The Iowa Hawkeyes rode a stellar defensive performance to a dominant 14-point win over Purdue Saturday. Iowa's defense did not give up a touchdown all day and held the Boilermakers to just 156 yards of total offense. Purdue quarterback Danny Etling managed just 11 completions on 23 attempts for a meager 61 yards and was sacked four times.
Iowa's offense, on the other hand, struggled mightily through the first half. In five first-half series, the Hawkeyes managed four three-and-outs and a C.J. Beathard interception returned for a Purdue touchdown.
That was the worst quarter of offense I've seen this season and in a long, long time. Party like it's 2012.— marcmorehouse (@marcmorehouse) September 27, 2014
Iowa had just 161 yards at the half, with 78 of those coming in a 15-play field goal drive late in the second quarter. Things were not good, although the field goal did tie the game at 10-10.
Iowa's offense found its footing in the second half, as an exhausted Purdue front seven finally began to give way. The Hawkeyes put together three drives of more than 70 yards. A Kevonte Martin-Manley touchdown catch finally gave Iowa a lead late in the third period, and Mark Weisman's second touchdown run of the day cemented the game away. Weisman and Jordan Canzeri combined for 39 carries and 139 yards, hardly a spectacular performance but more than good enough with the defense playing as it was.
Beathard had a solid-if-unspectacular day in his first start at Iowa: 17/37 passing for 245 yards, a touchdown and the aforementioned pick six. His line is somewhat deceiving, as the offense was victimized by dropped passes all day (there were seven in the first half alone), but the hopes that Beathard would usher in a new high-flying version of the Iowa offense look unfounded: He averaged 6.6 yards per attempt, only slightly more than the 6.3 yards per attempt Jake Rudock averaged in four previous starts. The problems with Iowa's offense remain in its structure, not in its execution (even if the execution wasn't great today).
Make no mistake about it: Iowa was the better team in West Lafayette Saturday. Purdue seems to be building some talent, especially across the defensive front, but had neither the talent nor the depth to hang with the Hawkeyes over a long enough timeline (as it turned out, about 35 minutes). It quickly became clear that Etling had no chance of generating anything in the passing game, allowing Iowa to focus on stopping Akeem Hunt. And an Iowa defense that can key on the run is liquid hot death for the opposition. We joked that Iowa could start taking knees with ten minutes left to play, but it actually was true. The game was effectively over when Iowa went ahead.
With that said, the offense is still a mess in its original form that, like it had against Pitt last week, gets exponentially better when it ditches the pure pass formations of Greg Davis and goes back to the run-run-play action blueprint of its former coordinator. Purdue spent most of the game with nine players in the box against Iowa's two-tight-end formations and a nickel formation when Iowa went shotgun. Iowa did nothing to punish the Boilermakers for this until the play action came back in the second half. The threat of the Jonathan Parker fly sweep took a linebacker out of the middle of the field on some of the second half's more successful runs, another wrinkle long in development and hardly ever actually used. But Iowa managed just three plays longer than 25 yards, the longest of which coming in the final series of the game when the contest was effectively over. Iowa's scoring drives averaged more than 10 plays, and a fifth drive (17 plays, 83 yards) ended in a fourth down stop near the goal line.
Iowa now gets an off week before an October 11 visit from Indiana, an off week with a lot of things to accomplish. For one, Iowa has to decide on a quarterback. Jake Rudock should be healthy enough to return full-time soon, and Beathard's performance Saturday probably wasn't enough to win him the job. It's fairly clear that Ferentz wants to use Rudock if at all possible, and the calls for Beathard from the fan base might have been quelled slightly this week.
More importantly, Iowa needs to figure out just what it will be on offense for the rest of this season. It has been clear since 2012 and is only becoming increasingly obvious: The running game and passing game simply don't make sense as a whole. Iowa is run-exclusive from run formations and pass-exclusive from pass formations, and makes no attempt to hide either. It's when they do, particularly with the play action pass from run-centric personnel groups, that the whole offense functions effectively. If Iowa wants to compete with opponents better than Purdue, it needs to go back to the drawing board this week.