After a healthy dose of bacon last week, the Hawkeyes are back at it with a road trip to West Lafayette. While it may be tempting to look ahead to next week’s showdown in Kinnick Stadium against Wisconsin, Iowa can’t get caught sleeping in this one.
The Hawks are looking to take down another rival this week in the mighty, somehow-above-.500 Boilermakers. Yeah, there may not be a trophy (seriously can someone get on this?), but I think we all know deep down that this is the one we want to win the most. Or something like that. So…how about some keys to the game?
Keep defensive momentum
After a miserable showing against Northwestern, Iowa’s defense regained some of its swagger last week in the battle for Floyd of Rosedale. Gone were the 6-yard runs up the middle that plagued the Hawkeyes in September, which allowed Iowa to hold a Minnesota offense averaging over 200 yards per game on the ground to a mere 101 yards last week.
Enter Purdue: a team averaging just 26 points per game with a slew of issues to its name. The Boilermakers’ offensive struggles stem less from an inability to move the ball than a penchant for turnovers and stalled drives in the red zone. In fact, Purdue ranks dead last in the conference in turnover margin and red zone efficiency, both of which will play into the hands of an Iowa defense with some newfound confidence.
Yeah, yeah, any idiot can peg turnovers as a key to any game. However, this week the dichotomy of these teams’ turnover habits are legitimately worth highlighting and are likely to be a difference-maker.
Iowa only has five giveaways on the year (more than half of which came last week against Minnesota) and is +5 so far in overall turnover margin—good for 3rd in the conference. Purdue…cannot say the same. As mentioned above, the Boilermakers are last in the B1G in turnover margin (by, like, a lot) at -6. An already opportunistic Iowa defense should have success forcing David Blough and co. into mistakes—it’s up to the Hawkeye offense to actually capitalize on the field position that comes of that this week. A big part of that has to do with keeping Beathard’s jersey clean and having consistent success on the ground, which brings us to…
O Line consistency
“Disappointing” is just about the only word that can be used to describe Iowa’s offensive line thus far (I’ll also take “underwhelming,” “depressing,” and “WTF?”). CJ Beathard has not looked confident in his protection at all and running lanes for Daniels and Wadley have been few and far between. Last week saw the Hawkeyes try to shake things up and move some pieces around up front, which seemed to result in at least some improvement over previous games. This group definitely still has a ways to go, though, and we need to see a more dominant performance this week against a Purdue front 7 that frankly leaves a lot to be desired.
Daniels and Wadley need to be emphasized early and often. Wadley especially seems to be running well as of late and he needs to see more touches because of it. At the end of the day, typically when the Hawkeyes are unable to reliably run the ball, they lose. Simple as that. If Iowa struggles up front against the Boilers, I shudder to think of what the rest of the season will look like when teams like Wisconsin, Michigan, and Nebraska trot into Kinnick.
Get CJB into a rhythm
There’s no doubt that CJ Beathard has looked like a different quarterback this season. Granted, that’s far from entirely his fault (weird things happen when QBs get sacked 2.5 times a game) and the supporting cast around him must shoulder some of the blame. But regardless of where the issue stems from with Iowa’s passing attack (I subscribe to the notion that it has something to do with a porous line, lackluster receivers, and a QB who’s thinking too much because of it, but that’s just me), it’s clear the Hawkeyes need to develop some sort of aerial threat to maintain the offensive balance that Kirk Ferentz so dearly covets. This game seems like an opportunity to get CJB into a rhythm early by getting the ball out of his hands quickly—I’m looking for a big showing from George Kittle.
Trying to pick the score of an Iowa game so far this year has been an exercise in futility. Alas, the show must go on.
I don’t see Purdue having much success offensively if the Hawkeye defense builds on last week’s showing. Expect a few takeaways and maybe (hopefully?) a defensive score or two. Offensively, Iowa should be able to move the ball on this team (granted that’s never stopped the Hawkeyes before) and I’d love to see them walk out of this game with more confidence—they’ll certainly need it down the stretch of the season. With that said, Iowa’s offense hasn’t lived up to expectations in any game besides Iowa State, so, much as it pains me to say, I’m expecting a lower scoring game until proven otherwise.
Prediction: Iowa 20, Purdue 9.