This isn’t a vintage Iowa defense. It’s still a good Iowa defense.
This defense is missing a pass rusher. In fact, it’s missing a couple pass rushers. Through 5 games, Iowa 3 sacks...total. Granted, they’re not a squad that likes to send more than 4 on any given play. It’s up to those 4 to get pressure. They haven’t been getting pressure this season and it’s holding them back.
What they do have is solid linebackers and a top level secondary featuring a soon to be first round corner in Cooper DeJean. You won’t see much in terms of pressure, but you’ll see plenty in the way of coverage. Some games challenge your quarterback physically, this one will challenge Hudson Card mentally. He’ll need to remain patient, take what the defense offers, and when something big opens up down the field, he’s got to take advantage.
Iowa wants to make the offense earn it 10 yards at a time. Purdue needs to hit a few chunk plays, because they can’t consistently put together 10-15 play drives without self destructing.
Whichever team manages to play their game, will win. If Iowa keeps the lid on the defense, Purdue’s in trouble. If Purdue can find a few big plays, Iowa’s in trouble.
Style: Bend, Don’t Break - No Big Plays
Blue Circle - #3 - Cooper DeJean- Corner
The star of the defense, Cooper DeJean, might be the best corner in the Big 10. The former high school quarterback should be Iowa’s next first round NFL draft pick. At 6’1”, 210, he is a tall, strong corner capable of knocking receivers off their routes in press man and helping out in the run game. He’s a killer defending wide receiver screens. Last season he led the Hawkeyes with 5 interceptions and was second on the team in passes defended with 8. He was also 3rd on the team in tackles with 73, including 3 for loss.
Through 5 games this season, he is 3rd on the team in tackles (30), and has 1 interception and 1 pass defense. Those aren’t huge numbers, but teams are making a pointed effort to avoid him at all costs. Why throw it at the first round pick when you can attack the other side of the field?
DeJean is nominally the left corner for the Hawkeyes. It will be interesting to see if plays there or if he follows Burks around the field. With Purdue’s egalitarian receiving group, it’s hard to focus on shutting down one guy, but if you have to pick one, it would be Burks.
However Iowa chooses to deploy DeJean, Hudson Card needs to know where he is at all times. That doesn’t mean Purdue has to avoid his side of the field, but Card has to be extremely careful with the ball. When DeJean gets his hands on the ball, he morphs into one of the best return men in the Big 10. His 70 yard punt return in the 4th quarter of the Michigan State game sealed the deal for Iowa. It’s in Purdue’s best interest to keep the ball out of his hands at all costs.
Yellow Square - #34 - Jay Higgins - Middle Linebacker
Higgins takes over in the middle from former Hawkeye first round draft pick Jack Campbell. So far so good for the senior backer. He leads the team in tackle by a wide margin with 62, second is held by fellow linebacker Nick Jackson with 46.
Not only is Higgins a tough run stopping middle linebacker, he’s also solid in zone defense. He leads the team in passes defended with 3. That’s not something you typically see out of your middle linebacker. Then again, most middle linebackers aren’t 6’2”, 225.
If Purdue wants to run outside zone against Iowa, Higgins must be accounted for, otherwise he'll throw a major wrench in what is shaping up to be a surprisingly effective run game for Purdue.
Purdue Circle - #30 - Quinn Schulte - Free Safety
As Iowa’s deep safety, it’s Schulte’s job to prevent big plays. In a way, he’s the Hawkeyes’s version of Dillion Thieneman. He’s the last line of defense. Unlike Thieneman, Schulte tends to stay deep, even in the run game. The goal of the Iowa defense is to make the offense run plays until they make a mistake, and Schulte is the key.
He and fellow safety Xavier Nwankpa form a 2 deep shell that challenges the opposition to work short and intermediate routes. He’s another player Hudson Card will need to keep an eye on in the secondary. If Purdue wants to throw anything deep, it’ll be up to Card to move Schulte with his eyes. Controlling the deep safety is next level quarterbacking, and is the next step in Card’s evolution into an elite quarterback.
Just like on defense, the key for Purdue on offense is patience. Iowa wants to make you earn it a first down at a time, in hopes that you eventually screw up. That’s tough for a Purdue offense that has been impatient and plagued by penalties and turnovers at times this season.
That said, Purdue’s offense is coming off their best performance to date against Illinois. Purdue’s run game needs to show up against this week and keep 3rd and long pressure off Card.
I’m guessing Tyrone Tracy might want to show the Iowa coaching staff what he looks like as a runningback. Purdue should give him the opportunity early and often. If they can get Iowa to move one of their safeties up, it should open up the deep passing game.
That’s the formula for Purdue in this one.
Work the short air raid passing game and the run game until Iowa pulls up a safety, and then attack deep. Card should have time. Iowa wants to play coverage. This is a game where Purdue’s offense needs to dictate the game to the Iowa defense.
Oh, and for the love of everything Purdue....please don’t loose this one because of fumbles.