IOWA CITY, Iowa – When it comes to stopping the run, Purdue is more like Purdon’t.
The Boilermakers enter Saturday’s game against Iowa ranked 13th in the Big Ten in rushing defense, allowing a whopping 244.2 yards per game and 5.6 yards per carry.
It’s amazing that Purdue is 3-2 under embattled head coach Darrell Hazell, who many believe is coaching for his job this season.
To be over .500 despite allowing that many rushing yards isn’t easy to do.
Purdue is better against the pass, allowing 183.5 yards per game, which ranks sixth in the Big Ten. But that statistic is sort of misleading because the Boilermakers also have allowed 10 touchdown passes. And why pass when you’re shredding Purdue’s defense on the ground?
Opponents have attempted 142 passes against Purdue in five games. That is the second lowest total in the Big Ten behind only Illinois’ opponents with 133 attempts.
So what I’m saying is Purdue isn’t very good on defense. It is ranked 13th in the Big Ten in total defense for a reason, or for lots of reasons.
Iowa’s offensive line should be able to have its way in the trenches against Purdue. If not, than Iowa has some serious issues on the offensive line that the latest reshuffle maybe can’t fix.
Illinois rushed for 315 yards against Purdue lost Saturday, but still lost because Illinois isn’t very good.
Iowa hasn’t been very good at times this season, but Iowa still should be better than Illinois and Purdue, home or away.
Fans have lost some confidence in the Hawkeyes because few expected Iowa to be 4-2 at this stage, or 5-1 for that matter. This is a game that most fans probably still feel good about Iowa’s chance of winning, but not as many are assuming victory like before the season.
The Hawkeyes need to establish the run early and then sprinkle in some play action passing from quarterback C.J. Beathard. Purdue likely would stuff the box if Iowa has success running early. That would create space downfield for Iowa’s sputtering passing attack.
But it all starts with establishing the run.
“That’s what we try to do every week, run the ball,” said junior Ike Boettger, who switched from right tackle to left guard before last Saturday’s 14-7 victory at Minnesota. “Running the ball always wants to be our identity.”
With a 4-2 record, Iowa can’t afford to lose any more games this season in hopes of staying relevant. A loss to Purdue would not only be horrible from a perception standpoint, but would put even more pressure on Iowa to win the other five regular-season games, which include matchups against top-10 opponents Wisconsin, Michigan and Nebraska.
Those three games will be played at Kinnick Stadium, which should work to Iowa’s advantage.
Or maybe not, considering Iowa already has lost two home games this season to North Dakota State and Northwestern.
The Hawkeyes seem to play better on the road, at least recently. A victory over Purdue would extend Iowa’s road winning streak to eight games.
“It think it’s pretty fun,” senior running back LeShun Daniels said of playing on the road. “Especially when you go into a hostile environment and it’s just the 70 guys that came on the trip versus however many people they have in the stands.
“It’s a fun environment to be in and really makes you want to step up your game and bring it because you know they’re going to bring it and their fans are going to be energized.”
Many of the Big Ten environments are exactly how Daniels described it, but not Purdue where empty seats are common.
The Iowa players might have to provide some of their own energy because there won’t be 70,000 hostile fans inside Ross-Ade Stadium on Saturday, or even 40,000 for that matter.
As for the Iowa defense, it is coming off arguably its best performance of the season against Minnesota last Saturday. Iowa won the line of scrimmage, tackled well in space and excelled in pass coverage against the Gophers.
Do the same against Purdue and the Hawkeyes should prevail, although, Purdue is much better on offense than defense.
“We just have to be able to stop the run again,’ said Iowa junior linebacker Josey Jewell. “That’s a big key for this weekend, stop the run and try to get them out of their comfort zone.”
The Boilermakers are ranked second in the Big Ten in passing offense, averaging 275.0 yards per game. But quarterback David Blough also has thrown nine interceptions in just five games.
Purdue has shown signs of life in Hazell’s fourth season as head coach. The victory at Illinois last Saturday was a milestone moment.
But this still is a game that Iowa should win, assuming the Hawkeyes are moving in the right direction.
More than anything, though, this is a game that Iowa can’t afford to lose.
Prediction: Iowa 31, Purdue 20