The Iowa Hawkeyes finally got back into the win column last week as they throttled a... not good Northwestern bunch. Now it’s time to find out whether the strides we saw in that one were fool’s gold or whether we’ve got an actual shot at climbing out of the Big Ten West cellar over the remaining four games.
Up this week is a trip to our most hated rivals: the Purdue Boilermakers. In the words of the wise and sage like Big Tom Callahan, you can get a good look at a t-bone by sticking your head up a bull’s rear end, but wouldn’t you rather take the butcher’s word for it?
So just like every other week (unless, of course, our cohorts at other SB Nation sites don’t get back to us..), we’re taking the butcher’s word for it and getting the inside details on Purdue from our friends over at Hammer and Rails. We were joined this week by co-manager Andrew Ledman to talk about this weekend’s matchup.
Here’s a look at our conversation.
BHGP: Let’s start big picture here. How would you describe Boilermaker fans’ perception of the season thus far and what’s their general feeling of the job head coach Jeff Brohm has done now five and a half years into his tenure in West Lafeyette as the anti-Kirk Ferentz?
OMHR: I think the fan base is split to a certain degree. The vast majority of Purdue fans understand the depths that Purdue football hit under former head coach Darrell Hazell. I mean, that was some of the worst football we’ve ever seen in West Lafayette. The folks that understand that understand that Brohm had one hell of a whole he had to dig himself out of. The problem though, and what the folks who are tired of Brohm already and will be in my twitter mentions each week, point out that Brohm’s teams have the same flaws today that they did when he first got to Purdue. They commit stupid penalties, they can’t close games, the defense gives up far too many big plays, etc. It also doesn’t help that the DC position has been a bit of a revolving door under Brohm.
Regarding this season I think a lot of fans are disappointed. Putting aside the loss to Wisconsin, Purdue always loses to Wisconsin, Purdue had the opportunity to win two games against ranked opponents in Penn State and Syracuse and let them get away at basically the last possible moment. Those would be looked at as huge victories for this team but now Purdue has to hang their hat on wins against Minnesota and Maryland.
BHGP: Looking at this season, it’s been a bit of an up and down ride with the Boilers losing two of their first three games (in interesting fashion) before rattling off four straight wins, including three straight in the Big Ten. What has been the difference in those matchups - what have teams been able to do successfully to beat Purdue and where have they really struggled in the games the Boilermakers have emerged victorious?
OMHR: Listen, I’m no star offensive coordinator but the weakness in the Purdue defense seems obvious. They can’t cover the deep ball. The Purdue corners and safeties may have a lot of interceptions but overall I think everyone has been disappointed with their overall play. On at least 5 separate occasions this year this Purdue team has given up a touchdown within a minute of the end of the half or game. Against Penn State and Syracuse this cost them the game. Against Maryland Purdue was only gifted a victory there because Maryland got a penalty on a successful 2 point conversion to tie the game and Purdue subsequently stopped them on their second attempt.
That’s a long way to say that if you’ve got a QB and an offense that is capable of connecting on deep throws this Purdue team is going to struggle. Purdue has been lucky in that not many of their opponents have been able to put together an offense that connects on numerous deep throws each game. They’ve either had a leaky offensive line or a QB who can’t complete the throws. Either way, Purdue has been very lucky.
BHGP: We heard there was some new guy out of the portal at wide receiver that might be OK at football. Who are the names Iowa fans should know in the Purdue passing game, how do you expect the Boilers to attack what has been a stingy Iowa defense to-date, and why will it be Charlie Jones that catches more TD passes than any team has been able to throw all season save Ohio State?
OMHR: Obviously you know Charlie Jones and to a lesser extent Tyrone Tracy Jr, but Purdue also has other weapons they can utilize. Jones obviously is the star and yes I wouldn’t be surpised if he goes off for over 100 yards and a couple of touchowns. That’s not to disparrage the Iowa defense which obviously is one of the best in the nation but Jones has played great against great corners so far this year and I have to assume he will have a bit of extra motivation/revenge factor for a team that he likely feels didn’t use him as he thinks he should’ve been used.
After Jones the top target you probably have to worry about is Payne Durham. The Purdue tight end has been great at getting into the endzone and though he has struggled a bit with his hands over his career he’s been a mostly reliable outlet for the Purdue offense. He is hard to bring down and can shake an occasional tackle as well. His huge catch at Maryland to set up the touchdown at the end of the game was a thing of beauty. You can also expect to see Devin Mockobee catch some passes out of the backfield. The walk-on who turned down a scholarship from Navy to come to Purdue has really asserted himself these last few games. Though some argue he’s too small to stay healthy for a full season (sorry had to drop that joke in there for my old podcast co-host Casey) he’s done a great job with the opportunity he’s been given.
BHGP: On the other side of the ball, you may have heard that Iowa has struggled to do offense. Really, any offense. Be it running or passing, but certainly scoring, Iowa has struggled. Granted, most of those struggles, and the only ones that have cost them games, have come against top-10 defenses nationally. Purdue is not a top-10 defense, but the Boilermakers, from what I can tell, have decided to at least line up on defense this year and hence pose a risk to totally de-railing the Hawkeye attack. Talk a bit about what Iowa fans should expect to see schematically from the Purdue defense on Saturday and who are the key names to know (as well as those who may not be active as it sounds there may be several injuries).
OMHR: I’ll start with the last part of your question first. The defensive backfield for Purdue has been riddled with injuries so much so that Purdue has had to throw a WR back there in the game against Wisconsin. The bye week has hopefully helped those guys heal up but we really don’t know who is actually going to be out there. Brohm is very tight lipped about injuries always saying he’s “hopeful” that someone will be back or that “they’ve got some work to do” before they can return to the field. So in that sense we don’t really know but the secondary has had problems all year so that’s likely going to be the weak spot for the Purdue defense.
The Purdue defensive line has been surprisingly stout this year. Guys like Jack Sullivan and Branson Deen have really stepped up to the plate to make the most of their opportunities this year. While they haven’t gotten to the QB as much as we’d like, what defense ever does, they’ve done an excellent job of slowing down the run game of their opponents. Lawrence Johnson at Nose Tackle is another guy who has stepped his game up this year. To me though the key player in the defense is Jalen Graham. He missed four games following the Penn State loss due to a tibial impact fracture which just sounds painful and awful. He’s back now and seems to be rounding back into form. He’s the captain of the defense and someone who Purdue fans really trust to make the right play and be a sure tackler. He’s one to watch. He will line up in a couple different places on the field sometimes with his hand in the dirt and sometimes back the linebackers and drops into coverage.
BHGP: OK, prediction time. This one opened as Purdue -7 and quickly shot down to -3.5. Our friends at DraftKings Sportsbook have this one settled in around Purdue -4.5 with an over/under at 41 total points. How do you see this one playing out and what’s your final score prediction?
OMHR: As I said in my questions to you, Jeff Brohm seems to have Kirk Ferentz’s number. He’s 4-1 against Iowa during his time at Purdue and while I don’t love the inconsistency of this Purdue team and their inability to close out games I think they can do enough to win this one. While I’m not sure that Purdue can run the table on their last four games to win the Big Ten West (and subsequently be sacrificed to either Ohio State or Michigan to the tune of 62-10) this game should matter to them just that much more. This will likely be Purdue’s last chance to win a division in the conference as they are going away after next season (allegedly). I think I would take the under but take Purdue.
Purdue 27, Iowa 14
So there you have it. More of the same. More frustration and despair and we can all get back on track with our screaming for everyone to be fired in Iowa City.
Thanks again to Andrew at HnR for taking the time to answer our questions. Be sure to stop by Hammer and Rails ahead of Saturday’s matchup as they’ve got loads of content on the matchup. You can also follow Andrew on twitter @jumboheroes. The folks at Hammer and Rails are @HammerAndRails.