Iowa enters a four-week stretch of must-win games if they want to make the Big Ten Title game in Indianapolis. It all starts inside Ross-Ade Stadium, where two weeks ago was Ohio State’s doom as the Boilermakers steamrolled the Buckeyes in a 49-20 win.
Self-inflicted wounds have been the Hawkeyes kryptonite so far this season. The special teams errors against Wisconsin and the lack of offense against Penn State. Iowa took an interesting approach this week compared to the first loss. After the Wisconsin game, the Hawkeyes talked about the game and the disappointment before focusing on Minnesota. This week, the Iowa players didn’t want to talk about the Nittany Lions and wanted to solely focus on the Boilermakers.
The Boilermakers got off to a slow start this season as they went on a three-game losing streak to open the season before they ripped off four straight wins.
“The closest thing we’ve seen to these guys is probably Indiana,” safety Amani Hooker said. “(Purdue’s) record doesn’t show how good they really are.”
Nate Stanley needs to stay calm and play his game
It’s been well-documented throughout the week that Stanley wasn’t at his best against Penn State. He finished 18-of-49 and threw a crucial interception with three minutes left when the Hawkeyes were facing a first-and-goal at the three. There was a lot of outside noise calling for Stanley to be benched for his poor play, but the hot-takes have no effect on how Iowa views one of their leaders.
“I was seeing some stuff about him, but it’s obviously not true,” Hooker said. “It’s easy to see when a quarterback makes a mistake. It’s hard to see when an offensive lineman or a defensive lineman makes a mistake. We aren’t worried about it. We understand Nate’s a tough kid, we understand how good he really is. He’s going to bounce back this week and have a really good game.”
“I know Nate Stanley’s going to compete his butt off,” junior tight end Noah Fant said. “He’s going to do the best he can. If he makes a bad throw or anything like that, he’s obviously not doing it on purpose. Everybody is going to make mistakes. I’m 100 percent behind him and with him being one of our leaders on our team and our offense I know he’s going to come out and compete the hardest he can do the best he can.”
The Hawkeye offensive line is going to have to give him more time this week because Penn State got in the backfield way too easily. Iowa gave up three sacks and allowed Stanley to get hit seven times.
Stanley didn’t show his throwing hand during the press conference earlier in the week. That will be worth keeping an eye on. He slammed his thumb into the back of center Keegan Render’s helmet during the fourth quarter.
The Boilermakers rank 127th nationally in pass defense, allowing 299.1 yards per game. There’s no better time to have a comeback game if you’re Stanley. The Hawkeyes will need him at his best if they want to keep their title hopes alive. Lessons in life aren’t always easy and it wasn’t easy for Stanley to swallow Saturday’s loss, but he said he took away some important lessons.
“No matter the situation or the environment, just fall back on your fundamentals,” Stanley said. “Do everything you can do play calm, be collective the whole game, and not let the situation dictate how your emotions should be.”
Stop Rondale Moore
There’s no way around it, true freshman wide receiver Rondale Moore is a monster. This will be Iowa’s biggest receiver challenge of the season. Moore leads the Big Ten in receptions (68), second in yards (802) and tied-for-second in touchdowns (7). Moore came into College Football with a bang as he recorded 302 all-purpose yards in the first half in their season-opening game against Northwestern.
“He’s awfully impressive,” head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “I saw most — not most of the Ohio State game. We must have had a day game that week, right? That in itself was enough to impress anybody, not only playing the way he played but playing against that type of competition, it’s pretty unusual. For a guy that’s a senior it would be really impressive; to consider him being just out of high school, it’s awfully impressive. So he’s a very dynamic player, very explosive and very, very dangerous in a lot of regards.”
Iowa ranks 18th nationally in pass defense (180.5 yards per game). The Boilermakers have an explosive pass game with guys like Isaac Zico and Moore. Purdue ranks 11th in the country in passing offense (330 yards per game). There’s no perfect matchup to Moore. He does more than just catch the ball. The Boilermakers run some jet sweeps to get Moore the ball in space. He averages nearly 15 yards a carry on 11 rushes.
“He’s obviously a really talented guy and has made a big impact on the season so far,” senior safety Jake Gervase said. “I think the coaches do a good job of putting him in position to make plays for their offense. We just need to do a really good job of running to the football and wrap up and gang tackle. Run to the ball with good leverage because he’s got great speed and he can put some good moves on you. It’s going to be a big challenge for us, but it’s something we can look forward too.”
Front-four have to lead the way
Iowa’s defensive line has been the anchor of their defense and a primary reason why teams cannot run against them. Purdue is a team that likes to throw the ball quickly and use that momentum to take shots downfield. The Hawkeyes defensive line will need to play as physical as ever against the Boilermaker offensive line and make Purdue quarterback David Blough uncomfortable.
One of the main reasons why Michigan State had so much success against Purdue last week is because they were so physical up front, and they established their dominance early. They all swarmed to the ball and didn’t miss many tackles.
“[Michigan State] came out and played physical,” redshirt freshman Djimon Colbert said. “You can tell on the film how physical they were and came out hitting those guys. We can do that the same way for our defense.”
Iowa is third in the Big Ten in sacks (25) and rotates a good amount of guys. This feels like a game where Iowa will use a lot of defensive end A.J Epenesa. Epenesa’s bull rushing ability needs to be put to use against a pass-first offense like the Boilermakers. One thing to look for is if Iowa decides to throw Epenesa on the edge and slide senior Parker Hesse inside at defensive tackle.
Blough has hit 65 percent of his passes this season and has thrown for 2,350 yards. He’s not much of a runner, so if Iowa can get to the backfield, they will cause problems.
An underrated key guy for the Boilermaker offense is running back D.J Knox has been a key part of scouting the Boilermakers as well. Moore gets all the attention, but Knox’s play has earned him a lot of respect among the Iowa defense.
“He’s a tough guy,” Hooker said. “He’s fast, he’s strong, and he’s not going to let you tackle up high. He’s going to try and truck you. I think he’s underrated, to be honest. I think he’s a really good back and one of the top backs in the Big Ten. He’s going to come out and compete.”
“[Knox] is a stocky kid and he runs physically,” Colbert said. “We know we need to come in and lay the wood and make those tackles. If not, guys like [Knox] and Moore will bounce off that if we aren’t wrapping up and finishing the tackle like we are supposed to.”
** Purdue wide receiver Rondale Moore is listed as probable tomorrow. He hasn’t participated in practice all week, but Boilermaker head coach Jeff Brohm said he was ‘optimistic’ about Moore’s chances to play on Saturday. Brohm and the staff have held Moore out of practice so he could be as healthy as possible.
**With one more win, Kirk Ferentz becomes the fifth coach in conference history to win 150 games as a member of the Big Ten Conference. The top five includes Woody Hayes (202), Amos Alonza Stagg (199), Bo Schembechler (194), Joe Paterno (162), and Ferentz (149).
**Iowa leads the country averaging 31.8 yards per kickoff return. WR Ihmir Smith-Marsette averages 33.7 yards per return (2nd in the country).
**Nate Stanley has 16 touchdown passes this season, second in the Big Ten. He has 42 career touchdowns passes, fifth all-time in program history. He is one shy of tying Matt Sherman for fourth all-time.
**TE Noah Fant and TE T.J. Hockenson have combined for 855 receiving yards on 59 catches, including nine receiving touchdowns. Hockenson leads the team with 424 yards receiving. Fant has six touchdowns, tied for sixth in the Big Ten and tied for the most among all FBS tight ends (Jace Sternberger, Texas A&M). He leads the team with 31 receptions.
**The Hawkeyes rank second in the Big Ten in scoring defense (16.1), rushing defense (84.4), passing defense (180.5), and total defense (264.9). The Hawkeyes are the only team to rank in the top two in all four categories.
**Iowa’s defense allows 2.8 yards per carry, Tied for seventh in the country, and has allowed only five rushing touchdowns, O ed for fourth in the country. Iowa has allowed 124 first downs, second fewest in the Big Ten and O ed for sixth in the country.
I haven’t been able to make a decision on this game all week. It’s tough for me to see this Iowa team lose two games in a row, and I don’t think Stanley will struggle on Saturday. The Hawkeyes will need to find a way to get the ball to Fant and Hockenson earlier and more often than they did against Penn State. If Iowa throws the ball 49 times, there has to be more than 14 targets to the tight ends.
The Hawkeye defense needs to get in the backfield and Iowa cannot let Moore dominate them because he’s the type of player that past Iowa teams have had trouble containing. The Iowa freshmen defensive backs Riley Moss and Julius Brents will need to grow up quickly in this one.
Iowa can’t afford poor tackling in this game. They’ll all need to swarm to the ball and stay in their gaps and play sound, tough, and disciplined football. I went with my gut last week and picked the Hawkeyes over Penn State. I think there’s a very good chance that Iowa wins on Saturday, but I’m going to make Iowa prove me wrong on this one.
Iowa 31 Purdue 34