WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — This game was as subtle as a brick through a living room window — for three quarters anyway.
Iowa thoroughly battered Purdue’s depleted defense in every phase and especially on the ground in a 49-35 win at Ross-Ade Stadium on Saturday. Then instead of putting the game in cruise control, the Hawkeyes shifted into neutral and gave the Boilermakers new life.
Iowa led 42-14 at the end of three quarters, then pulled their starters except for weak side linebacker Bo Bower and safety Brandon Snyder. Purdue scored twice quickly to pull within two touchdowns. The Hawkeyes then reinserted their first-team starters to close out the game.
The Hawkeyes (5-2, 3-1 Big Ten) rushed for 365 yards with Akrum Wadley (170) and LeShun Daniels (156) each topping 150 yards. It’s the first time two Iowa backs rushed for more than 100 yards in a game since Iowa’s dynamite combination of Shonn Greene and Jewel Hampton each exceeded 100 in a 45-9 blowout at Indiana in 2008.
Purdue quarterback David Blough ignited the comeback attempt with 458 yards and five touchdown passes.
Here are five things from today’s game:
- Iowa can pound it inside or outside. Both Daniels and Wadley got it done between the tackles with inside zone and power plays. When the Hawkeyes went outside, they thrived. Jerminic Smith gained 45 yards on a reverse. Quarterback C.J. Beathard rushed for a 15-yard touchdown. This is Iowa at its finest and when it is the most dangerous.
- Run defense has made great strides. After giving up more than 190 rushing yards three weeks in a row, the Hawkeyes’ first-team run defense allowed just 31 rushing yards through three quarters. The defense was physical and defenders swarmed to the football. Iowa will need to do that and more next week against Wisconsin.
- Wide receiver Riley McCarron can go deep. On first down at Purdue’s 42, McCarron streaked past cornerback Tim Cason on a go route down the right sideline. Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard found him for a touchdown to give the Hawkeyes a 21-0 lead. McCarron is known primarily as a possession receiver but he proved he can race past defensive backs.
- With 132 wins at Iowa, Kirk Ferentz now ranks seventh in wins at a Big Ten institution. The victory pushed Ferentz past Illinois legend Robert Zuppke. Minnesota’s Henry Williams is next with 136.
- Iowa completely let up in the fourth quarter and it nearly cost them. Purdue kept in its starters and developed a rhythm on offense that the Hawkeyes couldn’t stop. Then Iowa’s offense tried to take the air out of the ball and failed miserably. Even against a struggling opponent on the road, you’ve got crush it.
Iowa’s first offensive play set the tone. Lined up with two tight ends and two receivers, Daniels blasted off left tackle for a 28-yard run. The Hawkeyes dominated in the running game all day with Daniels and Wadley.
Tight end George Kittle suffered a “knee tweak” while stretching toward the goal line after a 22-yard gain. He returned to the sideline but was withheld from competition for most of the second quarter and all of the second half. Kittle scored the game’s only touchdown in a 10-6 win at Wisconsin last year and is Iowa’s best offensive threat. The Hawkeyes need him healthy.
Iowa can go against tendency when it is in the shotgun. With 1:29 left in the first half, Iowa lined up in shotgun with three receivers. Instead of passing (almost the exclusive scenario), Iowa ran a draw to Wadley, who burst up the middle and went 75 yards for a touchdown. It was an unusual play in a predictable formation and grouping.
Iowa’s best rushing day under Ferentz was 376 yards against Akron in 2002. Iowa came close to matching it with 365 yards on Saturday. The Hawkeyes opened the fourth quarter with only reserves. Otherwise Ferentz’s personal best as head coach would have fallen.
What it means
Iowa will have a say in the Big Ten West division race. We weren’t sure if Iowa could get its offense going or stop the run two weeks ago. The Hawkeyes defense answered with a strong performance against Minnesota and their offense responded against Purdue. We’ll know next Saturday against Wisconsin where the Hawkeyes stand, but right now they’re in the thick of contention.