By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – With the stench from the 24-7 loss to Purdue still festering, it’s easy to forget, or overlook, that the Iowa football has won six of its seven games this season.
The loss to Purdue still stings, but if somebody with a gift for predicting the future about Hawkeye football had told you before the season that Iowa would be 6-1 heading into the bye week, I’m guessing you probably would’ve been satisfied with that.
Purdue certainly showed that Iowa is vulnerable on both offense and defense, and it showed the formula for beating this Iowa team.
However, the Boilermakers have pretty much had their way with Iowa since Jeff Brohm became the Purdue head coach in 2017, winning four of the last five games in the series.
So, maybe last Saturday’s loss was more about Purdue being a bad matchup for Iowa than about Iowa being exposed.
A lot more will be learned about Iowa when it faces Wisconsin in its next game on Oct. 30 in Madison, Wisconsin.
Iowa will have had two weeks to prepare for the Badgers, while the Badgers face Purdue this Saturday in West Lafayette, Indiana.
With this being Iowa’s bye week, it seems an appropriate time to hand out mid-season awards, even though Iowa is slightly beyond the mid-season point after having played seven games.
Most valuable player: Sophomore punter Tory Taylor – His ability to shift field position and to consistently pin opponents deep in their own territory has been crucial to Iowa’s success.
Iowa has been ranked near or at the bottom of the Big Ten in total offense throughout the season, and that has put more pressure on Taylor to perform at a high level.
It probably isn’t ideal to have your punter as the most valuable player, but Taylor has been without question the most consistent and impactful player on the team up to this point.
The Melbourne, Australia native is averaging 46.1 yards on 43 punts and has put 21 punts inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. He also has 12 punts of 50 or more yards.
Best offensive player: Junior center Tyler Linderbaum – A center winning this award says a lot about the Iowa offense, and about Linderbaum.
The Solon native has been a model of consistency for an offensive line that lacks experience around him. The offensive line has struggled with both run and pass blocking, but to no fault of Linderbaum, who has consistently dominated his opponent.
Best defensive player: Junior linebacker Jack Campbell – This was a close call between Campbell and senior cornerback Matt Hankins.
Campbell was given the nod due his consistency and productivity as Iowa’s leading tackler and as one of the leading tacklers in the Big Ten.
The Cedar Falls native is averaging 9.57 tackles per game, and he had a career-high 18 tackles in the 24-14 victory over Colorado State in the fourth game.
Hankins performed well up until the Purdue game when he struggled against Purdue receiver David Bell.
Best coaching job: LeVar Woods – This came down to Woods and defensive coordinator Phil Parker. Woods was given a slight edge due partly to how much the Iowa defense struggled in the loss to Purdue, allowing 463 yards.
Special teams have been a strength throughout the season with Taylor, kicker Caleb Shudak and return specialist Charlie Jones all having performed at a high level.
Best coaching decision: Sticking with fifth-year senior running back Ivory Kelly-Martin despite his early fumbling woes. It would’ve been easy for Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz to give up on Kelly-Martin because ball security is so important.
Kelly-Martin is a respected leader on the team, and to have stripped him of his role as the backup to Tyler Goodson at running back might have hurt team chemistry.
Worst coaching decision: Brian Ferentz’s decision to call back-to-back quarterback sneaks against Purdue.
To run a quarterback sneak once would’ve made sense, but not two times in a row because you’re relying on the officials to make a judgment call from observing a pile of bodies.
Best moment: This was easy; fans rushing the field to celebrate the 23-20 victory over Penn State in the first top-five matchup at Kinnick Stadium since 1985.
Worst moment: Watching the team leave the field after the loss to Purdue, and with Kinnick Stadium more than half empty.
Best quote: Kirk Ferentz questioning Penn State’s injuries: “Football’s a hard competitive tough game and fans are into it just like everybody else is into it and, first of all, I know a couple players were legitimately hurt, I know that, I saw one sitting on the bench, for whatever reason, there was an opening and I saw him and I know he had an ice bag on his leg. Obviously, the quarterback didn’t come back. So I hope those guys are well, I don’t know what their status is, nobody wants to see anybody get hurt. Nobody. But I think probably it’s a reaction to there were a couple guys that were down for the count and then were back a play or two later and our fans aren’t stupid, they’re watching, they know what’s going on. I’ve been here 23 years I think that’s only the second time we have seen that kind of stuff going on. I know it’s a topic nationally right now, it was one of the discussions of the rules, they don’t quite, nobody knows the answer to it, but it’s — and I also know for a fact that people — I’m not saying, I just, there are two people in our building that have been places where that was “scuba” or “dive” — no “scuba” and “turtle” were the code words. So it goes on, we don’t coach it, haven’t really been exposed to it and our fans, I thought they smelled a rat, I guess, I don’t know, so they responded the way they responded.”
Best newcomer: Freshman receiver Keagan Johnson: He only has six catches, but three have gained at least 38 yards, including his first career reception, which was a 43-yard touchdown catch against Colorado State.
Best team player: Junior cornerback Terry Roberts does whatever is asked of him, including being a standout on special teams. His energy and enthusiasm provides a spark, and he has a knack for making plays on special teams.
The Erie, Pennsylvania native also started for the injured Riley Moss at cornerback against Purdue and held his own.
Best individual performance by an opponent: This was perhaps the easiest pick of all thanks to David Bell’s dominance against Iowa. Purdue’s spectacular junior receiver set a Kinnick Stadium record with 240 receiving yards on 11 catches.
Bell has 37 catches for 558 yards and five touchdowns in three games against Iowa.
Some Iowa fans showed their respect by congratulating Bell after Saturday’s game, and by pleading with him to skip his senior season to enter the NFL Draft.