IOWA CITY, Iowa — OK, Iowa players, coaches and fans. You know the rules.
You’ve had fun celebrating with the pig and enjoying your Fight Club-style victory over border rival Minnesota. But your 24 hours are up. It’s time to get to work because you’re going to need it.
You’re heading to Purdue on Saturday and … what’s so funny? Oh, the Boilermakers are a joke? They have a growing sinkhole at Ross-Ade Stadium? You all should be late-night comedians with analogies about how you can’t tell the difference between the south end-zone crater and the Purdue football program. (Insert emoji here.)
Seriously, though, this isn’t one of those show-up-and-win games. You’ve had three of those already this season and only one was satisfying, the 42-3 pounding of instate rival Iowa State exactly one month ago.
You don’t remember the other two? Well, there’s the season-opening 45-21 win against Miami of Ohio. The RedHawks ran for 158 yards that day. Miami now is 0-6 and since hasn’t approached that rushing total. I know, you can drop some crude analogy of going home from the club at 2 a.m. with a 10 and waking up and, well, you’re not so special yourself.
Then there’s Rutgers. That was a hard-fought 14-7 win in New Jersey in late September. A fourth-quarter touchdown run by Akrum Wadley (sound familiar?) clinched that victory. But a week after you felt fortunate to leave with a win, Ohio State pounded the Scarlet Knights 58-0. Then old pal Michigan ripped through Rutgers 78-0 last Saturday. Two Big Ten teams — I know, the East and West divisions feel like different conferences — combined to put 136 points on a team that you struggled to beat.
Oh, don’t worry, Iowa. There’s still plenty for which to play. While you Hawkeyes (4-2, 2-1 Big Ten) no longer are the Big Ten West favorites, you still have divisional-title hopes. Your two losses this season were decided either on the final play or in the final minute. You play in tight games historically and often it’s perplexing, whether it’s a squeaker against four-win Indiana or an overtime loss without your quarterback at Ohio State. I know because I was there for both games.
This whole discussion brings us back to Purdue (3-2, 1-1). I know it was your “most-hated rival” during the whole Legends and Leaders experiment. And your athletics department did politely decline Purdue’s request to start a trophy for the now 87-game series. (Four trophy games are at least one too many, anyway.)
I’ve already said an empty Gatorade bottle from the DeKalb Oasis would make a great traveling trophy for the Iowa-Northwestern rivalry but I digress.
Let me give it to you straight: Purdue can beat you. I’m not going to blow smoke and tell you the Boilermakers are great. They might not win another game this season. In fact, they probably shouldn’t. They gave up 50 points to Maryland for crying out loud. But Purdue has athletes on offense and that fact alone should give you pause.
Quarterback David Blough ranks second in Big Ten passing yards per game at 259.6. Your guy, C.J. Beathard, barely cracks the top 10 at 181.2 yards per game.
Purdue has two receivers in the Big Ten’s top 10 in receptions per game. Both Domonique Young (29) and DeAngelo Yancey (22) have more catches than your leader (Riley McCarron with 20). And McCarron is your only one available threat with more than 15.
The Boilermakers are third in third-down conversions at 51.8 percent. You’re 10th at 36.7. They gain 24 first downs a game. You average 17.5. They’ve only given up 7 sacks. You, 15. Purdue rushed for 231 yards at Illinois — more than you in any game this season — and put up 34 points last week in an overtime win at Illinois. You haven’t scored that many points since Iowa State forgot its defense in a Cedar Rapids hotel four weeks ago.
I don’t mean to scare you heading to West Lafayette, unless that sinkhole grows any larger. Purdue has big-time deficiencies on defense. The Boilers give up 31.4 points per game (13th in the Big Ten) while you allow just 16.5 (fourth). They allow 431.6 yards a game on defense (13th), while you’re at 348.5 (fifth). Even your much-maligned run defense sits at 169.3 per game (eighth), while Purdue’s ranks 13th at 244.2. Only once since 1974 has Iowa allowed more than that.
Illinois rushed for 315 yards on Purdue last week, which should give your blue-collar offensive line a chance to inflict some damage. Young left the Illinois game on a cart with a right leg injury, and running back Markell Jones didn’t make the trip because of a shoulder injury. They are playmakers, and their injuries will hurt Purdue.
Blough also has thrown 9 interceptions and you know cornerback Desmond King is dying to snag a pass … or at least have someone throw one in his direction. Maybe that happens this week.
There’s potential for rough terrain at Ross-Ade, but you’ve won 8 straight true road games. The next home-field advantage Purdue will enjoy this year will be next month across the parking lot at Mackey Arena. But this is a potential trap game and nothing will churn fan passion into apathy more quickly than a loss this week.
A good effort with solid execution should mean a fourth straight double-digit win over Purdue. But a loss will make you all want to crawl into that sinkhole before flying home. So think about that when you put on your hardhat and put the pig back in its pen.