“We couldn’t get pressure on the quarterback. Start there. Then when we did bring pressure, he did a pretty good job for the most part getting the ball out, finding somebody who is open enough to convert the first downs. No matter what direction we leaned, they seemed to have an answer. And that’s good football on their part.” - Kirk Ferentz
I want to take this time to start the article and let it be known that Purdue played a tremendous game. They earned a win, and I honestly feel the story here is more about what they did than what Iowa didn’t do. Aidan O’Connell came into the game with 4 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. He finished the game looking more like Aaron Rodgers than a twice benched college quarterback following his performance throwing for 375 yards and 2 touchdowns while completing 75% of his passes and running for another score.
3rd and Long Conversions
It wasn’t just that Purdue went 9-16 on third down, but that number goes to 9-13 when you take out the final three third down plays when Purdue was simply trying to run out the clock. It gets worse when you realize another one of those stops was simply because a Purdue player fumbled the ball at the goal line reaching for the end zone.
When you dig into those plays, the results get even worse. Purdue wasn’t just converting efficiently on third down, but they were doing it in long to-go situations. When faced with six or more yards to go, Purdue converted seven of those eleven opportunities. Again, one of those stops was the previously mentioned fumble that would have been a conversion and touchdown.
For reference, teams were 14-58, 24%, against Iowa in those situations prior to this game. When Iowa played a ranked opponent, those teams were 18% on 3rd and 6+ yards.
With 3rd and Goal from the Iowa 6-yard line, Purdue is able to spread Iowa’s defense out with a three receivers and an inline tight end to the field with a solo receiver to the boundary. Iowa keeps linebackers Jack Campbell and Jestin Jacobs in the middle of the field along with and safety Jack Koerner as a defense against the quarterback run. When O’Connell tucks to run from the 12 yard line, Koerner, who is only three yards into the end zone takes off to make the play. As he does, the umpire gets in his way and O’Connell uses the official as an additional blocker as he dives in for the score. I should have known the official being used as a downfield blocker was a bad omen.
While Purdue holds a narrow 7-0 lead, Iowa has then backed up in their own territory facing another 3rd and 6. Once again Purdue has a solo receiver, David Bell, to the boundary with three eligible receivers to the field. Iowa has flipped senior cornerback Matt Hankins away from his traditional defensive side and isolated him over Bell. Because of this, Purdue knows Iowa is in man coverage. In this case, Iowa is blitzing Jack Campbell while covering the receivers in man coverage with both safeties in zone. Purdue uses their field receivers to run all of the defenders off and allowing Bell to cross to the wide side of the field. Hankins is not able to keep up with Bell as he uses his speed to create space. Bell catches it at the line of scrimmage before using a stiff arm to avoid Hankins and gain sixty yards after the catch.
Once again Purdue has 3rd down deep in Iowa territory. Iowa’s defensive line wants to keep the center of the field occupied to avoid giving another running lane to O’Connell. This gives the Purdue signal caller additional pocket time to allow a long developing route to open. All five eligible receivers start by running their routes outside of the hashes. Following his outbreaking route, TJ Sheffield breaks back inside where the entire center of the field was vacated. He’s able to pickup the first down by inches giving Purdue the opportunity to put up 7 instead of just 3 right before halftime.
Even when Iowa played great defense on 3rd down, Purdue was able to generate a first down via pass interference penalties.
Purdue once again senses Iowa looking to bring pressure and get man coverage. Both receivers to the field run slant routes in an attempt to get in the way of Campbell who is sprinting out to cover the running back on his flare route. Bell, the outside receiver, starts to run his slant inside of Hankins before jumping to the outside and right into where Campbell is running. The collision initiates an pass interference call on Campbell even with Bell being the one to alter his route in order to hit the defender. Worse yet, O’Connell is throwing it toward Bell who is simply trying to get in the way of the defender once was cut off by Hankins.
Iowa has Purdue in a tough spot with 3rd and 15 early in the 4th quarter. Zach VanValkenburg gets immediate pressure with his pass rush and forces O’Connell to step up into additional pressure by the stunting John Waggoner. The pass is rushed and because of this off target. It ends up behind and short of the tight end who is being locked up by Jestin Jacobs. However, the poor pass causes the well covered tight end to jump back into Jacobs creating contact. The flag comes out giving Purdue the automatic first down despite Iowa doing everything right defensively.
If you are a fan of self-torture. Here are a few of the other 3rd down conversions.
One area that Purdue was masterful was their ability to hit on timing routes where the ball was out of the quarterback’s hand before the receiver had broken out of their route. Iowa’s zone is so effective because their corners are able to keep their eyes on the quarterback and react to the break and ball. When the ball is out before the receiver has indicted a direction, the defender is chasing the ball to the open area and has no way to jump the route.
As the stakes increased and Iowa defenders were looking to make a play. Purdue capitalized on Iowa’s inability to consistently pressure the quarterback and used that extra time in the pocket to attack with double moves. Their route of choice was Sluggo, where the receiver appears to be running a slant before redirecting downfield.
When Iowa was able to get multiple eyes on a receiver and sit back in zone with safety help, Purdue utilized zone busting routes to force Bell open. As the route begins, Wright and Bell are able to stack their routes as their push downfield. Purdue uses the motioning tight end to the flat forcing Jacobs to cover the flat and not deepen his zone set. Wright continues upfield forcing Hankins, the outside defender, to continue with his deep quarter coverage. Bell cuts underneath Wright to the outside and Belton is forced to chase him the inside. No safety in the country is able to stick with Bell on that route with his leverage advantage.
Purdue wasn’t just beating Iowa with scheme, but simply had players making more 1v1 plays than Iowa was able to make. Waggoner is able to generate pressure off the edge forcing O’Connell to throw up a jump ball off his back foot. The pass is placed perfectly and Broc Thompson is able to haul in the pass over the top of Terry Roberts.
George Karlaftis is a menace
Purdue sent Karlaftis hard off both edges all game and he destroyed Iowa’s passing game. Karlaftis recorded 10 pressures with 1 sack and 4 quarterback hits. He frequently went with the speed rush against Iowa’s young tackles. Iowa tried to combat that with tight ends or running backs chipping, but it was often unsuccessful. When Iowa tried to run away from him, Karlaftis would often get vertical to take away Iowa’s opportunity to utilize backside play action.
Did anything go right?
Well, the first play of the game made it seem like Iowa was able to trounce Purdue as Petras hit Keagan Johnson on a slant route before Johnson raced an additional 30 yards before being forced out of bounds. Beyond the outstanding play making skills Johnson showcases with the ball in the open field, the effort plays made by Charlie Jones and then Nico Ragaini to give blocks downfield to extend the play jump off the screen. Following the bye week, I fully expect Johnson to become a focal point of the game plan instead of an auxiliary player.
Iowa also had success early in the run game taking advantage of Purdue being so focused on taking away play action rollouts. Because Purdue was using Karlaftis to speed rush outside and also attempt to get upfield on run looks away from him in an effort to take away play action, there were cutback lanes opening for Iowa running backs. Iowa was not able to stick with the run game because the offense was too often working against the clock and score during the second half.
Early in the game Iowa was able to run directly at Karlaftis with their traditional run sets. Here Iowa went with lead zone and opened a big hole behind a great block from Linderbaum, Richman, Pottebaum, and LaPorta. I cannot help but think this play would have been for an additional 15 to 20 yards last year with Brandon Smith blocking downfield. Bruce is giving great effort, but there is a big difference between his downfield blocking as a true freshman compared to what Brandon Smith was able to do during his time at Iowa.
I will continue to advocate for the use of jet motion in short yardage situations as a way to hold defenders for that additional split second. Iowa is in a heavy personnel look, but still able to run successfully in the low red zone utilizing jet motion from Tyrone Tracy Jr. Instead of getting downhill on the snap, the linebackers are trending horizontally due to the motion and Ivory Kelly-Martin is able to punch in Iowa’s lone touchdown.
The plays that need made
While the play did not end up with positive yards, I really liked the following play design. Speedy freshman Arland Bruce IV sprints across the formation in jet motion as Iowa attempts to trap the boundary defensive tackle and plans on having fullback Monte Pottebaum then take the linebacker. Everything is set up, but Kyler Schott, who is still working his way back from a broken foot, is unable to make the trap block. Had he been able to, it is likely that Kelly-Martin is able to get to the second level with a lone safety between himself and the end zone.
Following the sudden change after Purdue’s touchback fumble, Iowa attempts to create a big play off play action. Purdue perfectly times a blitz from the backside leading to a sack. Despite the well timed call from Purdue, Iowa still had an opportunity for a big play if Pottebaum is able to get a piece of the blitzer because LaPorta is working across the field behind the corner for what would have been a HUGE gain.