IOWA CITY, Iowa — It goes without saying that this week’s game between Iowa and Purdue is important for both programs.
A second Big Ten victory — including one over the defending Big Ten West champions — and fourth overall would lower the temperature on Purdue coach Darrell Hazell’s hot seat. It also could place the Boilermakers (3-2, 1-1 Big Ten) within striking distance of their first bowl game since the 2012 season.
For Iowa (4-2, 2-1), a win would keep the Hawekeyes at or near the top of the divisional standings entering a showdown with rival Wisconsin on Oct. 22. A loss would be catastrophic for both perception and maintaining Iowa’s skeptical fan base.
Iowa has won the last three meetings, all by at least 14 points. They face one another at 11 a.m. CT (noon ET) on ESPN2.
Nathan Baird, who covers Purdue for the Lafayette Journal & Courier, offers his insights on the Boilermakers. You can follow his coverage on his Facebook page, the Lafayette Journal & Courier’s Purdue section or on Twitter here:
Q: Despite some offensive injuries before and during the game, Purdue was able to beat Illinois in overtime on the road last weekend. How much confidence does this give the Boilermakers heading into their game against Iowa?
Baird: It had to give the Boilermakers some reassurance, especially because they bounced back in some of the areas that were central to the previous week’s implosion at Maryland. Purdue couldn’t move the ball that day. Injuries and ineffectiveness crippled the offensive line, resulting in 6 sacks of QB David Blough and no running game. Blough wasn’t sacked against Illinois, and Purdue rushed for 231 yards even without leading rusher Markell Jones. After getting shredded for 400 rushing yards by Maryland, the Boilermakers bent but didn’t break against Illinois and made plays when they needed to on third down. That success came without starting middle linebacker and captain Ja’Whaun Bentley. Of course the issue for Purdue is carrying success forward. The Boilers have never won consecutive games under Darrell Hazell, going 0-8 after wins by an average losing margin of 22.3 points.
Q: No coach in the Big Ten has endured more job speculation than Darrell Hazell, who is in the fourth year of a rebuilding project. Is it fair to say he’s on the hot seat or is the administration still fully supporting him as he tries to move Purdue into bowl contention?
Baird: Publicly both former athletic director Morgan Burke and new AD Mike Bobinski have supported Hazell. But his seat is obviously warm, and the loss at Maryland triggered a swell in the vocal portion of the fan base. At some point this becomes a purely economic decision. Hazell has two years left on his contract after this one. Purdue will need to extend him or move on after this season. Attendance has dropped off and that’s a big bottom line problem at a place as economically conservative as Purdue. The X factor is Bobinski, who’s only been on the job for a little over a month. His assessment in the coming weeks will be important. It can’t just be about this season’s win total. What is the direction and long-term potential of the program?
Q: Purdue previously unveiled a plan to build a $60 million football performance center. What’s the status on the building and how will it impact the football program?
Baird: Iowa fans who attend Saturday’s game will see the frame of the complex coming up over the northwest side of Ross-Ade Stadium. Construction is progressing towards its projected completion date of next August. This is a critical upgrade for Purdue in terms of recruiting, where by all estimations it has lagged behind the rest of the Big Ten for years. The coaching staff has already made the project a big part of their recruiting pitch, with Hazell even taking recruits on visits over to the construction site. At the same time, the recently announced projects at Illinois, Indiana and Iowa, just to name a few, show more improvements must follow, especially inside Ross-Ade itself.
Q: Quarterback David Blough flashed some ability as a playmaker last year and this season as well. How does he compare with former Purdue quarterbacks Austin Appleby and Danny Etling and what’s his upside?
Baird: Appleby and Etling also flashed ability during their time at Purdue. However, consistency was an issue for both, and Etling seemed to lose confidence before his exit. Blough has some gunslinger tendencies (in a good way), and has shown improved arm strength while firing into some tight windows and taking shots downfield. He’s still a work in progress in terms of downfield accuracy, and right now, Purdue is keeping him on the move more to help protect him. He followed up a five-interception performance against Cincinnati with one in the red zone against Nevada. However, we sometimes forget he’s only a sophomore, and the upside is intriguing.
Q: Wide receiver Domonique Young was injured near the end of the Illinois game and he won’t play this week against Iowa. What kind of a blow is this to the Boilermakers and who will step up in his place?
Baird: It’s a significant blow. Purdue needed someone to step up outside to complement DeAngelo Yancey. Young had done that and was leading the Boilermakers in receptions and receiving yards before the injury. Receiver is one of Purdue’s deepest positions, and senior Bilal Marshall was already drawing more targets prior to Young’s injury. Freshman Terrance Landers and junior college transfer Malik Kimbrough should also take on bigger roles. But Yancey himself will also need to fight through the extra attention and continue to produce.