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Know Thy Opponent 2021: Iowa Hawkeyes

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David Bell is lurking, which is bad news for Iowa.

NCAA Football: Iowa at Purdue Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

During the strange 2020 season there were few bright spots for Purdue, but the Iowa game was one of them. First, it was the kickoff to a season that, for the longest time, looked like it would not happen. Second, we got to see David Bell in peak David Bell form. Third, Purdue won. It was the first time it won a season opener under Jeff Brohm, even though Brohm was not on the sidelines at the time due to his own case of COVID-19.

This year’s Iowa game comes after a bye week, and by that point we will have a pretty good idea of where the Boilermakers are. It will be five games in with a completely retooled defense thanks to an influx of transfers, and the record at that time will say a lot about how the second half to the season will go. A 5-0 record would be an absolute shock, as it means a win in South Bend. A 4-1 record is likely the best case scenario and, with a good showing at Notre Dame, might be enough for some top 25 consideration. Anything less than 3-2 is probably considered a disaster given the current states of UConn, Oregon State, and Illinois.

Purdue should be able to enter this game at least halfway to bowl eligibility. From there, three more wins will be tricky, but doable. The Iowa game itself is one that brings a strange amount of confidence. After years of Kirk Ferentz owning the Boilers, Jeff Brohm has come in and done extremely well against the Hawkeyes. Purdue is 3-1 against Iowa under Brohm with a win in Iowa City in year one. The one loss came with a depleted team that still made things interesting.

Purdue’s win over Iowa was the best win for a Big Ten team residing in the state of Indiana last season. A repeat victory is a further sign that Brohm is going in the right direction again.

Iowa Hawkeyes

2020 Record: 6-2

Bowl Result: None (Cancelled)

Blog Representation: Black Heart Gold Pants, Go Iowa Awesome

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 (168-108 in 24th season at Iowa)

Last Season for the Hawkeyes

It was a slow start for Iowa last year, but an excellent finish. Iowa might have been the best team in the Big Ten West last season, but losses to Purdue and Northwestern by five total points in the first two games denied them a chance at the division title. They finished the season with six straight wins and ranked 15th nationally before their Music City Bowl with Missouri was cancelled. That means Purdue’s win over them was pretty good in retrospect. It was also pretty much the complete opposite of the rest of the season and Purdue won by getting critical defensive stops and turnovers.

Iowa is a team where you know what you’re going to get every year. They have a solid defense and a great offensive line, but they are going to be stoic and conservative with playcalling. They will have a strong running game capable of churning five yards per carry. Their aim is to win every game in the 24-20 range. In most years that is more than good enough for a steady 8-10 wins. They are as stable of a program as you can look for in the Big Ten and one that is consistently in the top 25.

Iowa Offense

The Hawkeyes averaged a solid 31.8 points per game last season. That was surprisingly second in the Big Ten, and a large reason why they won their final six games. As usual, it was based on a solid running game and efficient passing attack. They were also great at getting points in the red zone.

Tyler Goodson is back after rushing for 762 yards and 7 touchdowns, but Mekhi Sargent has moved on. Goodson was impressive against Purdue with 77 yards rushing and 59 yards receiving, but a first half fumble deep in Purdue territory cost the Hawkeyes points. Ivory Kelly-Martin will be the primary backup and he has close to 600 yards rushing in his career.

Iowa will benefit from Spencer Petras having another offseason to get acclimated to the QB position. The junior made his starting debut against Purdue and threw for 265 yards, but he really came into his own as the season went along. He finished with 1,569 yards and 9 TDs against 5 interceptions. With more accuracy he could be dangerous.

Sam LaPorta is the latest great Iowa tight end and the top returning receiver with 27 receptions for 271 yards and a touchdown. The top two receivers are gone, however, leaving only Nico Ragaini (18-191-0) with significant experience. Receiver is likely the largest question mark on the team.

Up front only two starters return on the line, but they are good ones anchored around center Tyler Linderbaum. Even with the turnover the line is going to be a strength because, well, it’s Iowa.

Iowa Defense

Can Iowa stop David Bell? That is a real question because in two games against the Hawkeyes Bell has been spectacular. In the 2019 loss he caught 13 passes for 197 yards and a touchdown. He followed that with another 13 receptions for 121 yards and three scores last year. That’s 26 catches for 318 yards and 4 touchdowns in just two games. Most would qualify that as “pretty good”.

What also kept Purdue in it last year was the rare good rushing day for the Boilers. Iowa was the No. 3 run defense in the conference a season ago, but Zander Horvath had an impressive 129 yards on 21 carries, including several big gains on the game-winning drive. Noah Shannon and Yahya Black with take the interior tackle spots and try to contain Horvath this year.

At linebacker Seth Benson was pretty good with 47 tackles and two sacks. That was enough to be second on the team. Jack Campbell is another really good linebacker to build around as well. There needs to be more of pass rush with the top two pass rushers now gone.

It is the secondary that is going to be challenged though, and they must find an answer for Bell. Jack Koerner and Dane Belton give them experience at the safety spots. Koerner also led the team with three interceptions. Unfortunately for Iowa, the Brohm passing game has had some of its best days against Iowa. For whatever reason Purdue quarterbacks have had excellent days against them under Brohm. Plummer, my pick for the starter, threw for 327 yards two years ago.

Iowa Special Teams

The immortal Keith Duncan is finally gone after kicking 52 field goals total in his career which started in 2016. He was 4 for 4 against Purdue in 2019 on his way to making 29 of 34 that season. Iowa had the best punting game in the Big Ten a year ago, averaging better than 44 yards per kick, while Purdue was dead last at 36.7. That difference is… significant when you consider how the Hawkeyes can bleed clock with drives. They do need a new starter there, however.

In the return game look out for Charlie Jones. He is a First Team all-Big Ten return specialist who did return a punt for a score last year.

Game Outlook

We have seen some of Jeff Brohm’s best coaching come against Iowa. In 2017 he found something with Anthony Mahoungou and played that mismatch for two touchdowns until Iowa was forced to do something about it. It was the difference in the game. In 2018 David Blough bombed away for 333 yards and 4 TDs even as they held Rondale Moore in check. It was still Terry Wright’s day as he went for 146 yards and 3 scores. Last season it was Brian Brohm coaching, but he stuck with the run game and had success, opening things up for Bell.

Until proven otherwise Bell (or somebody else as a receiver) is going to have a big day against Iowa. Mahoungou, Wright, and Bell have all be capital “P” Problems for them to handle. I also think the clash of styles has something to do with it. Ferentz is Ferentz and is going to be conservative as hell. Brohm (last year excepted) has been a swashbuckler going for the big hit. So far, it has paid off.

Way-too-early Prediction

It is hard to win in Iowa City, but Brohm has done it. He can do it again. Iowa has not proven they can even slow down David Bell, let alone stop him. I think he has a huge day and Purdue surprises many with a nice road win. Purdue 27, Iowa 23