You know, folks, I think we need to consider the not-insignificant possibility that Iowa football slipped into a parallel universe in West Lafayette today. I mean, consider the evidence: Jordan Canzeri ran the ball 20 times for 165 yards and Iowa's first touchdown -- by far his best game in an Iowa uniform. Don Shumpert was Iowa's leading receiver, with 2 catches for 69 yards, which was his best day at Iowa. Mike Hardy had six tackles, including two TFL and 0.5 sacks, easily his best day at Iowa. What in hell? And seriously: Purdue helped put a man on the moon. You're really willing to say that they couldn't have some crazy device in West Lafayette that's opened a gateway to another dimension?
But seriously: that was an odd, but ultimately very satisfying Iowa win. Iowa was held scoreless in the first quarter (an ill omen) and found themselves tied with Purdue at 7-7 midway through the second quarter after a terrible muffed punt by Kevonte Martin-Manley. KMM redeemed himself a few minutes later, though, hauling in the touchdown pass that gave Iowa a lead it would not relinquish for the rest of the game.
The turning point in the game -- the moment when you could break down Purdue's heart shattering, frame by frame -- was the fumble (Purdue's only turnover of the game) recovered by Christian Kirksey partway through the third quarter. That came after an Iowa three-and-out and on a drive where Purdue was steadily moving down the field, threatening to potentially tie the game and set off a wave of "Here we go again..." exclamations from Iowa fans. Instead, Iowa took over, jammed the ball down Purdue's throat with a steady stream of running plays to Canzeri, Damon Bullock, and Mark Weisman, and ended the drive with a TD and a 21-7 lead.
A two-score lead in this game was virtually insurmountable; Purdue's only TDs came on a short field after the aforementioned muffed punt and a late, garbage-time touchdown pass against Iowa's second-string defense (although that play did give us an indication of why Nico Law doesn't start). Beyond that, Iowa's defense did a very nice job of keeping Purdue in check. They held the Boilermakers to 266 yards of offense and just 53 yards on the ground (it certainly helped that Purdue doesn't have anyone like Carlos Hyde or Melvin Gordon). In addition to the game-changing fumble recovered by Kirksey (and seemingly forced by Anthony Hitchens), Iowa had 9 TFL and 2 sacks.
The offense benefited in the second half from a Purdue defense that seemed disinterested and demoralized, but it was still gratifying to see Iowa's offense finally get into an effective rhythm in the second half of a game. Iowa scored 24 points in the second half of this game, easily their best total of the season. Jordan Canzeri was the biggest highlight from the offense (his cutback ability adds a new and much-needed dimension to Iowa's running game), but the reason Canzeri (and Bullock and Weisman) were able to accumulate a stunning 318 yards rushing was because of the offensive line. To say they "manhandled" Purdue's defensive front is to grossly undersell their efforts. They opened such enormous, gaping holes that Canzeri & Co. were usually 5-7 yards downfield before a Purdue player could even touch them. Canzeri and Bullock, in particular, did a nice job of making a few guys miss and gaining extra yards after those initial holes, but make no mistake: the success of the Iowa running game today came down to Iowa's road graders on the offensive line. They dominated Purdue's defensive line (and linebackers) to an extent we've rarely seen since, oh, 2008 or so. And it was glorious.
The end result is that Iowa won -- easily -- and locked up bowl eligibility. That's tangible improvement from a year ago, when Iowa imploded in October and November. (In fact, today was Iowa's first win in November since 11/19/11, when Iowa beat... Purdue. In West Lafayette, no less.) Purdue isn't very good (which is putting it mildly), but Iowa's played plenty of not-so-good teams in recent years... and I've lost track of how many times they've played poorly against them, leading to plenty of ugly, way-too-close wins (if not outright losses). That didn't happen today; Iowa got an opportunity to take control of the game here -- and they took it and didn't look bad. Iowa had the second-string offense and defense in at the end of this game; when's the last time that happened in a Big Ten game?
So now Iowa heads into a much-needed bye (hopefully Weisman can get healed up and Rudock will recover some mobility so that he no longer moves in the pocket with the agility and grace of Grampa Munster) with bowl eligibility locked up. Now they can just worry about improving their bowl standing, adding to Michigan's misery, and perhaps sending Pelini packing. (Dare to dream.)
- Canzeri averaged 8.2 yards per carry; Bullock averaged 8.5 yards per carry. Man, that was impressive.
- Rudock wasn't at his sharpest in this game, but he ended up with decent passing numbers (12/20, 191 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT) and he avoided any egregious, costly mistakes.
- Drew Ott had 5 tackles, 2.5 TFL and 1.5 sacks. Caveats about the quality of Purdue apply, naturally, but Ott (and Hardy, subbing in for the still-injured Dominic Alvis) gave Iowa some solid play from the defensive end position.
- Louis Trinca-Pasat didn't have the flashiest stat line -- 2 tackles, 2 TFL -- but he again was an extremely disruptive presence. He and Carl Davis spent quite a bit of time in Purdue's backfield, which was a wonderful sight. The development of Davis and LTP into a genuine disruptive force from the defensive tackle position is a much-needed development for the Iowa defense; hopefully they're able to keep up this level of play against better opposition.