After a crushing defeat at the hands of the Badgers, the Hawkeyes will turn their focus to a real rival - the Purdue Boilermakers, who they have constantly been warring with since the beginning of time. Iowa hates Purdue. They’ve always hated Purdue, in fact. It’s the most important time of the season, where these two adversaries can assert their dominance over the other on the gridiron.
All that aside, Purdue is a much different team than when the Hawks played them last year! Gone are the days of Darrell Hazell’s inept football teams, as there is suddenly hope in West Lafayette for the first time in years. How much hope, you ask? Well, we asked Travis Miller, the site manager over at SB Nation’s premier Purdue blog, Hammer & Rails, for the Boilermaker perspective.
Without further ado...
Max: Purdue is 4-6 and still has a chance to reach bowl eligibility in their first year under Jeff Brohm. What's been the biggest improvement for the Boilermakers this season and how bright does the future look in West Lafayette?
Travis: Oh man, we have seen improvement everywhere, but the biggest area has to be the run defense. For the last several years teams could run for 250 on us without breaking a sweat. New defensive coordinator Nick Holt has this team playing a lot better against the run. Ja”Whaun Bentley, Gelen Robinson, and Markus Bailey have been the biggest reasons for this. They have been stout in the middle and Bailey seems to clean up everything on the outside. It is night and day better.
Offensively we’re actually struggling a bit. We have no depth on the offensive line or at receiver, and Hazell didn’t leave much talent there anyway. We’ve struggled to get any consistency at receiver and that has bogged down offense. On the line we haven’t been great, but we have still cobbled together a line that, overall, has done much better than I thought it would. It has been merely below average as opposed to the complete disaster I feared.
Max: Purdue has used a couple different quarterbacks this season. Who are they, what does each bring to the table, and who should we expect to see against Iowa?
Travis: You’ll see Elijah Sindelar, as David Blough dislocated his ankle against Illinois two weeks ago and is out for the remainder of the season. Before the Illinois game both played roughly equally until Blough won out late because he was the more mobile quarterback and his accuracy was better. Part of that is on the players around him, at least according to Brohm. Coach Brohm said before the Illinois game that Sindelar might be the guy with different tools around him (i.e., receivers that don’t have so many drops), but Blough was the best for what we have.
Sindelar has the bigger arm, but he still has a tendency to rifle passes as hard as he can. I think that has led to drops by receivers, with the worst example being the Rutgers game. Blough has more touch on his passes, but Sindelar played most of the game at Rutgers and the drops became contagious. That’s why we lost that game. He is still a young QB and he is basically in the middle of a three-game audition to start next year. He is coming off of a career night at Northwestern for yards and attempts too, so maybe he is coming around.
Max: Last year's Purdue offense was extremely pass heavy and David Blough torched Iowa's defense late in the game. What does the offense look like this year and who should make an impact?
Travis: As I said earlier, this offense is struggling a bit because the receivers have struggled since Rutgers. One player who has stood out lately is Jarrett Burgess. He is a 27-year-old former pro baseball player who walked-on two years ago and played some, but not a lot. He had only 2 receptions for 7 yards and 3 rushes for 60 yards and a TD in two years and 7 games before the Illinois game. He wasn’t even playing before the Illinois game, but the last two weeks he has had 8 catches for 108 yards and a score out of nowhere. It was a complete surprise, but maybe he is emerging as a consistent receiver for us.
We’re also missing our top running back in Tario Fuller. He was playing extremely well in the first three games of the season, but suffered a bone bruise against Missouri and will have surgery this week as a result. He is done for the year, meaning D.J. Knox, Markell Jones, and Richie Worship are splitting carries. In my opinion Jones is the best of those three (he had 875 yards and 10 TDs as a freshman two years ago) but he has been a bit of a disappointment since. Worship is a large back with great vision. If the blocking is there, all three can do a lot, but the line has struggled. Grant Hermanns, our starting left tackle, is also out for the year and it has been an issue to replace him.
Max: With the exception of the Ohio State game, Iowa's struggled to get much out of their offense. In what ways will they be able to exploit the Purdue defense best?
Travis: Our secondary has struggled of late, but for the most part the defense is doing enough to win games. We’re holding opponents under 20 points a game, and once the Brohm offense gets fully operational that should be more than enough to win. Only one team has gotten over 30 against us and that was Louisville with some guy named Lamar Jackson, who is a decent player. Our biggest issue has been the offense struggling to finish drives. After starting so well this season at getting points in the red zone it has been a nightmare of late. We’re not a good third down team and in a few 4th and short situations the line has gotten blown up.
Max: Finish this sentence: Purdue will win if:
Travis: It can create a few turnovers (just one turnover in the last four games) and solve its red zone issues.
Max: Prediction time - who ya got?
Travis: Iowa is a tough team at home. I think we keep it close because we really haven’t been blown out this season, but we’re struggling to score points right now. I don’t think we can do enough because the injuries have piled up at key spots like QB and LT. Unless our receivers do better we’re not going to do much.
Thanks to Travis for his time and insight! Of course, I hope the Hawkeyes throw nine hundred points on your team. For more on all things Purdue, check out Hammer & Rails and find them on Twitter at @HammerAndRails. Go Hawks.