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The Morning After: Trainwreck

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Iowa’s dream season turned into a nightmare on Saturday afternoon as Purdue flipped the script on the Hawkeyes.

Purdue v Iowa
David Bell was only part of Iowa’s nightmare on Saturday.
Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images

Congratulations.

To the national media which has been proclaiming Iowa as overrated since the moment they jumped into the top-5, congratulations.

To the fans of other teams screaming at their TVs the last several weeks that Iowa didn’t belong, congratulations.

To the pessimists among the Iowa fanbase who have been (not so) quietly been waiting for this team to fall on their face, congratulations.

You were all right. Take your victory lap. Remind the world how brilliant you are. Get it out of your system. Or don’t, we’ve got two weeks to wallow in our sorrows after that miserable showing from your no longer second-ranked Iowa Hawkeyes.

Purdue dominated Iowa in virtually every statistical category on Saturday. They did to Iowa what Iowa has always bet opponents could not do. The Boilermakers came out and played mistake-free football for nearly 60 minutes.

While they rotated three different quarterbacks for most of the game, Aidan O’Connell was nearly perfect carving up Phil Parker’s defense. He finished the day 30 of 40 passing for a whopping 375 yards and a pair of touchdowns. More importantly, after tossing fiver interceptions in his last three games, O’Connell had no turnovers against an Iowa defense that has made its living creating turnovers.

Time and again, he kept the Purdue offense on the field with big time throws into the windows inherent in Iowa’s defense. And while Parker made adjustments, he seemed a step behind Jeff Brohm at every turn.

O’Connell was able to carve up the Iowa secondary at least in part because he was kept relatively clean all day. The Hawkeyes were unable to get pressure with their front four, coming away with just one sack.

The result was a season-high 24 points allowed as the Iowa defense forced just a single punt through the first 54 minutes of Saturday’s game. Purdue racked up 464 yards of total offense with 24 first downs while converting 9 of 16 third downs despite rushing for just 86 yards.

More concerning for the future of this team, however, was the performance on the other side of the ball. Iowa’s offense was putrid without the benefit of multiple turnovers and short fields. The Hawkeyes managed just 271 yards of offense and a season-low seven points.

But only 86 of those yards and not a single point came in the second half. Despite an early turnover on Iowa’s first drive, the Hawkeyes had modest success moving the ball on Purdue early on. That culminated in a 2-yard TD run by Ivory Kelly-Martin in the second quarter. That would be the only score of the day.

After gaining 94 yards on the ground in the first half, Iowa actually went backward in the second half, finishing with just 76 rushing yards as Purdue dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. The Boilers consistently created pressure, largely off the edge, getting home for four sacks with six more QB hurries.

Without an ability to run the ball and with the defense on the ropes, Iowa turned to its passing game - Hawkeye fans’ worst nightmare. Those worries proved valid as Spencer Petras threw three second-half interceptions, all three inside Purdue’s 30 yard line.

Twice in the fourth quarter, Iowa started with the ball inside Purdue’s red zone thanks to a 67-yard kick return by Ivory Kelly-Martin and a 41-yard punt return from Charlie Jones. Including the missed 25-yard field goal from Caleb Shudak in the first half, Iowa finished the day converting just 25% of their red zone trips into points.

Petras finished with four interceptions, double his season total coming into the contest and double what Purdue had created all season. After entering the day with a +15 turnover margin, compared to the Boilers’ -4 margin, Iowa lost the turnover battle 4 to 1.

Simply put, just about anything that could go wrong (with the exception of a would-be touchdown turned touchback) did for Iowa on Saturday.

So where does that leave things the rest of this season?

As bad as Saturday was, all is not lost. Iowa still holds a half game lead in over Purdue and Minnesota in the Big Ten West. The Hawkeyes still hold the keys to the bus headed toward Indianapolis. And for the dreamers still left among us, they still hold some semblance of hope for a jump back into the conversation for the College Football Playoff.

Image via ESPN.com

But those dreams too will be dashed, and in short order, if this Hawkeye team can’t use the week off to make some serious adjustments. The offensive line is not at all what we’ve come to expect from an Iowa offensive line and given the uber talent in its middle, it’s unfathomable how porous this group has proven.

The inability to open up running lanes or even prevent defenders from meeting backs in the backfield totally changes the identity of this team. The Hawkeyes, by design, need to be able to run the ball to control the clock and set up play action. As we saw on Saturday, when they can’t run the ball, they can’t do either of those things.

Offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz also should be taking the extra time to find ways to help out that offensive line. We’ve seen in the recent past a willingness to try mixing in some gap blocking schemes as opposed to the typical zone blocking scheme Iowa prefers. We’ve also seen instances of the Hawkeyes flipping the script and using the short passing game to open up the run.

Those are a virtual necessity now. Iowa also needs to expand the playbook in the passing game. That’s not to say they necessarily can take more deep shots given woes along the offensive line. And the disastrous day we saw from Petras when pressed into throwing is a reminder of just why Iowa has emphasized playing ball-control on offense to-date.

Despite those risks, the Hawkeyes have to start utilizing more of the field. They threw virtually nothing up the sidelines on Saturday while Petras continues to rely on Sam LaPorta and the middle of the field, despite three of his four interceptions coming in the middle of the field this week.

It’s unlikely the Hawkeyes face many more opponents who will so consistently find the holes in this Iowa defense or have the patience to continue picking instead of taking the deep shot. As such, they’re unlikely to be faced with the type of hole they were staring at on Saturday on a regular basis.

To ensure they don’t, the offense has to improve in the run game. They have to expand the playbook and give Spencer Petras the kind of time he needs to make throws like we saw against Penn State rather than what we saw against Purdue.

If they can’t do that, not only will the dreams of the first College Football Playoff berth in program history and a return to Indianapolis be dashed, but this team won’t win half the games left on their schedule.

Such is life as a Hawkeye fan. That’s football.