generally disruptive all day.
Geovante Howard - Howard had two pass breakups, the last coming on 4th down to end Iowa’s last chance.
For the first time since 2016 Purdue has started a season 1-0. For the first time since 2014 Purdue is 1-0 vs. FBS teams. Purdue is also 1-0 in Big Ten play for the first time since 2011.
I will take it, especially when there was a time when we weren’t going to get Purdue football at all.