Records aside, the meeting of these two B1G West “Rivals” on Saturday in Iowa City could have an outsized impact on the race for the final Western Division crown. Purdue has already lost to divisional front-runner Wisconsin (who Iowa visits next weekend), but notched a meaningful win with their 44-19 shellacking of Bert’s Fightin’ Illini in West Lafayette last Saturday.
Purdue is Iowa’s first B1G West game of the season, but may be the key to the Division, given Purdue’s habit of spoiling championship runs (see 2021) both in the West and in the conference at large (just ask tOSU). Will Iowa be able to get out of the gate fast against what is, statistically, one of the 2 worst defenses in the conference? Or will Iowa’s bottom-dwelling offense allow Purdue’s own middling attack to neutralize the defensive advantage?
Let’s look at some of the key stats from both of these teams and see what, if anything, can be gleaned from the collective horrorshow of their box scores.
Iowa – 240.8 ypg, 22.2 ppg
Purdue – 399.8 ypg, 28.0 ppg
On paper, Purdue should not be sitting at 2-3. Their offensive numbers have them in the top half of the conference with only Wisconsin’s offense outproducing them in the West. Iowa’s 4-1 record belies their offensive ineptitude, and we should likely be 0-2 in the B1G given the wet paper bag of an offense that they’ve put on the field in conference play. It doesn’t help that we’re breaking in a new QB who will be making his first start without our #1 TE and an OL that doesn’t really seem to enjoy, well, playing offensive line.
Advantage – Purdue
Iowa – 320.8 ypg, 16.8 ppg
Purdue – 398.2 ypg, 29.6 ppg
Iowa’s defense has been good, but not great, this season. WIth that being said, it is still better than every other team it will face this season save one (Rutgers, but I’m guessing their numbers will balloon a bit in the coming weeks with games against Wisconsin and OSU). Even after the PSU game where the defense spent 45+ minutes (97 snaps) on the field, Iowa is still 5th in the conference in ypg yielded, and 3rd in the conference in ypp. Purdue on the other hand is sitting just one step above the basement (occupied by new head coach Ryan Walter’s previous team, the aforementioned Illini). They gave up a lot of yards to Bert’s boys last Saturday, but they got it done in the redzone, only surrendering 2 tds (one of which was in garbage time). Given Iowa’s struggles to turn redzone trips into TD’s, it might just be enough.
Advantage – Iowa
Iowa – 48.2 yards per punt
Purdue – 40.2 yards per punt
This is a no brainer, Tory Taylor is the best punter in the conference and has the 7th highest average net punt yardage in the country. Purdue’s punter is 12th in the conference at just over 40 yards per punt. Paired with Coop on gunner duty, Tory is one of this team’s best weapons, even if it’s frustrating how often we need to make use of his particular talents.
Iowa – 88.9% FGM, 7 ppg
Purdue – 60% FGM, 1.8 ppg
Drew Stevens is currently sitting at 5th in the conference in % of FGM, and total points. His 53 yard boot against MSU proved that he’s the real deal from just about anywhere inside the opponents 40 yard line, and while he’s not perfect, he’s all but a sure thing. Purdue on the other hand has struggled in the kicking game so far this year. They’ve tried out 2 different placekickers with wildly different results. Their current kicker is 2/2, but Purdue has only attempted 5 FGs all season.
Return Game -
Iowa – 74 return ypg, 1 TD (PR)
Purdue – 55.8 return ypg, 1 TD (KO)
I think we all know that Coop is a weapon in the punt return game, and we’ve seen some solid returns out of Kaden Wetjen on kickoffs, even if the KO return game has petered out a bit in the last couple weeks. Field position is going to be key in this matchup, and if the defense can get off the field a little more often this weekend it could be a key to a win in more ways than one. Purdue hasn’t seen a lot of success in the PR game (and I don’t see that improving against Iowa’s punt unit), but a familiar face is putting up some pretty good numbers on KO duty. Tyrone Tracy Jr. is averaging just under 34 yards per return and has already taken a KO to the house this year. Let’s hope Drew can improve on his 95.4% touchback rate and keep the ball out of Jr.’s hands.
Advantage – Iowa
So, yet again Iowa’s Defense and Special Teams give them the advantage going into Saturday afternoons tilt, though with a line currently sitting at 2 points, it’s basically no better than your standard home field advantage. Playing this one in the friendly confines of Kinnick Stadium certainly gives me a little more confidence that the good guys will take this one, but there are never any guarantees against Purdue.
Numbers to Watch:
0 – Number of rushing TDs allowed by Iowa’s defense this season
Iowa is one of two teams in the FBS (Oklahoma being the other) that has yet to surrender a rushing TD. Purdue has a three-headed monster composed of Tyrone Tracy Jr., Dylan Downing, and Devin “Crazylegs” Mockobee in their backfield that has put up a collective 9 rushing TDs so far. If Iowa can keep this stat intact, a win is probably in the offing. Purdue is a rush heavy team (just over 60/40 run to pass), so the Iowa front 7/8 is going to have their hands full, and I won’t be surprised if Kyler Fisher’s snap counts are up this week.
0 – Iowa’s number of sacks against Power 5 teams
Hudson Card isn’t exactly a “mobile qb”, but he can, and will, run the ball and can certainly pickup yards on a broken play. Iowa’s Dline hasn’t been putting much pressure on opposing QBs so far, and while Phil has been sending LBs on blitzes a little more regularly, we may see that dialed back this week against Purdue’s passing attack. Simply put, the Dline needs to get pressure on Card, keep him contained, and hopefully get home a couple of times. Card has been sacked 8 times this year, if Iowa can get that number over 10, it will certainly tilt the game in their favor.
13 – Iowa’s average # of First Downs per game
Iowa has a serious issue on 3rd down through week 5, converting at just 27.69%, good for dead last in the B1G and 132nd in the country. Purdue on the other hand is converting nearly 45% of their 3rd downs, which puts them just behind PSU for #2 in the B1G and 25th in the country. If Iowa can’t find a way to extend drives on offense and get off the field on defense, it could be a long day.
4 – The number worn by Purdue WR Deion Burks
Purdue always seems to have a receiver that finds a way to exploit every gap in it’s zone coverage. We’ve suffered through career games from David Bell, Terry Wright, Anthony Mahoungou, Brycen Hopkins and too many others to name. This isn’t your Dad’s Purdue offense, and Ryan Walters runs a slightly more traditional run heavy scheme, but Graham Harrell is no stranger to the Air Raid (having spent time under Mike Leach, Dana Holgorsen, and Clay Helton). Purdue may not be putting the ball up 45 times a game, but they will find other ways to get their playmakers involved, and Deion Burks is really, really f*****g fast. If the Dougboyz can’t keep #4 under wraps, this game could get out of hand.
This is going to be a close game, and if Iowa wants to cap off Homecoming weekend with a win, the Defense is going to need to generate turnovers like they did against MSU, the Offense is going to need to find something approaching a pulse, and the S/T’s are going to have to do everything they can to put a long field between Purdue and the endzone.
As always, GO HAWKS!