IOWA CITY, Iowa — Iowa beat Purdue by 14 points. Iowa thoroughly outplayed Purdue. Both statements are true, but one holds a little more weight than the other.
The Hawkeyes were the superior team. It really stood out on a second glance. Let’s break down the film to show why.
Running down a dream
The game started with another reshuffling of the offensive line. It ended with 365 rushing yards.
RT Cole Croston didn’t play. Iowa moved Ike Boettger to right tackle and slid Keegan Render to guard.
There were no issues with the changes. The 300-yard rushing day speaks to that. Purdue had three sacks, but one wasn’t a result of the offensive line.
Purdue played without two of its best defenders, DT Jake Replogle and LB Ja’Whaun Bentley. What Iowa did in the run game went beyond two Boilermakers standing on the sideline.
The first Iowa rushing play went for 27 yards. Not much changed the rest of the way. When a team can gain double-digit yards with eight defenders in the box, like with this Akrum Wadley run, the rushing attack is in peak form.
When that’s going on, it allows for this to happen:
The offensive line arguably put together it’s best run-blocking performance in years. The Hawkeyes controlled the line of scrimmage. They kept opening sizeable holes. It was the kind of blocking performance where it didn’t matter if a running back or defensive tackle was rushing the football. He would have gained yards.
It wasn’t just the offensive line getting in on the blocking. Take this Jerminic Smith reverse. The wide receiver goes 45 yards thanks in part to QB C.J. Beathard and wide receivers Riley McCarron and Jay Scheel.
The blocking was good. So was the play of the running backs. Both LeShun Daniels and Wadley hit the 100-yard rushing mark. Wadley averaged a first down every time he took a handoff.
This game highlighted the growth in Wadley’s game since last season. Watch this first half third-and-4 run. Purdue DT Lorenzo Neal gets into the backfield, expecting to make a stop. Wadley cuts right past him. Purdue DT Eddy Wilson wraps up Wadley short of the first-down marker. Wadley fights to get past the chain.
Wadley might be the only Iowa running back to make that play. He probably doesn’t make it last season. He’s starting to combine his speed and elusiveness with a little bit of power.
This is how Iowa started the game offensively.
During the middle of that five-series stretch were three straight three-and-outs for Purdue. This is when Iowa won the game, building an insurmountable four-touchdown lead.
What made Iowa so explosive early? Well, the answer is everything. The Hawkeyes started fast, averaging 9.5 yards on first-down plays on the five series. Third downs were manageable. The first seven averaged 5.7 yards to go and Iowa converted each one. Unlike last week, the Hawkeyes found the end zone when it crossed the 40-yard line. Add it all up and it results in a lot of points.
Iowa could rely on the run to win this game. It was that simple, but that undersells the way offensive coordinator Greg Davis got things going. Iowa established the ground game. Iowa made sure its biggest passing game weapons got touches. Beathard looked to McCarron twice, connecting once. A play-action pass was designed to get TE George Kittle open in space. Everything came together on the opening drive.
Beathard’s passing was easy to overlook with the running game success, but he rebounded nicely from a so-so contest last week. Beathard was efficient, completing 10 of 17 passes for 140 yards and two touchdowns. Once again, most of the throws were short. Beathard is showing the most comfort with the quick passing game.
He did take two shots down field. He overthrew a wide-open Smith in the first half. He made up for it by connecting with McCarron for a 42-yard touchdown on the same drive. McCarron ran as precise of a go-route as you’ll see. The defender never had a chance.
Beathard made a lot of good decisions against Purdue. His best might have been a run. He tucked and took off when he saw no defenders himself and the end zone on his 15-yard touchdown run.
The touchdown also did something Iowa wasn’t doing earlier this year — overcoming miscues. A chop block (and, yes, it was a chop block) took away a Daniels touchdown run. It’s been the rare offensive series where Iowa found success after a big penalty. Beathard and his third-down run ensured this was one of them.
Kittle went down in the first half with what coach Kirk Ferentz described as a lower leg sprain. Ferentz wasn’t certain how long Kittle would be out.
So what did Iowa do at tight end in Kittle’s absence? Peter Pekar primarily played. Noah Fant and Nate Wieting also saw the field. Pekar and Wieting were the first options in two tight-end sets. Fant did get a few reps in that formation. Pekar did plenty of run blocking in one tight-end sets. Fant was in for passing downs, but got some snaps on run plays.
Pekar was solid, especially in run blocking. Fant was up-and-down. He had the biggest play, a 5-yard touchdown reception. He also had the worst, allowing a sack. Two defenders came at Fant. He let Purdue DE Gelen Robinson free on his inside, while Wadley went to block the outsider rusher that Fant engaged. The miscommunication led to Beathard getting taken down. Fant didn’t play as much after the sack.
If Kittle is limited or can’t go, expect Pekar to be in there blocking. The question will be how much Fant plays. He was given plenty of playing time before he allowed the sack. He can make an impact in the passing game, but Iowa can’t afford him being a liability. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him get a chance to prove how much he can handle. It looked like that was the plan with Purdue.
Judging the defense
Iowa allowed 35 points and 504 total yards. The numbers aren’t good, but the defensive play was.
How is it possible? Let’s start at the beginning. The Iowa defense wasn’t allowing Purdue to do anything. It was the opposite of the Iowa offensive experience. The Boilermakers picked up one first down on their first four series. Run lanes were clogged. Receivers weren’t open and when they were, there tended to be pressure on the quarterback.
Nothing really worked for Purdue early — even trick plays. The Boilermakers pulled out a flea flicker. The secondary covered the receivers and seemingly the entire defensive line pressured the quarterback. This play sums up the Iowa defense for most of the first half.
With 11 minutes left Iowa led 42-14. The starting defense did a good job. Three of Purdue’s touchdowns came after the Hawkeyes started inserting their backups. That happens in situations like that, especially when the opponent keeps in its starters.
Now, there was one issue that kept popping up. Purdue kept getting receivers open down the field. The Boilermakers just couldn’t always connect.
When Purdue QB David Blough connected with his receivers, the Boilermakers tended to score. It’s how Purdue got its first two touchdowns and both came about from miscues by an Iowa safety. That’s not a new problem; it’s one that still needs to be addressed.
Iowa put together its best game of the season. The improvement Ferentz keeps talking about showed up. The contest was over well before Purdue started finding the end zone against the backups.
Why Iowa was in position to put in reserves said more about the game than what happened when they were in. This is the kind of game Iowa wants to replicate in the second half of the season.