By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – There aren’t many coaches who can say they got the best of Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker, but Jeff Brohm can say it because he’s done it twice.
Purdue’s third-year head coach will try to make it 3-0 against the Iowa football team on Saturday at Kinnick Stadium, and his strategical matchup with Parker will go a long way in determining the outcome.
Brohm’s play calling, and his knack for exploiting matchups, stood out in the last two games against Iowa, which Purdue won by scores of 38-36 last season in West Lafayette, Ind., and 24-15 in 2017 at Kinnick Stadium.
The Boilermakers are battered and bruised, and just 2-4 overall, and will be without star receiver Rondale Moore for a third consecutive game on Saturday due to injury, but they’re still potent and diverse on offense, and Brohm’s creativity and play calling is a big reason for that.
“We have total respect for the Purdue program,” said Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz. “Offensively, they pose a lot of challenges. They're going to threaten you in a lot of different ways, good scheme. A challenging scheme to prepare for.”
Purdue has been hit especially hard on offense with injuries, which in addition to Moore being out with a knee injury, starting quarterback Elijah Sindelar is also out because of a shoulder injury.
While Moore is impossible to replace, the loss of Sindelar has provided an opportunity for freshman Jack Plummer, and to say that he has seized the moment would be an understatement.
Plummer was named Big Ten Player of the Week after completing 33 of 41 passes for 420 yards and three touchdowns during last Saturday’s 40-14 victory over Maryland.
Purdue receiver David Bell, who had Iowa among his top schools as a four-star recruit, was also named Big Ten Freshman of Week for his 138 receiving yards had two touchdowns against Maryland.
Bell and Plummer are among 22 freshmen who are listed on Purdue's depth chart for this week.
But even with all of the injuries and youth, Purdue still is dangerous on offense, thanks to Brohm’s influence.
The Iowa defensive backs will be put to the test against Brohm’s aerial attack, which combined for seven touchdown passes in the last two games against Iowa..
It’ll be amuch different style and approach than what the Iowa defense faced in the previous two games against Michigan and Penn State.
“I like playing a team like Purdue more because there’s more opportunities out there,” said Iowa senior cornerback Michael Ojemudia. “But it definitely is a challenge because it can go either way for a defensive back.
“So just being mentally focused and physically ready is the focus for this week.”
The problem facing Brohm is that Purdue’s defense has performed woefully this season.
The loss of linebacker and co-captain Marcus Bailey to a season-ending knee injury in September was a devastating blow, considering he led the team with 115 tackles last season.
But his absence still doesn’t excuse the fact that Purdue is ranked 13th in the Big Ten in total defense (444.5) and passing defense (278.0) and 12th in scoring defense (29.8).
Purdue is also ranked 11th in the conference in rushing defense, allowing 166.5 yards per game.
So there are holes everywhere in Purdue’s defense, and it could just be what a struggling Iowa offense needs to get back on track.
Iowa has combined to rush for just 71 yards in the last two games against Penn State and Michigan, and also allowed 10 sacks, including eight against Michigan, and committed six turnovers.
The season is far from being over, but the Iowa offense has to fix things in a hurry or it’ll be too late to do anything that would qualify as special.
The pass blocking has to improve, as does the run blocking.
Stanley has to be more aware of his surroundings and more willing to run when the pocket collapses.
And he has to protect the football because turnovers are the great equalizer.
Iowa looks better than Purdue on paper, but that won’t matter if Iowa struggles with turnovers.
As for the Brohm versus Parker matchup, it should be fascinating to watch the two highly respected coaches match wits.
Parker has been described as the ultimate competitor, so we can assume that he is chomping at the bit to face Brohm’s creativity.
Both teams desperately need a win, but under different circumstances with Purdue trying to save its season and with Iowa trying to stay in contention for a conference title and stay relevant.
Iowa should have the edge playing at home, and with Purdue injuries.
Parker also has something to prove against Brohm.
Prediction: Iowa 31, Purdue 20
Purdue vs. Iowa
When: Saturday 11:01 a.m.
Where: Kinnick Stadium
Records/rankings: Purdue is 2-4 overall, 1-2 in the Big Ten and unranked. Iowa is 4-2 and 1-2 and ranked 23rd in the Associated Press poll.
Series: Purdue holds 48-38-3 advantage and has won the last two games.