Purdue has not defeated a top 10 team away from Ross-Ade Stadium in 48 years. Our offense has struggled mightily for much of this season, especially after a 49 point outburst against UConn. Iowa has been dominant defensively, and they are on a 12-game win streak overall dating back to a loss to Northwestern in last year’s season. This is a very good team, and a significant challenge for Purdue.
Strangely, I am cautiously optimistic about this game. There is no doubt Purdue should be an underdog, but the Hawkeyes have been a good matchup for Purdue under Jeff Brohm. We’re 3-1 against them in that time, and in three of those games Purdue’s defense has done a decent job of keeping it close. The 38-36 win in 2018 was an outlier, but Purdue still got the job done. Iowa was probably the second best team in the conference last season, yet they dropped the season opener in West Lafayette.
Purdue is going to have to play extremely well in order to win, but this is a game that I think will be closer than a lot of people think.
2020 Record: 6-2
2021 Record: 6-0, 3-0
Bowl Result: None (Bowl game cancelled)
Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 49-39-3
Last Purdue win: 24-20 at Purdue on 10/24/2020
Last Iowa win: 26-20 at Iowa on 10/19/2019
Head Coach: Kirk Ferentz (174-106 in 23rd year at Iowa, 186-127 overall)
Line: Iowa by 11.5
The Season So Far
You can’t argue with results. The Hawkeyes are a spotless 6-0. They just got an impressive win over a top 5 team at home, and they have taken care of business against two other teams that were in the top 20 to start the season. Their 34-6 win over Indiana in the season opener was dominant, as they got a pair of pick-sixes off the Hoosiers. It remains to be seen if Indiana is actually good, but has lost to three top 10 teams, or not, but at the time the win looked great. They got another defensive touchdown in a 27-17 win over Iowa State, who was ranked ninth at the time. Wins over Kent State and Colorado were business-like, then they obliterated Maryland before beating Penn State last week.
Their defense has been incredible so far. They have a whopping 16 interceptions on the year and they are +15 in the turnover margin. That has been a gigantic factor in their success. They caused 7 turnovers in the 51-14 win over Maryland, giving them the ball in Maryland territory five times. Last week they intercepted Penn State four times, but only got three points off of them.
This is a team that thrives on turnovers, and they have gotten 11 in the last two games. Their offense is the typical run heavy conservative brand that Kirk Ferentz has run for years, but they are productive when given short fields by the defense. In reality, the offense doesn’t need to do a lot with that defense.
If Purdue has one thing going in its favor it is that Riley Moss, their top DB, is out. He has 23 tackles and four interceptions on the season, so his loss is big. He also returned two of those interceptions for scores. They still have a great defense, but they will be without one of the top guys on it.
Who to Watch on Offense
Spencer Petras – QB – Petra made his starting debut last season and has evolved into a decent quarterback. He has completed 60% of his passes for 1,138 yards and 9 TDs against 2 interceptions. He generally takes care of the football and does not make mistakes, which is what Iowa always looks for in a QB. He has been sacked 14 times, so he is not terribly mobile. The defensive line getting pressure on him will be key.
Tyler Goodson – RB – Goodson has been productive with 518 yards and 5 TDs so far. He was over 70 yards against Purdue last year but had a critical fumble in the red zone that kept the Hawkeyes from scoring in the first quarter. He is still a very experienced back that is dangerous and regularly gets five yards. He also has 14 receptions for 162 yards and a score. Ivory Kelly-Martin is a solid backup to spell him.
Sam LaPorta – TE – Does Iowa have a farm that grows great tight ends or something? LaPorta is one of the best you’ll see. He leads the teams with 23 receptions for 271 yards and two scores. He is who they are looking for on third downs to keep drives alive. Nico Ragaini is the leading regular receiver at 15-205-1.
Overall, the offense is in the bottom half of the Big Ten (12th in rushing, 9th in passing), but again, they are effective with the defense giving them short fields. They mostly have to follow the “don’t screw up” model, and that has worked. They can grind drives if needed, but if they get to 25 points the game is basically over.
Who to Watch on Defense
Jack Campbell – LB – The 6’1” 243 pound linebacker has played like one of the best in the conference. He is a tackling machine with 55 on the year and has four pass breakups with a sack and forced fumble. Wherever the ball goes he seems to be there. He returned a fumble for a touchdown against Iowa State.
Matt Hankins – DB – Hankins is probably going to be the guy on David Bell, which is a great matchup considering what Bell has done to Iowa. He has three interceptions on the year to go with 20 tackles. If he can slow down Bell, Purdue has no chance.
Lukas Van Ness – DL – Van ness leads the team with four sacks, and as a team Iowa has 14 sacks. It is not an all-world pass rush, but it is still pretty good and will disrupt things given Purdue’s offensive line. Joe Evans has three sacks coming off the edge.
Surprisingly, Purdue has the best pass defense in the Big Ten, but Iowa is the third best. Those 16 interceptions is far and away the best in the conference though, so it is a great force multiplier. Purdue is going to put the ball in the air because that is the nature of our offense. It has to keep the ball out of the opposing team’s hands. Iowa’s run defense is giving up only 90 yards per game, but Zander Horvath had a big game against them last year.
Who to Watch on Special Teams
Tory Taylor – P – Another thing that helps the defense is Tory Taylor’s ability to pin teams deep. He is averaging over 46 yards per punt and has dropped 20 of 40 punts inside the 20 yard line. Iowa’s game plan is simple, but effective: Have the defense be nasty, win field position, and if the offense doesn’t score, pin teams deep and have them face that defense again.
Caleb Shudak – K – Iowa’s one win over Purdue under Brohm came in large part from the kicking game hitting four field goals on a rainy day. Shudak is 11 of 12 on the year and has a long of 51.
The absolute most important thing for Purdue to do in this game is not turn the ball over. That is a dicey proposition given what Aidan O’Connell has done, but limiting turnovers will be absolutely critical. Second, we need to let David Bell cook. He has been awesome against Iowa and they have been completely unable to defend him in two games. He has 26 receptions for 318 yards and 4 TDs in two games against the Hawkeyes. As good as their defense has been, Bell might be the best receiver they will face.
So far Purdue’s defense has played well enough to win every game. It is actually good. As long as it can prevent Iowa from going on any long marches and handle a few big plays Purdue will be in it. That comes back to Purdue’s offense being able to finish drives. Getting Payne Durham back will help a lot. He is a great release valve for the offense and a guy that moves the chains. He also blocks well for the running game.
I am encouraged because it is not like Purdue is light years off as it was under Hazell. It is close. It easily could be 5-0 with a slightly better offense. I think having the week off to fix a few things will help, especially since the Hawkeyes are coming off of a massive game. I’d also love to see Purdue open up the playbook and get back to swashbuckling Jeff Brohm. What do we have to lose? If Purdue can hit on a few early plays and build a lead, it will be interesting to see if Iowa can come back.
I am encouraged here because it at least seems like there is a path to victory, unlike later against Ohio State. Iowa is conservative enough that a swashbuckling Jeff Brohm can have some success against them, but he has to coach like he has in the past against them.
I have an odd good feeling about this one, so it probably means Purdue loses by 4 TDs.