IOWA CITY, Iowa — Iowa travels to Purdue on Saturday (11 a.m. CST, ESPN2). The teams should be playing for a sinkhole trophy.
OK, not really, but it would be fitting with a sinkhole just popping up at Ross-Ade Stadium this season. The teams will have to settle for battling over a Big Ten victory.
So who holds the edge in the game? Let’s investigate.
When Iowa has the ball
This is what Iowa will be after on Saturday.
The offense took a step in the right direction against Minnesota. The offensive line and run game did enough to get Iowa a 14-7 win. The question is if a second week with a new offensive line alignment — Boone Myers at left tackle, Ike Boettger at left guard, James Daniels at center, Sean Welsh at right guard and Cole Croston at right tackle — can produce more consistent results up front.
The other question with the Iowa offense is where does the passing game sit? Quarterback C.J. Beathard threw for 142 yards and 2 interceptions last week. Riley McCarron has stepped up since Matt VandeBerg went down with a broken foot and has 9 receptions for 124 yards over the last two games. Can Beathard get the passing game back on track? Can another receiver step up alongside McCarron.
Purdue is second to last in the Big Ten in points allowed (31.4 points) and rushing defense (244.2 yards per game). It’s a big reason why the Boilermakers aren’t viewed as a threat to win the Big Ten West.
Iowa must be prepared for linebacker Markus Bailey and safety Navon Mosley when running the football. They each have a team-high 32 tackles. Defensive end Jake Replogle recorded two sacks against Iowa last season and will be a good barometer for how much progress the reconfigured offensive line has made in pass blocking.
When Purdue has the ball
If Purdue can do one thing, it’s move the ball down the field. The Boilermakers are fifth in the league with 429.2 yards per game. Turning it into points may be a problem this week. The Boilermakers will be without top receiver Dominique Young, who will miss the rest of the season with an ankle injury. Young leads Purdue with 29 receptions and 338 receiving yards.
Purdue was without top running back Markell Jones in a 34-31 overtime win over Illinois last week. Jones is dealing with a shoulder injury and isn’t expected to face Iowa. He isn’t the only potential playmaker in the backfield; Brian Lankford-Johnson rushed for 127 yards and a touchdown against Illinois.
As for quarterback, Purdue is apparently the cradle for SEC signal callers, but the one currently suiting up for the Boilermakers, sophomore David Blough, is struggling. He’s completing 57.3 percent of his passes and has thrown 7 touchdowns to 9 interceptions.
Blough is talented. He’s a former Elite 11 quarterback. He’s showing flashes of the quarterback he could be.
The Iowa defense is coming off arguably its best performance to date, allowing 102 rushing yards in a 14-7 win over Minnesota. How well the Hawkeyes defend the run may just come down to the performance of defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson.
Iowa returner Desmond King has yet to take a kickoff or punt to the house this season. Purdue may be one of his best remaining chances to get a touchdown return. The Boilermakers are second to last in the Big Ten in kickoff coverage and they’ve yet to have a kickoff downed for a touchback.
Iowa punter Ron Coluzzi is putting up a strong season. Purdue punter Joe Schopper isn’t bad. He’s averaging 39.2 yards per punt with 12 going inside the 20-yard line.
Neither team likely enters too confident in its kickers. Iowa used two, Keith Duncan and Miguel Recinos, last week. Purdue kicker J.D. Dellinger is 4 of 7 on field goals.
Ferentz is two wins shy of having Iowa bowl eligible for the 14th time in his tenure. Purdue coach Darrell Hazell may need to make a bowl game to save his job. The Boilermakers have yet to win more than three games in his tenure.
Purdue can’t really stop the run. Iowa wants to run the ball. That may be all the Hawkeyes need to win this road game. If Purdue is going to knock off Iowa, it will likely need Blough to play better than he has all season. The Hawkeyes are winners of eight straight on the road. This week it should jump to nine.
Bobby La Gesse’s prediction: Iowa 31, Purdue 14
Scott Dochterman’s prediction: Iowa 34, Purdue 20