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Matchup to Watch: Nate Stanley vs. Purdue’s Secondary

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Purdue’s allowed a lot of yards through the air but can the Iowa Hawkeyes take advantage?

NCAA Football: NCAA Football: Purdue at Iowa David Scrivner-USA TODAY Sports

From the second I saw Rondale Moore, I knew Iowa would be in trouble. This was before the starting cornerbacks revolved out and brought on not one, but two, true freshmen. Was this an overreaction during the very first game of the season?

Maybe not. However, throughout this season I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Phil Parker. As always, he’s worked his magic and I suspect he’ll work it some more on Saturday. If that proves not to be the case, Iowa will have to match fire with fire which means a good ole fashioned Joe Tiller “Basketball on Grass” special. If it turns into a game which requires lots of scoring, it’ll be Nate Stanley* who has to guide Iowa’s offense. Even if it does prove to be the case, Stanley will have to make at least a couple critical throws to ensure a Hawkeye victory.

* Barring injury of course, but all indications are that he will play on Saturday.

Since the Boilermakers allowed 40 points to Missouri on September 15th, their defense has given up a maximum of 28 points (to Nebraska) for an average of 18.2 points a game against five Power 5 opponents. However, their defense yields an average of 299 yards per game (126th out of 129 in the country) through the air and 432 total. They aren’t particularly impressive turning opponents over with only 10 takeaways on the season buoyed by four against Boston College.

In other words, it is bend-don’t-break operation: “Take your yards, they don’t matter.”

To further this point, opponents are only converting 34.2% of third downs, which ranks above Iowa (35.6%), for 32nd in the country.

Despite Stanley’s struggles in State College, Iowa still ranks in the top 20 for the country behind him generating the most yards through the air on 3rd down and converting the second most in the country. Iowa will be in a ton of third down scenarios this weekend - can Stanley tap into the ability he displayed throughout games 3-6?

On the Purdue side, they won’t wow with the interceptions but they do have a knack for defending passes, with 20 from their starting secondary. For reference, Iowa’s starters only have 14 on the season, including Geno Stone’s two.

As a result, Stanley will have to be incredibly accurate with the ball, given the Boilermakers’ ability to react to throws. He’ll also have to lean on the trust he’s developed with T.J. Hockenson and Brandon Smith, especially. It goes without saying that Noah Fant will be the focus of this defense, but the Hawks should look to get him involved early as well.

Antonio Blackmon figures to be the biggest force in Purdue’s secondary. He leads the team with six passes defended and added this nice interception against BC. In the link, he demonstrates an ability to peel off of his man and attack the middle of the field on a tight end seam route. That play to Hockenson has been a staple in Iowa’s offense - probably their best play - and Blackmon has shown an ability to counter it.

Purdue adds redshirt freshman Kenneth Major, who leads the team with three interceptions, Simeon Smiley, and Tim Cason as corners who will receive plenty of playing time. Jacob Thieneman is the old guy in the room at safety. He’s almost matched his 73 tackles from last year (currently at 65) and has four sacks. With those numbers, Iowa can expect a heavy dose of him in the box murkying up Stanley’s reads.

Though the setting won’t pack the same punch as Beaver Stadium, it’s another environment Stanley will have to manage. In his career, the Hawkeye QB completes only 53% of his throws away from home for 6.8 yards per attempt (vs. 58% for 7.3 YPA at Kinnick).

The opportunity is there for the taking for the Hawkeyes but it is also a de facto elimination game from Indy. With only one offensive touchdown the last two weeks, the urgency to get into the end zone is sky high. Iowa will not be able to get around another dud of a performance from their QB. Hopefully Stanley rises to the challenge.