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Know Thy Opponent 2022: Iowa Hawkeyes

It’s safe to come out because David Bell is gone.

Syndication: HawkCentral Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK

Don’t worry, Hawkeye fans. David Bell can’t hurt you any longer.

The real question is which wide receiver will. Since Jeff Brohm came to West Lafayette he has had a wide receiver absolutely light up the Iowa secondary in every game:

2017: Anthony Mahoungou – 7 catches for 135 yards and 2 TDs in a 24-15 road win that opened the door for Purdue bowl eligibility.

2018: Terry Wright – 6 catches for 146 yards and 3 TDs in a 38-36 Purdue win.

2019: David Bell – 13 catches for 197 yards and a TD in a 26-20 loss.

2020: David Bell – 13 catches for 132 yards and 3 TDs in a 24-20 Purdue win.

2021: David Bell – 11 catches for 240 yards and a TD in a 24-7 Purdue win.

Jeff Brohm has dominated Kirk Ferentz and Iowa, usually because of performances like the ones above. There is no Bell this year, but until proven otherwise I expect some receiver to have a career day with some long TD catches against the Iowa secondary.

By the time we get to the Iowa game we will know if there is a chance of winning the West. If Purdue gets through the trio of Penn State-Wisconsin-Minnesota at 2-1 and holds serve against its other league opponents this becomes a huge game in the West standings. On paper, the finishing kick of Illinois-Northwestern-Indiana looks very favorable, so if the Boilers can come out of this game in first place or at least close we can start to dream of Indy.

Iowa Hawkeyes

2021 Record: 10-4, 7-2 Big Ten (West Division Champions)

Bowl Result: Lost to Kentucky 20-17 in Citrus Bowl

Blog Representation: Black Heart Gold Pants, Go Iowa Awesome

Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 50-39-3

Last Purdue win: 24-7 at Iowa on 10/16/2021

Last Iowa win: 26-20 at Iowa on 10/19/2019

Head Coach: Kirk Ferentz (178-110 in 23rd season at Iowa, 190-131 overall)

Last Season for the Hawkeyes

Aside from playing against Purdue, Iowa has been great the last few seasons. In fact, Purdue is one of the few teams that has had some actual success against them. They have won eight games or more in every season since 2014 except for 2020, when they still went a solid 6-2. In fact, they won their last six games in 2020 and opened 2021 by winning six straight before Purdue came to Iowa City and wrecked their 12 game win streak.

This was a 10-win team a year ago. A two week offensive blip saw them drop consecutive games to Purdue and Wisconsin, but the defense returned and they ripped off four straight to win the West and head to Indy. Michigan blasted them 42-3 in the Big Ten title game, then they dropped a close bowl game to a good Kentucky team.

Much like Wisconsin, you know what you’re going to get with Iowa. They are going to boast a strong defense that works to get turnovers and put their offense in good field position. They will punt any time there is a chance to be aggressive. The offense is mostly inert, but can score with short fields. They play stoic, conservative football, but often play it very well.

Iowa Offense

“Inert” is the best description of Iowa’s offense. They started 6-0 last year because of a defense that excelled at takeaways. When those didn’t come and they had to press like they did against Purdue, the offense falters. Spencer Petras had nine interceptions all of last season, but four came against Purdue as he was determined to throw fourth quarter interceptions in Boilermaker territory. Petras threw for 1,880 yards and 10 TDs last year against those nine picks, but the Iowa offense as a whole was 13th in the Big Ten in yardage. The turnovers created by the defense had them 10th at 23.4 points per game.

Much of the struggle came from an offensive line that gave up a lot of tackles for loss and couldn’t get much of a running game going. Connor Colby returns as a solid building block on the line and he is only a sophomore. Mason Richmond should also be solid at one of the tackle spots.

The passing game just did not do a whole lot last year. Sam LaPorta is one of the best returning tight ends in the conference and he caught 53 passes for 670 yards and three scores. Keagan Johnson (18-352-2) and Nico Ragaini (26-331-1) return as the top two outside receivers, but there needs to be more of a big play threat this season. Charlie Jones (31-323-3) was a bit of that threat, but he is now on our side. On the ground Gavin Williams should take over as the lead back after rushing for 305 yards a season ago, but Iowa was still 11th in the league in rushing.

Iowa Defense

First, the good news. Iowa was one of the best defenses in the country, finishing in the top 10 nationally in yards allowed and giving up less than 20 points per game last year. They led the nation with 25 interceptions, but that only led to a delicate balance where the Hawkeyes could only win if there were a lot of turnovers. The Purdue game was a microcosm. The offense was forced to go the length of the field because there were no turnovers and it couldn’t score. Couple that with David Bell having a career day and it was no wonder they had a 17 point loss at home while ranked No. 2. If the defense was creating short fields, Iowa scored. If you built a lead on them everything faltered.

Riley Moss was the star of that defense. He finished the season with four interceptions and returned two for touchdowns to go with 39 tackles. Dane Belton, Jamari Harris, and Matt Hankins combined to intercept another 12 passes, but are all gone, so there does need to be some rebuilding in the secondary. As we have seen from past Purdue games though, the defense has had a major problem with defending the deep ball against Brohm, and coach Brohm has been excellent in finding a guy and going to him repeatedly.

The linebackers should be very good, and that is not good news for Purdue’s struggling running game. Jack Campbell is one of the best linebackers in the conference and he had 140 tackles a year ago. Seth Benson is also very good and he had 105 tackles and a pair of sacks. They make the middle of this defense very formidable.

The defensive line should also be good with a good pass rush. Logan Lee is a preseason Second Team all-Big Ten selection. Lukas Van Ness and Joe Evans each had seven sacks last season too. They make for a defense that should be very good overall, and as long as the offense can get to 25 points or so the defense should be more than good enough.

Iowa Special Teams

This is where we see a huge swing in our favor. Charlie Jones was the best return man in the Big Ten last year and Purdue had basically no kickoff or punt return game to speak of. In fact, Iowa was No. 1 in the conference in kickoff returns and Purdue was 14th. That shifts dramatically as Charlie Jones moves from Iowa City to West Lafayette. He even had a 41 yard return late against Purdue, but it ended up being for naught due to a late interception.

Iowa has always had a very consistent kicker, but it must find a new one after Caleb Shudak left. He was 24 of 28 on field goals, but had a huge short miss against Purdue. Tory Taylor is their required Australian punter and he had an excellent 46 yard average a year ago.

Game Outlook

Every Purdue-Iowa game since Jeff Brohm arrived has followed a similar script. Jeff Brohm is willing to take risks and has had a wide receiver go off. Iowa has been pragmatic at best on offense and has often had to come from behind. Turnovers end up playing a huge factor, too. Purdue nearly blew a lead in 2018 because of a late turnover. It clinched the game last year with multiple picks and a key fumble in 2020 led to the game-winning Purdue drive.

Iowa is going to be conservative on offense. That has been their M.O. for over two decades now under Kirk Ferentz. They will try to grind it with a strong ground game and short passes, but will take few risks. So far, that has played right into Jeff Brohm’s hands. The Iowa defense will be strong, but as long as Purdue avoids turnovers it should be fine.

Way-Too-Early Prediction

If things go well, this will be the biggest home game in many, many years as Purdue looks to win the West. Brohm has had Ferentz’s number, too. A wide receiver has a big day, be it Broc Thompson, Abdur-Rahmaan Yaseen, Mershawn Rice, T.J. Sheffield, or someone else. Purdue continues it recent dominance of OMHR. Purdue 27, Iowa 21