In true Kirk Ferentz fashion, the cure to the terrible running game turned out to be more fullback. In the second half last week, John Kenny saw the field a lot. Multiple WR sets were a rarity as Iowa loaded up on TEs and let Kenny lead the way for Mark Weisman. And it was the best the running game has looked all year.
There were other factors that led to a better rushing attack. Greg Davis finally deployed some play action, which forced the safeties to back off a step. And the use of Damond Powell as a deep threat left his defender 10+ yards off the line of scrimmage on the sideline in no position to help in run support. But Weisman has always looked better with a lead blocker.
Purdue's go to defense personnel the first month of the season has been 4-2-5 against more spread heavy teams. If Iowa continues to use multiple TEs and the FB, that is going to probably force Purdue out of that personnel, or risk small DBs getting blocked by much bigger bodies, or just run over by Weisman. And taking Purdue out of its comfort zone should be helpful for the offense.
The Iowa defense was getting absolutely manhandled the first half against Pitt in a way I can't remember an Iowa defense getting manhandled. But in the second half, Iowa came out much more aggressive and was able to limit Pitt to just 3 points on a drive that was heavily aided by a questionable personal foul. The secondary in particular was much better when being the aggressors.
When Pitt had time to throw and the DBs were giving up a cushion, Chad Voytik was able to complete passes and move the chains. In the second half, Iowa played a lot more man coverage and let the corners press and the results were much better. It also freed up others to blitz. Jordan Lomax blitzed multiple times in a row on Pitt's penultimate drive. When Voytik was pressured, he was not nearly as good.
Purdue is probably going to set up the same way. If Iowa sits back, Danny Etling has no problem throwing the ball short. Etling's yards per pass attempt is just 5.4 and his yards per completion is still under 10. Etling is a little bit of a run threat (not huge, but he has 3 rushing TDs on the year and 90 yards if you take out all the sacks), and Iowa has a tendency of just playing contain in these situations. But Purdue has given up 8 sacks this year and Etling is a little error prone as well. In Purdue's 2 losses, Etling threw 2 picks a piece, in the wins, 0. So, the D just needs to get after him, force errors, and things should take care of themselves.
Continue Red Zone Success
Purdue was able to keep the game close against Notre Dame by forcing them to settle for field goals. Now that Marhsall Koehn looks like he is back on track making his last 2 FGs, Ferentz might be feeling more confident with the kicking game. But that could mean settling for FGs instead of going for it on 4th and short in the red zone. With all the troubles on offense, 4th down has not been one of them (the O is 6 of 7 on the year). Weisman has been falling (or leaping) forward when his number is called, and Jake Rudock had a pretty play last week finding a wide open Jake Duzey for an easy TD on a 4th down. This had led to much better red zone efficiency the past couple of weeks. Instead of missing FGs, Iowa is scoring TDs. Against Pitt, all 3 trips to the red zone resulted in touchdowns.
On the flip side, Purdue has had some red zone woes early this season, scoring TDs on just 10 of 17 trips and is averaging less points per red zone trip than the Hawkeyes. Iowa's defense is also really good in the red zone, allowing just 3 TDs on 11 trips.
So, Iowa just needs to hold things to form here and should have the advantage.
Something About the QB
It probably, should be, could be, will be C.J. Beathard's first start tomorrow. And while he has a decent amount of experience from a few appearances last year and then a full half last week, it's still a big deal for a QB to get his first start on the road in the conference opener. He says he's chill, but if he throws a bad pick early and things aren't going his way, how is he going to react? If Iowa needs him to drive down a get a FG before half with a 1:30 left on the clock, can he do that? Hopefully we won't have to find out.
Hopefully, he'll continue to push the ball downfield, check down when appropriate, and have another efficient game. If he does, then the real controversy starts.
Last year, Iowa was kind of struggling through the middle of the B1G schedule. The offense was getting stagnant and the run game was disappearing. Then Purdue came up on the schedule and awakened the offense. I don't think Iowa will have quite the same amount of success this year that they did last year, but I do think they will put together their best offensive performance of the year. The defense probably starts off a little slow and says in its base for the first few drives before dialing up the pressure later in the game. So this one stays close for a while, then Iowa pulls away in the second half.
Final Score: Iowa 31 - Purdue 20