This football season, as in years past, we’ll be going behind enemy lines each week to ask some of the tough questions, the really hard-hitting ones. Sometimes, we may even go over the line.
We’d also like to know what you’re interested in learning about each opponent. So hit us on social media with some questions you’d like us to ask each upcoming opponent. Slide in the DMs, @ us or use the hashtag #overthelinebhgp and we’ll ask our weekly guests your questions.
After back-to-back losses to ranked opponents, the Hawkeyes get another home game this week as they play host to the Purdue Boilermakers for homecoming. While that might sound like a nice “get right” game, Kirk Ferentz has never beaten Jeff Brohm and Purdue has won the last two meetings in frustrating fashion.
As we look to this week’s matchup, we go behind enemy lines with our
friends most hated rivals at Hammer & Rails as Site Manager Travis Miller was kind enough to give us the inside scoop on the Boilermakers.
BHGP: Purdue has really had Iowa’s number under Jeff Brohm having won the last two meetings, how does this year’s team compare to what we’ve seen in years past?
H&R: I think it is a little more talented, but extremely young. Hazell’s recruiting classes were in the low 70s/high 60s, but Brohm brought in the first top 25 national recruiting class Purdue has had in more than 15 years last year. His previous class was top 50 as well, and 2020 is looking like a top 25 class too. The talent has drastically improved.
That said, injuries and a lack of upperclassmen means we’re playing a lot of freshmen. When the year started we only had 20 scholarship players that were juniors or seniors eligibility-wise. Now many of them are injured, so we were playing freshmen and those injuries had to force us to play even more. We have a freshman QB, freshman RB, and multiple freshman receivers playing as well as three new offensive linemen. It looks great for 2020 and beyond, but there are definite struggles this year.
BHGP: It sounds like the Boilermakers have been bitten by the injury bug with starting QB Elijah Sindelar and all-world WR Rondale Moore both missing time. What’s their status for Saturday and are there other injuries of note?
H&R: Both of them are out. Sindelar broke his collarbone against Minnesota and is out for at least a few more weeks. Moore had a hamstring injury on the same play and might be returning to practice this week, but it seems likely he won’t be playing Saturday. We’ve also lost our top linebacker in Markus Bailey (knee) for the season and our top defensive lineman (Lorenzo Neal) has yet to play after tearing his ACL against Indiana last year. That’s just the top two players on each side of the ball out right now.
There have been some other injuries too. Our starting center, multiple receivers, a promising freshman safety, and more. This week’s depth chart has five freshmen starting on offense and four on defense, and that’s just the starters.
BHGP: Purdue is averaging just over 27 points a game this year, which seems low for the Boilermakers. How should Hawkeye fans expect them to attack this Iowa defense that’s been very stout to-date?
H&R: The passing game is the best in the Big Ten even with Jack Plummer taking over for Sindelar. Plummer had to start against TCU and definitely looked like a freshman, but he has looked much better of late. Penn State held Purdue in check, but Plummer threw for 420 yards last week and spread the ball around really well. He is going to be very good for us going forward.
The running game has struggled for most of the year. King Doerue has done well for a true freshman, but we’re averaging a Big Ten worst 62 yards or so on the ground. Combined with an offensive line that has struggled (10 sacks given up to Penn State) it has made things difficult at time. Against Maryland we used more quick hitters to TEs and underneath with a lot of success. Plummer has shown that if given time he can do some pretty good things, but the line needs to hold up.
BHGP: In contrast, the Iowa offense has really struggled the last two weeks against defenses that were tough against the run and got pressure on Nate Stanley. Purdue has 14 sacks on the year but have given up more than 165 rushing yards per game. Should Iowa fans get their hopes up about the offense getting right, or do you think this Purdue defense matches up well with the Hawkeyes?
H&R: Purdue’s pass defense has been pretty bad and it got torched by Minnesota. It was better last week against Maryland, but it still struggled to defend the big play. I hate to say it for you guys, but the Purdue defense is built more to defend a conservative, Ferentz-style offense. I was pleased with how it buckled down and played the last three quarters against Penn State after giving up 28 points in the first 16 minutes. We have had some moments of stout defense, but TCU also just ran all over us.
It should be interesting. I think we’re improving quite a bit and Maryland had the athletes to exploit us, but only got lose for two big touchdowns. That encourages me.
BHGP: We already touched on the injuries to Sindelar and Moore, and Hawkeye fans are well aware of leading receiver David Bell (we’d gladly trade you a pair of offensive linemen and a 2021 first round pick for Iowa’s biggest WR recruiting target last cycle), who’s the one other player they should know about on the offensive side of the ball?
H&R: I mentioned Doerue, who broke out with a 3 TD game against Minnesota. He has come on more and more as the season goes on and looks like a pretty good running back. Tight end Brycen Hopkins had an excellent game against Maryland and is an NFL prospect to be sure. Jackson Anthrop is the scrappy slot receiver that is getting more time now that Rondale is out and he is doing what Anthrops do for Purdue by overachieving. His brother Dru was a basketball walk-on that eventually started some games and Danny was a four-year contributor at wide receiver, so it is no surprise that Jackson continues to deliver.
BHGP: How about on defense?
H&R: We really, really love freshman George Karlaftis. He went to West Lafayette HS and is one of the highest rated recruits we have ever had. He has not disappointed, either with four sacks, an interception, and he is second on the team in tackles. He is going to be an incredible player in a year or two. Cory Trice also had a breakout game last week with six tackles, two interceptions, and a touchdown on defense. He is a big corner that is also really promising and a freshman.
BHGP: What’s the one matchup you think Purdue can really exploit this year (and know that if you say a WR running fades against one of Iowa’s CBs you may send an entire fan base into a panic)?
H&R: Well, we can only do that if the line protects Plummer, but we do have multiple receivers that can do that. Bell has been fantastic so far and Marvin Grant had his first career TD last week on a 59-yard similar play. Honestly, that is the best way I see Purdue winning this game: by protecting the ball, hitting a couple big plays, having 1-2 good drives, and waiting out the Ferentzfense like it did two years ago. Bell and Grant are great on the outside and while Anthrop is no Moore, he has done well in the slot. With Hopkins being a mismatch at TE, it is a matter of protecting Plummer, really.
BHGP: On the flip side, any make you particularly nervous?
H&R: Iowa has a great defense. If they can get after Plummer and keep us one-dimensional the offense will go nowhere in a hurry. Just look at the Penn State game. They lived in Plummer’s lap all day and the offense did virtually nothing. Purdue needs to score early and play from ahead.
BHGP: Alright, prediction time. This one opened up at Iowa -15. I’ve seen it grow to as wide as Iowa -18.5. Iowa hasn’t managed to score more than 15 points in the last two games combined. Who do you see winning this one and does Iowa have a shot to cover that absurdly wrong spread?
H&R: I think Purdue keeps it close. If it wins, it will be in a game extremely similar to 2017 and not like last year’s shootout. I know Iowa has struggled offensively and while we’re not Michigan or Penn State defensively, we’re improving. How much will Iowa try to pressure us offensively? The Hawkeyes should win, but I do agree that 18.5 is an absurd spread.
So there you have it, the Hawkeyes are getting back on the right side of things. Suffice it to say I’m still not assured of anything other than the fact an 18.5 point line is easy money.
Special thanks to Travis for taking the time. You can follow him @JusTMill. I encourage doing so for all things Purdue, but also to get some outside perspective as he’ll be in Iowa City this weekend to take in the game.
Also be sure to check out Hammer & Rails. Sure they have really similar school colors and sure we hate them, but they’re doing some great stuff over there. You can conveniently find all their Iowa content from this week in one location here. You can also follow them @HammerAndRails.