It’s a great day to be a Hawkeye!
It was a mantra under the legendary Hayden Fry, but lately it hasn’t often felt that way in Iowa City. Saturday was certainly the exception as the Iowa Hawkeyes took another step to winning back a fanbase that has been frustrated most of this season.
The Hawkeyes got back on the winning side of their most hated rivalry as they took home a 24-3 win over the Purdue Boilermakers on Saturday in what was perhaps the most impressive showing by Iowa all season.
Things started a bit slow as both teams struggled to adjust to the gusting winds in Ross-Ade Stadium. The Boilermarkers got a little going on the ground and showed their hand, hyper targeting former Hawkeye Charlie Jones. But eventually the Iowa defense held and forced a punt. The Hawkeyes returned the favor, picking up a first down before before to punt themselves. But Iowa had the wind to their back and thus there was no shift in field position for Purdue.
That was the trend really of the entire first quarter. Neither offense did much, but the Hawkeyes won the battle of field position thanks to the wind.
But seeing the clock winding down on their opportunity with the wind, offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz opted to take more shots than we’ve seen this season and Spencer Petras found tight end Sam LaPorta for 41 yards to get across midfield and all of a sudden Iowa had something going for the first time all day.
Kaleb Johnson foreshadowed what was to come for him by racking up 14 yards on two carries and all of a sudden Iowa was within striking distance with the clock winding down on the quarter. But, in what proved to be a rarity on the day, Logan Jones whiffed on a block and Petras was sacked for a huge loss on first down with the Hawkeyes staring at a change of direction and a potentially long FG into the wind.
Instead, Spencer Petras found LaPorta on back-to-back throws and Iowa punched it in for a touchdown into the win to kick off the second quarter and Hawkeye fans everywhere wondered what they had just seen.
As the football Gods would have it, the wind proved to play tricks in mysterious ways all day. In his first possession with the wind at his back, Purdue gunslinger Aidan O’Connell overthrew his intended target in the middle of the field and Iowa safety Kaevon Merriweather came up with a big time interception just on the Iowa side of the 50 yard line.
Three play later, Spencer Petras found Nico Ragaini on an underneath crossing route we’ve all been clamoring for and Ragaini did the rest to put the Hawkeyes in the endzone from 29 yards out.
As our own @tnels_20 said, “Purdue was bringing pressure to take away Iowa’s play action boot game so Iowa counters with a little bunch inside release pattern that was the perfect call.”
My how the turns table.
But surely the Boilermakers will respond and 14 points would never be enough against a mighty Jeff Brohm offense right?*
That’s precisely how it looked for a hot second as AOC found his tight end, who we’ll call Bull Durham, on a play-action seem route down the middle and things looked more like we all expected. Especially after All-American corner Riley Moss picked up his second holding call of the day. But Jeff Brohm challenged Kirk Ferentz to a stubborn competition and refused to lose.
Brohm continued to throw with the wind at his back, totally abandoning a run game that had worked early in the game, and linebacker Seth Benson came away with a second pick of O-Connell inside the redzone.
*It would, and don’t call me Shirley.
The Hawkeyes came out determined to do what Brohm would not and establish the run. It was a recipe for success that’s been sorely missing this season, but freshman Kaleb Johnson burst onto the scene on Saturday and stated his case for being a future star in this league. He broke a first down run that should have been dead to rights for 45 down the sideline and Iowa was once again in business.
After pulling a Brian and dialing up a play-action pass that fooled absolutely nobody, the Hawkeyes went back to Johnson on a beautifully set up screen pass before Petras dialed up the same Ragaini crosser that picked up another 30 yards.
But lest we have too many nice things, the drive stalled out and freshman kicker Drew Stevens had to step in and punch in a 26-yard field goal into the wind with 6:11 to go in the half.
Again, we saw Phil Parker’s defense show their identity as they forced Purdue to go for it on 4th and one on their own 40. The Hawkeyes got the stop but Cooper DeJean was called for a hold to give the Boiler’s the ball on the Iowa side of the 50. Brohm tried to pull a Brian and go for the home run right away, but there is no fooling this Iowa defense and the flea flicker had nowhere to go.
So again O’Connell went to his favorite, and really only, target on the day as Charlie Jones came up with a beautiful catch in traffic to keep things alive. But the story of the drive was penalties as the Hawkeyes were tagged for another 15 yards on an illegal hands to the face call on Lukas Van Ness. Iowa would be penalized 25 yards on a drive that saw the Purdue offense total just 35 yards.
But the combination put the Boilers in field goal range despite Van Ness atoning for his sins by taking AOC down for a HUGE sack on third and goal from the two yard line.
After both offenses opted to play things relatively conservative going into the half, the Hawkeyes left us all wondering what had just happened. Iowa put up 17 points in the second quarter and went into halftime with 258 yards of total offense to just 153 for Purdue. The Iowa defense, despite their penalties, was playing incredibly well and created the two turnovers of O’Connell while the Hawkeyes protected the ball well.
For his part, Spencer Petras had perhaps the best half of football he has played in a calendar year. He went 10 of 15 passing for 182 yards and a pair of scores, largely into the blustering wind, to really open things up from a playcalling perspective.
So when the Hawkeyes came out in the second half, we all expected them to turtle, right? Right.
And they did.
Except, when you have an offensive line actually starting to figure things out and Kaleb Johnson at RB, turtling can still mean scoring. That’s exactly what happened on the second play of the half as Johnson burst out the back door and outran the world to paydirt for a 75-yard score to kick off the half.
The run took Iowa to six plays of 20 or more yards through essentially one half of football. Those are winning numbers this team hasn’t seen in a long, long time.
And in a reversal of mind games on Ferentz, the offense putting up points put the pressure on Purdue to do the same. But the swirling winds and disciplined Iowa defense meant eventually something was going to collapse under that pressure to score.
The Boilers began to press a bit and Parker was content to let Purdue continue to take the underneath stuff without giving up the big play. After a three and out for each side, Purdue was forced to once again go for it on 4th down. But after stringing together 9 plays to go just 39 yards, Purdue was finally forced to punt (after considering going for it on 4th and 8).
And the pressure mounts.
But Purdue gains some field position as Brian indeed turtles into the ground game as expected (and perhaps rightfully so). Ultimately, the Hawkeyes go three and out and the Boilers get the ball at the Iowa 45.
However, as the defense lulls Purdue to sleep with the underneath stuff, the Boilermakers find themselves in a third and long and defensive end Deontae Craig came up with a huge sack on 3rd and 8 to push Purdue out of field goal range. Thus, the Boilers opted to go for yet another 4th down. This time Van Ness was breathing down O’Connell’s neck and the Hawkeyes take over already in field goal range.
With under nine minutes to play and the defense looking suffocating, Brian probably made the right call in continuing to lean on the run game. But it was fooling nobody and the line seemed to look like their old selves a bit as the game wore on. So the Hawkeyes failed to convert a first down and Drew Stevens was forced to kick a 44-yard field goal into the wind. He had plenty of leg, but doinked it off the upright to keep the game at 24-3.
And that’s where the Hawkeye defense would keep it.
Parker and his bunch seemed insistent on not letting the Boilermakers come up with anything cheap with the clock winding down. Even as Purdue opted to put in several backups on their final drive with 2:31 to go, Parker kept the starters in and the pressure on for 60 minutes.
The Hawkeyes ended the day with a season high 376 yards. Petras went just 3 of 8 passing in the second half as Iowa really tried to slow things down and lean on the incredible day Kaleb Johnson had. For his part, he finished with an absurd 200 yards and a TD on 22 carries.
It was a complete dismantling of a team that has totally and completely owned Iowa since Jeff Brohm took over. We had heard all offseason that the Iowa staff had this one circled and that seems to have been true. Whether it was due to the Tracy (one carry for five yards) and Jones (11 catches for 104 yards) transfers, the negative recruiting Purdue has reportedly been doing, or just a general disdain for a Big Ten West thorn in the side, Iowa played one of its best games on Saturday.
The win leaves open the door for the Hawkeyes to truly turn this season around still backdoor their way into a second straight Big Ten West title. It’s an unlikely scenario, but it was just as unlikely at the outset of the season that Illinois would be ranked and comfortably atop the standings the first weekend in November.
Things have gone wild in college football this weekend and it may only get more wild from here.