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Looking For a Playmaker Against the Hawkeyes? Look No Further Than Purdue’s Wide Receivers

David Bell makes a reception against the Iowa Hawkeyes
AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

It is no secret that under Jeff Brohm Purdue has been the proverbial thorn in the side of the Hawkeyes. Since the 2016 loss that ended up being the final game under Darrell Hazel, Purdue has held a 4-1 record against the Hawkeyes. Notable is that Iowa has been ranked twice in four of those victories with 2021’s win coming against the Hawkeyes when they were ranked #2 in the country. Iowa’s foundation for success is not so different from what Purdue has struggled with for the last two decades against Wisconsin. A power running game setting up the play action pass with a physical defense and sound special teams. So what has allowed for success against Iowa and not the Badgers?

The answer is a simple one for a game as detailed as football with offensive schemes getting more and more complex: a big day from a wide receiver (something Purdue receivers haven’t had against the Badgers except Rondale Moore in 2018 and DeAngelo Yancey in 2016). Purdue has had a wide receiver, sometimes a completely unknown one, blindside the Hawkeyes with long receptions and touchdowns. David Bell was a known commodity coming into the games against the Hawkeyes and everyone knew where the ball was going to go but Terry Wright and Anthony Mahoungou were able to step up and sucker punch good Hawkeye defensive backs to lead Purdue to victories. The lone loss still saw David Bell going for 197 yards and 1 touchdown.

In 2017, Anthony Mahoungou caught 7 passes for 135 yards and 2 touchdowns that started a streak of 3 games where he caught 5 touchdowns and had 341 receiving yards. That correlated to the Boilermakers winning 2 consecutive games to end the season to get to bowl eligibility and then beating Arizona in the Foster Farms Bowl. In 2018, it was another relatively obscure wide receiver in Terry Wright who surprised Iowa by catching 3 touchdown passes for 146 total yards over just 6 receptions. That single game accounted for 31% of Wright’s receiving yards and 60% of his touchdowns during the season.

On the other end of the spectrum of players, you have David Bell. A player who, entering each game against Iowa, was known to be option 1, 2, and 3 for Brohm’s offense. Bell would still rack up 558 total receiving yards and 5 total touchdown catches. Although I am unsure of the official Big Ten statistics, that may be the most receiving yards for a player against a single opponent over the course of their career. Bell just had a knack for decimating the team many thought he would commit to and Iowa fans were happy to see him move on to the NFL after just his junior season. One Iowa fan explained Bell’s success against his Hawkeyes as such: “If I knew David Bell would pick up 2,378 career yards and 17 career TDs against the Hawkeyes, I’d have been more upset that he didn’t choose Iowa.”

So that leaves us with the question for the upcoming game against the Hawkeyes at Ross Ade Stadium. Will it be the known commodity like David Bell or the unknown like Terry Wright and Anthony Mahoungou? Purdue has both of those kinds of players on the roster this year in the wide receiver room with Charlie Jones and a plethora of others who could step up.

Mr. Obvious: Charlie Jones

Obviously, this is the easy selection here but one that would be very fitting. Jones left Iowa in the summer to reunite with his former youth sports teammate Aidan O’Connell to get a more prominent role in an offense in hopes of an NFL career. Jones has been more than a pleasant surprise as he currently ranks first in the country in receptions (72), second in the country in receiving yards (840 yards), and third in touchdowns (9). Jones has become the deep threat for the Boilers as well with supposed main target Broc Thompson going down with a knee injury and needing surgery after the Penn State game. This deep threat is what has really been the issue for Iowa’s defense over the last 5 seasons and one that the Purdue offense thrives on when it can get it.

Slightly Less Obvious: Mershawn Rice

Rice, a former high level four star recruit, could be the player to step into the limelight in a big game for the Boilers. Rice has struggled with nagging injuries during his time with the Boilermakers but has shown flashes this season of what could be if he remains healthy and becomes a focus of the offense. One of the true deep threats Purdue has outside of the injured Broc Thompson to stretch a defense, Rice could step into those roles that Bell, Wright, and Mahoungou absolutely killed Iowa with during the last 5 years. Rice has good hands and enough speed to get behind the defense.

Not Obvious: Tyrone Tracy

Another former Hawkeye wide receiver makes this list and this one would probably hurt a little more than Charlie Jones. Tracy was expected to have a bigger role for Iowa coming into the season but transferred prior to spring camp. Tracey was said to be a playmaker showcasing an ability to get to the edge as a running back and sharp routes as a receiver. Although pumped up in the pre-season as a major cog for the Boilermaker offense, Tracy has 24 receptions for 188 yards (7.8 average) and 0 touchdowns while getting only 6 rushing attempts for 47 yards (7.8 average). The possibility of Tracy being used in more ways increases with Purdue having an off week along with the injuries plaguing the running back room.

Totally Unexpected: Andrew Sowinski

For a program that seems to have shined a light on walk-ons making major impacts for a program trying to establish itself on the next level, what a better way to really irk the Hawkeyes with a performance of the ages for the walk-on from Indianapolis Cathedral (Indianapolis). The redshirt sophomore has gained the trust of Jeff Brohm with his knowledge of the playbook, running correct routes, and having reliable hands. He has 6 receptions for 48 yards on the season but has recently been getting more and more snaps as players have gotten hurt for Purdue or have shown they can’t learn the playbook.