IOWA CITY, Iowa – While people outside of the Iowa program might be overlooking this week’s opponent, the folks inside of it say that’s where their attention is squarely focused.
Hawkeyes Coach Kirk Ferentz held his weekly press conference Tuesday. The 30-minute session was void of any questions regarding Purdue until the end. The inquiries mostly addressed how great things were for fifth-ranked and 10-0 Iowa.
“When I get with our team, we’re talking about Purdue,” Hawkeye Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “I know the conversation (Tuesday) hasn’t been on Purdue. Our conversations have been strictly on Purdue, and we’ve got a lot of respect for them and respect for their coaching staff.”
The Boilermakers (2-8 overall, 1-5 Big Ten) come to Iowa City as a three-touchdown underdog in Las Vegas. Their Big Ten record during the last three season is 2-20, which includes two home losses to Iowa.
Purdue has shown progress as a program by being more competitive this fall than the first two seasons under Coach Darrell Hazell. It beat Nebraska, 55-45, on Oct. 31 and played close games with Top 25 teams Michigan State and Northwestern.
“They’re dangerous,” Hawkeye Running Back LeShun Daniels said, “You look at their games, they don’t really get blown out like you might think that they do. They’re a tough group of guys. They go out there each week and compete hard.
“We’ve got to make sure that we’re ready and we don’t go out there sleeping on Purdue. If you’re thinking, they’re Purdue and they’re not good, that’s how you get beat.”
Iowa has done a good job avoiding letdowns against teams its favored to handle on paper during the best start to a season in program history. It’s not always been pretty but it has been effective.
“They have done a really nice job in fourth quarters,” Hazell said of the Hawkeyes. “As you watch their film and study their games all year long, they’ve done an excellent job of closing out games where it was really close at the end of those football games. Did a good job of finishing those games.”
Quarterback David Blough leads a respectable Boilermaker offense averaging 24.5 points per game. Receiver DeAngelo Yancy has 522 yards and five touchdowns on 32 catches. Running Back Markell Jones has 692 yards (5.4 YPC) and eight scores on 128 carries.
Jones rushed for 157 yards and two touchdowns on 22 attempts at Michigan State.
“We liked him in recruiting. He’s a good player,” Ferentz said. “They’ve got good receivers. They’ve got a good quarterback. They’ve got a good running back, big line. We’re going to have to line up and go to work, and we’re not taking anything for granted, I can assure you of that.”
Where Purdue hasn’t been good is on defense. It’s allowed 34.4 points per game, the third highest average in the Big Ten ahead of only Rutgers and Indiana.
The softest spot in the Boilermaker defense is against the rush, where it allows a conference high 209.6 yards per game. Iowa ranks second in the league with 211.7 YPG.
“Hopefully we can do a good enough job – and this is harder than it sounds – of keeping those guys from getting off the second level and protecting your backers,” Hazell said. “You try to do that by moving the front. There are a couple other things that you can do to hopefully protect your backers so they can run free and make the plays.
“Our backers have got to come downhill into open doors this weekend. They are really good on the zoning and getting up.”
Purdue also has struggled in special teams. It’s given up 37.4 yards per kick return, worst in the Big Ten, and field goal kicker Paul Griggs has missed six of nine attempts, also last in the league.
The Hawkeyes come into Saturday ranked second in the conference in third down conversions at 46.5 percent following a 10 of 15 performance in last week’s 40-35 win against Minnesota. Purdue allows opponents to convert on third down at the second highest percentage (43.8) in the Big Ten.
Time, TV, Announcers: 11 a.m. CT on ESPN2 with Beth Mowins, Anthony Becht and Paul Carcaterra.
The Series: Purdue leads 46-36-3 after the Hawkeyes won, 24-10, last season in West Lafayette.
Betting Line: Iowa opened as a 17-point favorite Sunday at Covers.com. The number jumped up to 22 by Wednesday.
-Purdue is 6-2-2 Against the Spread in its last 10 road games.
-Iowa is 1-4 ATS in its last 5 home games.
Match-up to Watch: Purdue needs to play much better on defense if it has a prayer to upset the Hawkeyes. In particular, its front seven has to stand up to Iowa’s vaunted rushing attack.
“I don’t know if there is anybody in the country that runs zone better than Iowa’s front five,” Hazell said. “They’re great in combination blocks, getting up to the second level.”
Northwestern rolled up 250 yards on the ground in its 21-14 win against the Boilermakers on Saturday. Illinois racked up 382 a week earlier. In their only Big Ten win, they held Nebraska to 77 on 29 carries.
Purdue knows the Hawkeyes will run right at it like they’ve done to every opponent this season. Stopping it is paramount.
Iowa Quarterback C.J. Beathard has found ways to burn opponents when they have sold out on the run this season but the Boilermakers must test him again.
Take Note: Iowa has scored 30 points or more in four straight Big Ten games for the first time in school history.
Take Note, Take Two: Iowa leads the Big Ten in interceptions (13) and ranks second in takeaways (20) and turnover margin (+11).
Non-Sports Related: Amelia Earhart prepared her plane for her last around the world flight at the Purdue University Airport. She was working at Purdue as a visiting career counselor for women at the time.
Did You Know: Kermit the Frog was named after a Purdue professor of philosophy who was a childhood friend of Jim Henson
Did You Also Know: Axl Rose, lead vocalist for the hard rock 1980s band Guns N’ Roses, was born and raised in Lafayette, IN.
Purdue wins if…it can stop Iowa’s running game.
Iowa wins if…it continues to run the ball effectively.
Overview: Sometimes a fanbase takes on the personality of its team and head coach. For Iowa, it takes every opponent seriously and grinds out wins.
It’s what makes Purdue a scary opponent. And remaining unbeaten becomes more difficult each week, creating more worry among the Hawkeye faithful.
Relax. No disrespect to Purdue, this just isn’t a favorable matchup for it based on what we’ve already written about. If you can’t stop the run, your odds of beating the Hawkeyes are long.
Maybe this is the week the critics rejoice and Iowa falls apart with turnovers, special teams gaffs and a lack of effort. There’s a large sample size that indicates that’s unlikely to occur.
The Iowa defense has something to prove after allowing Minnesota to score 35 last week. If that unit bounces back, this will be a blowout.
PREDICTION: Iowa 42, Purdue 21.