B1G Monday Morning: Without a shift in philosophy, can Iowa ever really be a national contender?
As Purdue pulled away from Iowa early Saturday evening, there was a chorus of “I told you so” from college football fans and pundits around the country. There was no shortage of folks who doubted Iowa was the No. 2 team in the country, and the Hawkeyes proved them right with an uninspired performance on their home field against a program that hasn’t won 8 games in a season since the Bush administration.
The Hawkeyes haters had themselves a day, and it played out exactly as promised. Iowa’s offense was abysmal in the 24-7 defeat. The Hawkeyes’ supposed kryptonite turned out to be exactly that, mustering just 271 yards. They never led, and that lockdown defense somehow allowed 24 points to a team that hadn’t scored more than 13 in a month.
The day that Iowa didn’t intercept the opposing QB every other play finally arrived, and Iowa’s offense couldn’t pick up the slack. Spencer Petras threw 4 interceptions, 3 of which came on his final 7 throws as Iowa tried to make a comeback.
Maybe Iowa never really was the second-best team in the country and dominos like Alabama losing to Texas A&M and Ohio State losing to Oregon helped propel it there. But that doesn’t mean Iowa isn’t really, really good. The Hawkeyes had a bad day, it happens to virtually every team in the country. It wasn’t that they were a finished product; the hope was that they would show continued improvement throughout the season, that Petras would progress in his second season as the starter.
But there’s enough evidence to show that isn’t going to be the case.
As an Iowa fan, maybe you’re thinking that one day, the Hawkeyes will finally break through and win the Big Ten. Maybe they’ll break through and reach the College Football Playoff.
Without a shift in philosophy, though, Iowa is going to keep having these sorts of days from time to time. The formula that helped the Hawkeyes rack up 6 straight wins this season — 16 interceptions against 4 Power 5 opponents — just isn’t sustainable. Iowa leads the country in interceptions and is also 121st in yards per play.
This isn’t a new problem, as Iowa fans are well aware of. The Hawkeyes haven’t finished better than 87th nationally in total offense since 2015. They haven’t finished better than 86th in yards per play since 2015. This year, Iowa is 120th in total offense and 121st in yards per play. Clearly, that side of the ball isn’t a point of emphasis.
The complicated part is that the offensive coordinator is the coach’s son. It’s hard to see Kirk Ferentz outright firing Brian Ferentz, like we would see at another program without the family ties. That leaves Iowa in an awkward position. It’s simply not possible to win big playing offense like one of the worst teams in college football, which is why so many predicted a letdown at some point.
The schism between Iowa’s defense, which last year led the country in yards allowed per play, and Iowa’s offense is striking. There is certainly a connection between the units, as Iowa’s offense caters to the defense by emphasizing not turning the ball over and flipping the field. As a thank you, Iowa’s defense forces turnovers and puts the offense in favorable field position.
When Iowa fell behind by 10 early in the third quarter, it abandoned the run game (Tyler Goodson had just 2 carries for 4 yards in the second half) and relied on Petras.
The pivotal play was when TJ Sheffield thought he put Purdue up 17, but he actually fumbled the ball before reaching the pylon. It felt like just the break Iowa needed to get back in the game.
But Iowa’s offense allowed sacks on the next 2 plays and had to punt on fourth-and-20.
This EDGE class is legit – George Karlaftis is bringing it against Iowa today pic.twitter.com/3AsCCLYDEO
— Connor Rogers (@ConnorJRogers) October 16, 2021
Petras proceeded to throw the 3 fourth-quarter INTs.
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) October 16, 2021
While Iowa’s defense had a rare off day (sometimes David Bell does that sort of thing to a defense), it’s hard to fault the Hawkeyes when they haven’t allowed more than 24 points since 2018, a span of 28 games. In that stretch, Iowa has scored 24 or fewer 12 times. That’s a lot of pressure on Iowa’s defense with almost no margin for error.
Until Iowa rectifies that same old problem, it’s hard to take the Hawkeyes seriously as a threat to win the Big Ten and reach the CFP.
The sudden West contender Part I
I don’t think anyone outside West Lafayette has paid much attention to Purdue, but all of a sudden, Purdue is ranked for the first time since 2007 and has a legit path to the West title. As long as Minnesota loses once, the Boilermakers control their own destiny. As of last week, I didn’t even think Purdue was a bowl team, even with a quality win over Oregon State in the opener.
The Boilermakers have the usual revolving door at QB. Isn’t it funny how game to game, it’s never really clear who will start — or even who will finish. Jeff Brohm elected to go with Aidan O’Connell over Jack Plummer, and though it’s strange to see a QB with 7 TD passes and no INTs get benched for a QB with 5 INTs, it was clearly the right call. O’Connell carved up Iowa for 375 yards and 2 TDs, completing 75 percent of his passes.
While Brohm is an offensive-minded head coach, he vowed to emphasize the defense this season, and it has showed. So even though the offense hasn’t been great, even by B1G standards, the Boilermakers have won games because they have the No. 13 defense in the country. They have never had a top-50 defense under Brohm, and twice have ranked lower than 100th. They haven’t allowed more than 30 points in a game this season. George Karlaftis, as Big Ten fans surely know by now, is an absolute terror.
We just beat the No. 2 out of Iowa.
— Purdue Football (@BoilerFootball) October 16, 2021
When it comes down to it, Purdue and David Bell need to pretend they are playing Iowa every week, as they have won 4 of the last 5 meetings. Bell has tormented the the Hawkeyes to no end over the last 3 years, with the latest game being an 11-catch, 240-yard performance.
So, what do we make of Purdue now? Well, the Boilermakers could go 5-1 over the second half of the season, as only the Ohio State game in 4 weeks is really out of the question. This is quite the statement season from Brohm, who has lost momentum every year after bursting onto the scene in 2017.
The sudden West contender Part II
Minnesota 30, Nebraska 23. Here’s a strange thought. The team that lost to one of the worst teams in the MAC is alive and well with a legitimate path to a Big Ten West Division title. It’s 2018 all over again!
With just 1 loss (and it coming against an East team), the Golden Gophers (4-2, 2-1) are the only West team to control its own destiny in terms of reaching the Big Ten Championship Game. Considering everything Minnesota has gone through, like losing its top 2 running backs, that’s remarkable. It’s hard to tell if PJ Fleck is wildly overrated or one of the best coaches in the Big Ten.
Minnesota plays a similar style as Iowa, hoping to win the battle up front, run the ball and control the clock. That’s why it was strange to see Tanner Morgan attempt 24 passes, just the second time all season he attempted more than 18. The Golden Gophers pass only 19 times per game, which is more than only than Army, Navy and Air Force.
Watching this game alone, it’s hard to understand why. Morgan was once considered one of the best QBs in the country, but the Golden Gophers rarely put the game in his hands. He reminded us why they used to do so (2019), completing his first 16 attempts and finishing 20-of-24 for 209 yards, 2 TDs and 2 INTs.
— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) October 16, 2021
Who needs style points?
No. 10 Michigan State 20, Indiana 15. OK, now that the Spartans are past this trap game, it gets interesting. The Spartans have 2 weeks to prepare for Michigan in what could be a matchup of 7-0 teams. But that will also mean there will be 2 weeks with nothing to talk about aside from the Mel Tucker rumors that are sure to heat up.
I’m not sure if there is mutual interest, but Tucker to LSU, which will not be retaining Ed Orgeron as head coach, would make some sense. Who has had a better year than Tucker? That’s why he’ll surely be a candidate for a prime job like LSU, where he coached as an assistant in 2000. Given his experience in the SEC (he was also an assistant at Alabama and Georgia), it makes sense.
This is a great time for Michigan State to have a bye week, too, because it probably needs to refocus. With Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State still to go, the Spartans will have to play better than on Saturday, when they went 3-and-out on their first 6 drives and didn’t cross midfield until the second half.
But the great thing about Michigan State is when the offense is off, the defense picks up the slack. That’s been the case against Nebraska and Indiana, when the offense sputtered to the tune of fewer than 250 total yards per game. In those games, the Spartans forced 5 of their 12 turnovers.
Right now, it feels like Michigan State is just going to find a way, which is a testament to Tucker.
1. WR David Bell (Purdue)
There may not be a better wide receiver in the country than Bell, the Indianapolis native who stayed home instead of going to Iowa. And for the third straight season, Bell torched the Hawkeyes. After notching 11 catches for 240 yards and a TD, Bell has 37 catches for 558 yards and 5 TDs.
David Bell (@DB3LL) saves his best for Iowa.
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) October 16, 2021
2. LB Cal Haladay (Michigan State)
On a day the Michigan State offense struggled, Haladay was huge in making 7 tackles and returning an interception for a touchdown.
Cal Haladay gets things started in Bloomington with a HOUSE CALL for the Spartans 🔥
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) October 16, 2021
3. WR Chris Autman-Bell (Minnesota)
It hasn’t been the breakout season I expected from a guy who has been in the shadow of Rashod Batemand an Tyler Johnson the last 2 years, but Autman-Bell came alive with an 11-catch, 103-yard performance. That included this beauty.
Chris Autman-Bell is a baddd man. pic.twitter.com/7syvFFERRZ
— Unnecessary Roughness (@UnnecRoughness) October 16, 2021
4. QB Ryan Hilinski (Northwestern)
Hilinski helped Northwestern take a huge step toward bowl contention, throwing for 267 yards and 2 TDs. Widely assumed to be the starter after transferring from South Carolina, Hilinski may finally be settling in after opening the season as the third-stringer.
64-yd TD pass ✅
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) October 16, 2021
5. LB Leo Chenal (Wisconsin)
The win over Army wasn’t secure until Chenal forced a fumble, which Wisconsin recovered at the 1 and punched it in for the clinching TD.
— Wisconsin Football (@BadgerFootball) October 17, 2021