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Iowa Football: Five Questions on the Purdue Boilermakers

Can the Hawkeyes avenge one of two losses from the 2020 season?

NCAA Football: Iowa at Purdue
Is David Bell going to be in Iowa fans’ nightmares?
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Iowa Hawkeyes are fresh off the most important win the program has had since the #1 Hawkeyes defeated #2 Michigan in 1985. But now they turn to the Purdue Boilermakers in a Homecoming showdown.

Since head coach Jeff Brohm took over, Iowa is 1-3 against the Boilers and have seemingly found new ways to lose with each matchup. A loss this season would be especially devastating given the season-long implications for the highest ranked Iowa team in more than three decades.

To get a better idea of what to expect in this weekend’s matchup, we sat down with Travis Miller, site manager at Hammer and Rails, SB Nation’s Purdue site. Here’s a look at our conversation on Iowa’s matchup with the Boilermakers.

BHGP: Purdue has had a bit of an up and down season thus far with solid wins over Oregon State and UConn to open the season, while things have sputtered a bit of late with the offense managing just 13 points in each of the last three games - a win over Illinois and losses at Notre Dame and against Minnesota. At a high level, what’s been the one or two key storylines of this Boilermakers team that Iowa fans should know about?

HNR: The first is that the defense has been a very pleasant surprise. It has kept Purdue in games when the offense has been a disappointment. It was the story of the game against Oregon State. The UConn win was the first road shutout in 40 years (It’s UConn, but still). Notre Dame was a 4 point game entering the 4th quarter and Purdue had the ball with a chance to tie midway through the period. It played well enough to beat Minnesota and really saved us vs. Illinois.

That said, the offense has been a disappointment. We’re paying Jeff Brohm a lot of money expecting to score points and 13 in each of the last three won’t cut it. We’re moving the ball, but finishing drives has been a significant issue. David Bell missed the Illinois game so that is part of it. TE Payne Durham also missed the Minnesota game after having the Illinois game and he has been a huge part of the offense otherwise. Jack Plummer has no turnovers, but has struggled to consistently get drives moving. Aidan O’Connell moves the offense, but is far more turnover prone and is not mobile at all. Purdue got into Minnesota territory 8 times, so it is moving the ball, but scored only 13 points. It has to do better.

BHGP: Historically, Jeff Brohm has found a scab in the Iowa defense and picked it incessantly. He’s 3-1 against the Hawkeyes and Iowa fans can still see David Bell catching pass after pass in their nightmares. Oh no he’s still there. How do you see Brohm attacking this Iowa defense and is there any hope of slowing down Bell?

HNR: It’s very curious because remember: Jeff was out with COVID last year and his brother Brian, the offensive coordinator served as interim coach. In the opinion of many he mixed things up better and that was a huge part of that win. Brohm has had a lot of success going over the top and exploiting weaknesses for Iowa. A lot of fans want Brian to take over more playcalling duties, and given last year’s success maybe that happens. The 2017 game where we went to Anthony Mahoungou until you could stop him was a prime example. I expect him to take a few more deep shots than usual, with Durham hopefully open for regular first downs underneath. The biggest thing will be to not turn the ball over. I hear y’all are good at that.

BHGP: In the running game, the loss of Zander Horvath for the season appears to be a major issue from the outside. The Boilers have only topped 100 yards on the ground once this season, in the 49-0 throttling of Connecticut. Who will Iowa see running the ball for Purdue and can the Boilermakers put together a higher scoring output this week if they’re forced to play one-dimensionally?

HNR: Horvath is not out for the season, but he seems unlikely to be back this week. That hurts because he has been very effective the last few seasons at moving the ball and was over 100 yards last year against you guys. King Doerue will be the featured back and he was decent with 95 yards against Minnesota (sacks reduced the team total by 44 yards). He has to be at least somewhat of a threat or we see what happened at Notre Dame happened. Dylan Downing and JaQuezz Cross have gotten carries to limited effect.

Purdue has outgained all of its opponents so far, but again, it has to finish drives. O’Connell was at 371 yards last week, but two backbreaking turnovers and a couple sacks cost Purdue at least 10 points if not more. The line has to protect and run block better, and that is not something that gets instantly better with a week off. Purdue’s depth there was decimated in the offseason with four medical retirements from guys who were contributors. It seems perpetually a year away up front, so it will have to find a makeshift way to survive this year. The Minnesota game was very frustrating because it was a game Purdue very easily could have, and maybe even should have won. Until it can finish drives though, we’re not going to win many more.

BHGP: On the other side of the ball, the Purdue defense has proven a bit more stout than Iowa fans may recall from prior matchups. The Boilermakers come in 15th in total defense allowing just under 300 yards per game, and 8th in scoring defense at 15.4 points per game. It appears the one soft spot is in run defense where the Boilers are giving up 124 yards per game. What sort of scheme will Iowa see this weekend and how should the Hawkeyes attack Purdue?

HNR: It has been surprisingly stout, and I will take only 124 yards per game as opposed to the 144 last year or 192 in 2019. I think it is a little skewed to because Oregon State, Illinois, and Minnesota are very run heavy with weaker passing games. George Karlaftis has been a significant difference maker causing pressure, so much so team are double and even triple teaming him or holding the living hell out of him to take him away. The per game numbers have Purdue’s pass defense as the best in the Big Ten. It has been beaten a few times, most notably for two big TDs against Notre Dame and one against Minnesota, but aside from that it has been good.

I like the matchup of a good defense against an Iowa offense that is okay, but is in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten. You guys are more balanced though than Purdue highly rated passing game and bottom of the league running game. I think the front seven can hold its own against the running game and the secondary can’t let guys get behind them. The one downside is turnovers. You guys thrive on them. Purdue has two: an interception against Oregon State and a very late interception against UConn that came from a fourth string walk-on safety with the game well decided. We’re not getting any turnovers, thus no short fields for an offense that could really use them. If we can get a few in our favor finally that helps immensely.

BHGP: OK, prediction time. Vegas has this one at Iowa -11 with an over/under at 43 total points. That double-digit spread is a bit concerning for Hawkeye fans who have been scarred in this series. How do you see Saturday playing out and what’s your final score prediction?

HNR: I think Purdue can keep it closer than people expect. We’ve done extremely well against Iowa and David Bell is not the only receiver that has had a big day against the Iowa secondary. Mahoungou in 2017 and Terry Wright in 2018 come to mind. I would not be surprised by a single digit loss, and if Purdue can hit on a few big plays or finish some drives in the end zone early, I like our chances if Iowa has to play catch up. I am not saying we win, but I think we have a significantly better shot in this one than at Ohio State in a few weeks. If Purdue limits turnovers, continues to have a strong defense, and Bell continues to go wild I could see a 24-20-like upset. Otherwise, I think Iowa can grind us into something more like your Colorado State game. If you keep getting turnovers at the rate you are look more towards your Indiana win.

Here’s hoping Purdue isn’t able to limit those turnovers and Bell is held in check so we end up with something more in line with the Indiana win (or hey, Maryland was fun!). History seems to indicate that’s not the most likely outcome and Iowa may be in another dog fight this Saturday.

Thanks again to Travis. Be sure to follow him on the Twitter machine @JustTMill. Also be sure to check out Hammer and Rails this week. They’ve got loads of good Iowa content, including a full game preview already up, as well as their keys to pulling off an upset in Kinnick. You can follow them on Twitter as well at @HammerAndRails.