Iowa has won 4 of the last 5 games against Purdue. Last year, Jeff Brohm’s first as head coach, saw Purdue’s first victory since 2012! Since 2012 was so unmemorable (read: bad) for each team, I literally did not know this until I looked it up.
Kirk Ferentz is 10-5 against them and 5-3 in Ross-Ade Stadium. Iowa’s been the better team for much of Kirk’s tenure, as Iowa’s finished with the better winning percentage in 14 of Kirk’s 19 seasons. The all time record leans towards Purdue at 47-38-3.
Purdue went bowling (they beat Arizona) and finished 7-6! PURDUE BACK
Despite Brohm’s accolades on offense, it was their defense who stole the show. After giving up 38.3 points per game in 2016, Purdue improved by 18 points a game and 1.5 yards per carry.
all stats via sports-ref.com unless otherwise noted
Purdue returns, laughably, both starters at QB from last year. Both Elijah Sindelar and David Blough found success last year, but also injuries. Sindelar, the junior and younger of the two, figures to be the starter going into the season. Brohm is so high on Blough, he went to Big Ten Media Days as a part of the Boilermaker contingent. Blough is the more mobile/playmaking type of the two and Hawk fans will remember Sindelar for his ability to hit the deep ball against Manny Rugamba. And Michael Ojemudia. And Matt Hankins.
At receiver, Purdue loses two of their top three receivers (Gregory Philips and Anthony Mohoungou) but return their most dependable in true sophomore Jackson Anthrop, who led the team with 47 receptions. At just 9 yards a pop, he operates mainly in the middle of the field and will be the guy they look to in critical situations. Brohm regularly used tight ends in his offense as Cole Herdman and Brycen Hopkins both had 20+ receptions, with Herdman averaging even more than Noah Fant by a tenth of a yard. Since basketball on grass is back, they’ll use a half dozen other receivers, including Terry Wright, Jared Sparks, Isaac “Don’t call me Haas” Zico, and true freshman Rondale Moore. If Phil Parker is true to his word about playing a fifth defensive back at linebacker, we’re likely to see it here.
Running back was by committee for most of last year and it looks like that will be the case again this year. Markell Jones was the lead back in terms of carries and yards but struggled with injuries throughout the year. D.J. Jones is a little more multi-dimensional as the leading receiver out of the backfield and averaged 6 yards per carry. They’ll be running behind a line which returns four starters and brings in another Hilltopper graduate transfer Dennis Edwards. One would assume the experience might lead to an even more balanced attack than last year which could have defenses guessing big time.
Jeff Brohm also isn’t afraid to roll out a trick play or two, or ten.
Please let all 50 be against not Iowa.
As mentioned above, the defense Purdue rolled out gave them a chance in nearly every game they played last season. Losses to Michigan and Northwestern were the only two outside of a single score and even then, they gave up 28 and 23 points, respectively. Those are winning numbers for the offense they hope to roll out this year. The tide turns a little bit this year as they return only 4 starters and lose 9 of their top 12 tacklers, according to Phil Steele.
The attrition will be felt most on the defensive line, where Lorenzo Neal is the only returning starter at tackle. Like most tackles, he didn’t accumulate many stats (2 sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss). but he will be the building block for their defense up front. Currently slotted at end are Giovanni Reviere and Kai Higgins, both of whom are undersized at less than 270 pounds.
Markus Bailey is a bona fide star at linebacker, as he led Purdue in sacks at 7.0 and was second in tackles at 89. He loses his running mate and last year’s leading tackler, Jawahn Bentley, to the NFL. Two true sophomores, Derrick Barnes and Tobias Henry, will be the likely replacements. If they struggle to diagnose - and finish - plays, Iowa could make hay both running the ball and passing through the middle.
In the secondary, they’ll have a mix of old and new with Navon Mosely and Jacob Thieneman manning the safety spots and freshmen at corner with Dedrick Mackey and Kendrick Major. While “Mackey and Major” has the ring of a badass 80s buddy cop action comedy movie, they’ll need to prove it on the field before they become a blockbuster. I would expect defensive coordinator Nick Holt to leverage deception and speed to force errant throws to alleviate any growing pains out wide. If there’s a major opportunity for Iowa’s major opportunity: wide receiver. If chemistry emerges for either unit, it could dictate the game as much as any matchup.
Purdue brings a lot back on offense and will likely win games in a much different way than they did last year, as Iowa actually averaged more points per game (28.2 vs 25.2). If Brohm gets the offense humming, it could spell doom for Iowa in West Lafayette.
However, the defensive deficiencies are significant and exploitable for Iowa. Noah Fant should be used all over the field to cause confusion and Iowa could hammer a relatively light defensive line. Iowa won’t be caught off guard like they appeared to be last year with Brohm’s squad. He’ll have an ace or two in the hole and is as scary a coaching matchup as any in the new West.
This game has the makings of a fun one. Let’s hope Iowa comes out on top.