Iowa's Kirk Ferentz has 'scar tissue' from losses to Purdue
If any coach in the Big Ten has Iowa’s number, it’s Jeff Brohm.
What an inauspicious time to see the Purdue Boilermakers on the schedule. The Hawkeyes are coming off a win in the biggest game at Kinnick Stadium since 1985 and are finishing a 7-week stretch before their first bye.
Now they face the team most responsible recently for the Hawks’ “bad loss” each year. And a guy who is 3-1 against Kirk Ferentz.
“It’s not good,” the Iowa head coach said Tuesday. “In a nutshell, Coach Brohm’s done a great job at Purdue. You look at them right now, they have had a personality offensively from the day he got there. That’s his background. Certainly it shows up in many, many ways.”
One is that Brohm tends to “scratch where it itches,” as legendary Hawkeyes head coach Hayden Fry used to like to say.
And if you keep scratching one place too often, it tends to leave a mark.
“I’ve got a little scar tissue from that,” Ferentz said. “I remember those throws. And both of them in that far corner down there, yeah. A couple different plays.”
That’s a reference to 2017 at Kinnick Stadium. Anthony Mahoungou was targeted 6 times in the first 7 plays of the third quarter and ended up with 5 receptions for 118 yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 defensive pass interference call and a score flipped from 9-7 Iowa to 21-9 Purdue within 3 minutes of an eventual Iowa loss.
“I worked for a guy for nine years that was really good at that and you could almost predict that if something worked, boom, it was coming right back at you,” Ferentz said of Fry. “It’s unusual, quite frankly. They do a good job of that. They keep the pressure on you.”
Even year-to-year. It happened again in 2018. The Boilermakers exploited the matchups they were given and won by 2. That time, Terry Wright had 6 catches for 146 yards and 3 touchdowns.
What’s Brohm’s secret against the Hawks?
“The first thing you think about, if you follow Jeff’s career, is that they have always been really good offensively, so it starts there,” Ferentz said. “They challenge you in a lot of different ways, they make you defend a lot of different things. They have gadgets and trick plays on special teams and offense, so they make it a tough preparation. And they have good players and they have had good players, they have hurt us with deep balls. And it sounds pretty basic, but a lot of people won’t try it that way, and they have done a good job of that. So you really have to defend everything, and that’s keeps pressure on you defensively, and so we got a lot of respect for them and for obvious reasons, I’m well aware of that, believe me.”
It’s not just a recent issue. Purdue has had its share of success in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes are just 22-20-2 against the Boilermakers all-time in games played in Iowa City — and they never lost from 1993-2011.
“Offensively, like you would expect, they’re aggressive, play a high tempo, and really do a great job throwing the football,” Ferentz said. “That’s what they love doing. They do it extremely well and do it a lot of different ways.”
Iowa has played Purdue more than any other team for homecoming. but not because it’s an easy or expected win. The Hawks are actually 7-10-1 — their worst homecoming record against any team it has played more than 5 times.
The Hawkeyes might need another “unbelievable environment,” as Ferentz called it, from another sellout crowd.
“Our fans are just so knowledgeable,” Ferentz said. “Like they knew it was time, right? They knew to get involved and they were having fun, and our guys were revved up out there.”
It will be hard to match the energy of a No. 3 vs. No. 4 atmosphere, but they shouldn’t sell the Boilermakers short.
Plus this time, Brohm has had an extra week to prepare.
“They’re coming off their bye week,” Ferentz said. “So they’re going to be rested and I know they will be ready to go.”
The No. 2 Hawkeyes have a plan to protect their perfect record, even with their week off coming after, not before, this game.
“They have a lot of good receivers,” defensive lineman Zach VanValkenburg said. “They pass more than they run. It’s going to be paramount that we get to the quarterback.”
And if not?
“We all know it all too well that these guys the last three out of four years, they’ve had our number,” Iowa defensive back Jack Koerner said. “They’ve had a good receiver that had a big game against us.”
So how do you contain a player like Purdue’s David Bell?
“It’s hard,” Ferentz said. “We haven’t done a good job in two years. I don’t know, I haven’t gone back, I don’t want to depress myself and look at how many catches he’s had in two years, but it’s significant. … It’s a challenge, but the real challenge is that they have other guys too. Their other receivers are good. They have good size, and so you can’t just put two guys on one and then No. 0 [Milton Wright] is going to have a field day. So that’s where it gets hard and tricky.”
And that’s exactly why Brohm and his Boilermakers have tripped up Iowa over the years.