As we come down the home stretch in our weekly look at Iowa’s 2017 football opponents, it’s time to check in on the Purdue Boilermakers. There’s been a coaching change in West Lafayette since last fall, but a solid group of upperclassmen and returning starters should ease the transition.
Purdue won just three games last season, which was good enough to get head coach Darrell Hazell fired. It’s not like the games were close, either. Eight of the nine losses were by double digits, and the best win was a shootout with Illinois on the road. That game took place on October 8th, and it was the last time the Boilermakers won a football game.
Who did they lose?
The biggest losses were on the offensive line, where they saw three starters move on to the NFL or graduation. Guard Jordan Roos was the most talented of that group, and his exit will likely impact the running game more than anything. Also gone is explosive wide receiver DeAngelo Yancey and serviceable defensive end Evan Panfil.
Who do they return?
Quarterback David Blough is back and despite the uniform he wears, he’s one of the better passers in the Big Ten. He’ll have the underrated-yet-talented running back Markell Jones behind him to hand the ball. Tight end Cole Herdman is back, and he’s one of the better players in the conference at his position. The offensive line is young and inexperienced, but having Kirk Barron back at center should alleviate some of the growing pains. Keep an eye on redshirt freshman left tackle Grant Hermanns. More on him later.
On defense, the strength of that unit will be the linebackers. Seniors Danny Ezechukwu and Ja’Whaun Bentley are more than capable of holding their own amongst the other talented linebackers in the conference, while sophomore Markus Bailey looks like a rising star after a 2016 freshman campaign that saw him log 97 tackles.
Why should Iowa be worried?
Scheduling. It’s the final home game of the season for Iowa, and it’s not easy to get pumped for Purdue. This one comes on the heels of a four-week stretch of Northwestern, Minnesota, Ohio State and Wisconsin. The Hawkeyes could be exhausted — both mentally and physically at that point — and vulnerable. We’ve seen David Blough carve up better secondaries than what Iowa will field, so it might not be a good idea to take a mental break looking ahead to the Black Friday tilt with Nebraska.
Why should Iowa not be worried?
I’m not sure Purdue has the talent on the interior of its offensive line to consistently keep Nate Bazata and Co. from penetrating the backfield and disrupting the timing of the Boilermaker offense. On the other side of the ball, Iowa should be able to wear down Purdue’s defensive line early, putting extra stress on that aforementioned linebacking corps and opening up the intermediate passing game.
Key player for Purdue
Grant Hermanns — Brohm and the rest of the Purdue staff are expecting big things from their redshirt freshman left tackle. The former New Mexico state wrestling champion has rare athleticism for the position, and he’s going to be able to handle most one-on-one matchups he faces on the edge. If Parker Hesse, Anthony Nelson and the other guys Iowa sends off the edge can’t consistently beat Hermanns on Blough’s blind side, Iowa’s back seven could be in for a long and busy day defending the pass.
Key player for Iowa
Ben Niemann — Tight end Cole Herdman is likely going to be Blough’s most trusted target — especially in the red zone. Niemann is going to be asked to account for him for much of the day, and how successful he is in doing so could very well dictate the comfort level of the Kinnick-faithful as this game plays out.