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The Morning After: Bell Rung

Purdue’s path to victory highlights how Kirk Ferentz’s philosophy reduces Iowa’s chance of winning

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NCAA Football: Iowa at Purdue Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Once again, the Iowa Hawkeyes (0-1) allowed a receiver to run rampant over their secondary en route to a victory.

David Bell followed up his near-200 yard day last year in Kinnick Stadium by matching his reception total (13) for almost 80 less yards but triple the touchdowns as the Purdue Boilermakers (1-0) won, 24-20.

In other words, he, Aiden O’Connell, and Brian Brohm (with help from Jeff on his sofa) rung Iowa like a ... bell.

Further asserting Purdue’s emphasis on getting the ball to their best players, he is but two of six consecutive 100+ yard performances a Boilermaker receiver has had facing Iowa.

Purdue, before and since the hire of Jeff Brohm, has always made it a point to get their stars the ball, almost especially against Iowa. Pairing Bell with battering ram Zander Horvath, Brian Brohm finished a Boilermaker possession in their hands on 47% of Purdue’s 77 offensive plays. 40% of Aiden O’Connell’s completions went to David Bell.

Iowa’s playcalling is Iowa’s playcalling. They’re not going to sling it 50 times unless the toilet is clogged in the run game and it really wasn’t yesterday. The 100-yard barrier which was oh-so-predictive of a Hawkeye win since 2015 is proving less indicative now that Brian Ferentz has taken over of the playcalling duties. 4 of Iowa’s 5 losses have come under his tutelage with the winning percentage down from 95% to 86%.

Yet it is fair to question if Iowa is getting the ball to its playmakers enough. Tyler Goodson, Iowa’s dynamic bellcow in the backfield, had 21 combined rushes and receptions but none in the fourth quarter.

Ihmir Smith-Marsette’s whirlwind day included more yardage in penalties than from scrimmage. While he didn’t help himself with an early drop, maybe we read too much into his four offensive touches from the Holiday Bowl. Tyrone Tracy had just two touches on offense.

A week after selling jet sweep action as more than gadget plays to the media, wide receivers were utilized barely more than ISM’s two rushes. I guess it’s probably hard to sell Kirk, the only person who matters, on a more dynamic run game when 1) it’s already kinda working pretty well and 2) they can’t get out of their own way with false starts in an empty stadium.

The 400 yards Iowa amassed is also a winning number. They’re 13-1 since 2017 where the only loss was a similarly frustrating 2018 game to Wisconsin also plagued by turnovers. In nine conference-only games, they averaged 43 points in such contests.

Purdue isn’t Wisconsin, though.

With yesterday’s result going against so many offensive indicators, it’s fair to question why the offense is in question. The first answer, of course, is turnovers. The second, penalties. These plays are not on the margins.

Yet they exist in an ecosystem which seeks to limit any single player’s negative impact and, as a byproduct, does not enable a single player to maximize his positive impact. In other words, by striving for low variance football, the style of play becomes upset by high variance negativities.

Now, maybe this changes when Spencer Petras plays four full quarters like he’s not amped up on Mountain Dew and those deep shots land. But Iowa did him no favors by opting to receive the ball to open the game when the plan appeared to be easing him into the starter’s role with ball control football and trading three-and-outs.

On the flipside, Iowa’s clock management disabled the rhythm he built throughout much of the second quarter by going to an outside zone to the boundary without a second thought.

The difference between a touchdown and a field goal was the difference in the ball game.

With just eight conference games left in the season, Iowa’s runway for fixing the mental errors is short, yet their situation is not unique. Everyone is playing by the same rules.

The Hawkeyes have also lost countless games like the one we just saw against Northwestern, their next opponent who looks like they might be for real, and Michigan State, who lost to Rutgers. So maybe one win is a guarantee, but it’d be silly to expect it.

Kirk Ferentz can probably withstand the singular early loss, especially the miscues are cleaned up, they gain 400+ yards once again, and the scoring output is more in line with the yardage gains. It probably doesn’t even matter if ISM and Tyrone Tracy have just four combined touches in those wins.

But if October into early November resemble what we watched yesterday — all while the $20-million lawsuit be a recurring plot point in game broadcasts — it’s fair to say many more questions will be asked.

All that matters for next week is: will Iowa ring the bell? Simply be a rung bell?