Each week we’ll take a look at what went right — and wrong — for the Hawkeyes on Saturday. Catch all the previous rewatches right here.
There are some games you just need to win and this was one of those games.
And I say need but really mean there’s no excuse to lose and that’s exactly what happened in this game. Iowa couldn’t figure out how to stop Purdue’s deep passing game for the vast majority of the contest and paid the price for it.
Meanwhile, the offensive side of the ball probably did enough to win, but the Hawkeyes’ inability to extend several key drives ultimately helped doomed them. Penalties hurt too. It also certainly didn’t help Colten Rastetter had easily his worst game of the season and field position was at a premium. Purdue had it and Iowa did not.
This game was as frustrating as any of Iowa’s losses this season and once again the Hawkeyes were probably the altogether better team. I do believe they were outcoached, however, and it showed through the game.
We’ll start again with the offense today, as the defense was pretty depressing and can wait.
Offensive snap counts
Wide receiver: Brandon Smith (52), Nick Easley (39), Ihmir Smith-Marsette (34), Kyle Groeneweg (8), Tyrone Tracy (5).
Tight end: T.J. Hockenson (74), Noah Fant (50), Nate Wieting (17).
Running back: Mekhi Sargent 36, Ivory Kelly-Martin 27, Toren Young 15.
Fullback: Austin Kelly 28
Note: Snap counts also include penalty-negated plays & the two-point conversions.
— C Keegan Render, one, -10 yards total (holding); RB Mekhi Sargent, one, -10 yards total (holding); QB Nate Stanley, one, -5 yards total (delay of game); WR Ihmir Smith-Marsette, 0 yards total (illegal touching).
— 69 total offensive plays — 2WR/2TE/RB (33); 2WR/TE/FB/RB (13); 3TE/FB/RB (7); WR/2TE/FB/RB (6); WR/3TE/RB (4); 3WR/1TE/RB (3); 2WR/TE/2RB (2); WR/2TE/2RB (1).
Outside of T.J. Hockenson playing just about every snap of the game, there’s nothing all that notable other than true freshman Tyrone Tracy usurping Max Cooper for the fifth wide receiver spot.
I’m not sure if Cooper is injured or what, but he’s seen non-garbage time snaps in the majority of Iowa’s games this season. Something to watch, I suppose.
The Hawkeyes went heavy a bunch in this game, though it felt like they used a fullback way less live than it did upon rewatch. Also, this was the most Iowa’s used two true running backs on the field at the same time all season. It hasn’t been very effective, but it’ll be interesting to see if this throwback look is something that continues to happen.
Overall, the Iowa offense was able to move the ball pretty well. Nate Stanley completed 21-of-32 passes for 275 yards and no interceptions. He was sacked just once. He did struggle to hit receivers down the field just a bit and only two passing plays went for more than 18 yards.
The first was Nate Wieting’s 21-yard catch early in the game, while the other was this beauty of a catch-and-run from Noah Fant.
This is just a little swing pass, but what makes it is the downfield blocking by Nick Easley and Brandon Smith. I know I gush over Smith’s blocking all the time, but it’s the reason he’s consistently playing 45+ snaps per game and just is impressive.
I don’t know if Brian Ferentz and Co. had an inkling Purdue would blitz here, but safety Jacob Thieneman comes on one. He tries to jump in front of it to knock it down, but Stanley gets it off juuuust in time. It’s kind of interesting, you can see him switch directions in mid-stride to to try and get in front of it, but he’s just inches off.
As they say, football is a game of inches and Fant sprints down the field for a massive gain.
While I like the play call, the timing, and really everything about it, this play is made because Fant is large and fast and strong. Not only does Fant outrun the linebacker, he nearly outruns safety Navon Mosley. The 6-foot, 190 pound defensive back first touches Fant at the Purdue 48-yard line. Fant was down at the Boilermaker 12.
There’s just not a whole lot of players who can do that and this is a play that Fant should be showing every NFL scout.
Fant was the leading receiver yardage wise with 84 total yards, though Hockenson and Sargent both had more catches with four. Iowa had just one touchdown reception and it came on a four-yard throw on fourth down to Hockenson.
This came four plays after the 65-yard pass and I think is fairly well designed. All four receivers are running routes to the wide side of the field and it looks like this play is supposed to go to Hockenson, which it does.
Hockenson chip blocks for a second before getting open in the end zone. If you watch closely, fullback Austin Kelly turns around like he’s expecting a pass and it seems like he’s the secondary option to at least get the first down.
Purdue is sending two players on a blitz here and linebacker Marcus Bailey (#21) nearly gets to Stanley. Kelly chips Bailey and then gets open, but Sargent does not do a good job blocking here. In part it’s due to the fact he’s having to complete his play action fake, but he’s well behind Bailey and has to turn around to do anything. Stanley gets the ball away just in time.
Speaking of Sargent, he had a career-high in catches with four and was good in the passing game on Saturday. This was his longest of the day:
All hail the wheel route. I *think* this play is indeed intended to go to Sargent all the way through. Iowa’s got a trips bunch (after Stanley motions Smith-Marsette in) that also includes Hockenson and Easley. Brandon Smith is the lone wideout on the short side of the field.
Hockenson is running a go route and Stanley never looks at him. Easley and Smith-Marsette are both running slant routes. Smith, meanwhile, cuts inside, runs a bit of a slant and then turns it upfield. Interestingly enough, his heads snapped back to Stanley just across the first down marker, making me wonder if he was another option on the play.
Also, Smith-Marsette nearly runs into the ref here, who sprints forward into the sophomore wideouts way. It causes him to adjust his route and almost bump into Smith as well. Interesting, all around.
Oh, and at the end of the play a flag is thrown for what looks like a horse collar, but is then picked up. Here’s a nice little explainer on the rule, which was updated in 2017.
Anyways, that wasn’t the only wheel route Iowa ran. Here’s one from Ivory Kelly-Martin.
Kelly-Martin starts the play split, but then comes back to his running back spot and Stanley snaps the ball a second later. He was very much open and Stanley gets him the ball fairly easily.
It should be noted both of these wheel routes came on third down and deep inside Purdue territory. Both resulted in conversions and eventually led to touchdowns. Just saying.
Staying on the topic of running backs, Iowa’s rushing production was fairly ho-hum. The Hawkeyes had 37 carries for 118 yards, though they did have four rushing touchdowns.
Toren Young was Iowa’s leading rusher with 47 yards on nine carries. Eleven of those came on this play:
Two wideouts, two tight ends and just Young as the single back. Noah Fant makes a nice play here, while Tristan Wirfs (#74) nearly blocks his guy straight into the hole. Young makes a good decision and uses his strength to get through the hole and pushes his way for a first down. Nothing special, but a nice play.
Iowa’s not an explosive rushing team this year at all. In fact, the Hawkeyes have the lowest amount of 20+ yard rushing plays in the conference with five. Yes, even Rutgers has more 20+ yard rushing plays than Iowa.
They rank 123rd in the nation in that stat as well. For a team that prides itself on being able to move the ball, that’s really not great. Iowa also ranks 93rd in the nation in yards per attempt, with 3.88.
That’s a little frustrating.
Moving on, Iowa failed two two-point conversions. Which was also frustrating. There’s a bunch of arguments to be made as to whether Iowa should have gone for it or not, but if I hear the term ‘chasing points’ one more time I’m going to flip.
There are three wide receivers on the field. There is one tight end on the field. The tight end isn’t even out for a pass. That’s inexcusable. The coverage is solid here and there’s no place for Stanley to throw the ball until the very end when he has to throw across his body to try to zing something into Smith.
I don’t get this play. At all. If you’re going for two points you better have a damn good play called and this was not that.
This is maybe a better play call, but still doesn’t work. It’s a ‘pick’ play to Smith and with Fant setting it. But the problem is that Smith is tightly covered, there’s a linebacker there by the time the ball is anywhere near him and the ref is in the way as well.
But let’s pick up the action to what happened right after this. Purdue gets a short drive, but Iowa forces the Boilermakers to punt.
Then the Hawkeyes had a five-play, two-yard drive. How does that happen, you ask? Well two holding calls will do that.
The first one was on Keegan Render:
This is called because Render is hooking the defensive lineman with his arm. Render tries to get his arm out late, but the official has already seen it by then. Just one of those plays, I suppose.
Here’s Sargent’s, which is a little harder to see:
I mean this is a hold too. It is. Sargent grabs the blitzing linebacker and it’s made all the more obvious because Stanley got about seven yards off the play.
Sargent didn’t have a good day blocking and this was the cherry on top.
Now these two holding calls are not really the reason Iowa lost. They’re just not. Whether y’all think they were egregious enough to be called is an entirely different matter, but I flat-out refuse to blame the refs in any game. I just think it’s a bad road to go down.
Anyways, Iowa’s last offensive play of the day was this:
If Stanley had waited a half-second, Hockenson was about to break open. Sigh. This was a close ball though, Smith-Marsette actually had it palmed for a split second.
Defensive snap counts
Defensive line: Anthony Nelson (48), Parker Hesse (47), Sam Brincks (41), Matt Nelson (37), Cedrick Lattimore (26), Chauncey Golston (25), A.J. Epenesa (24), Brady Reiff (20).
Linebacker: Jack Hockaday (62), Djimon Colbert (60), Nick Niemann (7), Kristian Welch (4).
Defensive back: Amani Hooker (66), Jake Gervase (64), Julius Brents (64), Geno Stone (62), Riley Moss (49), Michael Ojemudia (20).
Note: Snap counts also include penalty-negated plays
Defensive/Special teams penalties
— CB Julius Brents, one, -15 yards total (pass interference); DE A.J. Epenesa, one, -15 yards total (roughing the passer); ST Garret Jansen, one, -10 yards total (holding); DB Michael Ojemudia, one, -10 yards total (holding).
There aren’t many more disappointing Iowa defensive performances than the one we watched on Saturday. We knew exactly what Purdue was going to try to do to Iowa and they were able to do it.
Iowa was beat early and often by the deep pass. I mean, my god, David Blough had over 300 yards passing with nine minutes left in the third quarter. This was bound to happen eventually with two young corners, but my goodness it got bad. And man-oh-man did they get picked on.
First Purdue drive of the game and Julius Brents gives up a score. This is the only deep route being ran, Blough gets the one-on-one coverage he wants and Purdue scores a touchdown.
Blough has just about three seconds to throw this ball, as Parker Hesse has beat his man and is coming hard from the edge. But, as he was able to do nearly all the game, Blough got the ball out of his hand extremely quick.
Just look at this play:
How do you beat a good pass rush?
Throw the ball as quickly as possible. The Boilermakers’ offensive line again doesn’t give their fifth-year quarterback much time, but it’s more than enough for Terry Wright to streak down the field and get about a step and a half on Riley Moss.
This was a fantastic play call and even better execution. It was also hardly the only time Moss got picked on.
Blough has all the time in the world here and places the ball on Wright’s outside shoulder. Moss tries to make a play on the ball, but all it ends up looking like is desperate flailing.
Even in short yardage situations Purdue felt like they could attack Moss... and they were right.
Moss bites on the jab step and it’s all over after that. To be fair, the defense had a short field to work with on this possession as Rondale Moore (who was kept relatively quiet) ripped off a 24-yard punt return.
But even so, it says something that one third down and with a chance to put this game really out of reach... Purdue gets the matchup it wants with Moss.
Not everything with the defensive backs in this game was bad, I suppose. Iowa did get two interceptions. One from Jake Gervase and then this one from Amani Hooker:
Hooker is just playing his hybrid linebacker/defensive back spot and snags interception No. 3 on the season. Our own Boilerhawk noticed during the game that his other two picks of the year have also been on underneath coverage and I’m pretty sure he’s right.
Amani Hooker is good. Really good. It would not shock me if he ends up as a round four or better pick in the NFL draft someday.
Moving on, Julius Brents also got tagged with a pass interference call late in the game. Like I said before, just not a great day for the young Iowa defensive backs.
Brents grabs the jersey and... yeah, they’re going to call that every single time. Especially at this point in the game and when it’s right in front of the ref.
This call might have seemed like it was pretty much the game, but I don’t agree. The game ended on this fourth-and-two play:
Purdue does a whole bunch of things right on this play. First, offensive tackle Eric Swingler (#60) gets a block on Jack Hockaday, who is really the only person who maybe could have stopped this play. Matt Nelson works his way down the line, but is basically ran into by Hockaday and both are pretty much taken out of the play.
Meanwhile, Brycen Hopkins (#89) gets a good block on Parker Hesse and then is momentarily helped by center Kirk Barron (#53). Rondale Moore, meanwhile, blocks Amani Hooker, who is not able to even disengage himself from the freshman.
Blough gets the first down and Purdue basically is in field goal position after this.
And, for Iowa, Big Ten championship hopes over.