Purdue football: 5 keys for the Boilermakers against Iowa
Coming off its bye, Purdue starts its journey toward what it hopes will be a Big Ten West title by hosting Iowa on Saturday.
The Boilermakers have had the edge in the series of late, winning 4 of the last 5, including last season’s stunner when they beat the then-No. 2 Hawkeyes in Iowa City. Purdue’s a slight favorite now, at minus-4.5, but Iowa is coming off its best game of the season, when it rolled up 33 points and nearly 400 yards in a victory over Northwestern.
Let’s take a look at 5 keys for Purdue Saturday:
Solve the weather
Under Jeff Brohm, Purdue has not been a good bad-weather team.
In 2018, it lost a stunner in the rain at Ross-Ade Stadium, falling 20-19 to Eastern Michigan. Later that season, the Boilermakers lost in frigid conditions in Minneapolis — it was 21 degrees at kickoff — by a final of 41-10 to the Golden Gophers. Last year, Purdue lost 20-13 to Minnesota when the Boilermakers were shut out in the second half during an absolute downpour in West Lafayette.
And now Iowa comes to town at noon Saturday, when the forecast calls for a better than 50 percent chance of rain showers, mainly in the morning, with sustained winds of 25-30 mph, gusting to more than 40, in the afternoon. Generally, it’s thought that poor weather can be an equalizer for the underdog, and maybe so on Saturday, considering Iowa will want to establish a running game to lessen possessions and use its defense to keep the game close. The wind could be a hindrance to Aidan O’Connell and the passing game, as well.
Certainly, it’s something to watch for.
Stop the turnovers
Every team always wants to limit turnovers; it’s a key to every football game everywhere, every single week.
But look at the Boilermakers recently. They’ve been reckless with the football, and it finally cost them in a loss their last game, when they fell at Wisconsin before the bye. Purdue has 15 turnovers this season, ranking the Boilermakers 103rd (out of 131) in the country in giveaways, and O’Connell in particular has been too loose with the football, having multiple-interception games in 2 of the past 4. And during the 4-game stretch — when Purdue has won 3 games — O’Connell has thrown 7 picks. The Hawkeyes have 8 interceptions this season, ranking them in a tie for 37th in the country.
O’Connell will have to find a way to better manage the game, and do so in what might be less-than-ideal weather conditions.
Fix the secondary
Purdue’s had way, way too many leaks in its defensive backfield over the last several weeks, with breakdowns leading to big plays and easy scores for the opponent.
And the Boilermakers are also dealing with injuries and absences there — cornerbacks Cory Trice and Jamari Brown both left the Wisconsin game and as of the beginning of this week, they’d not yet started practicing again, while safety/nickel Chris Jefferson has been away from the team while dealing with his mental health — forcing defensive play-caller Ron English to try to find answers. But there might not be many.
This much we know: Reese Taylor will be a starter at one cornerback spot. The rest of the secondary, however, is in flux. Purdue might make a change at safety, where Cam Allen has been a ballhawk, with a team-high 3 interceptions, but has struggled at times to consistently tackle. Maybe transfer Bryce Hampton, who has mainly played corner this season but has safety experience previously, could slide in at safety. Meanwhile, Allen has practiced a bit at cornerback this week. Safety Sanoussi Kane also has corner experience, after he was an emergency starter there during Purdue’s bowl win over Tennessee in December.
Stomp Petras early
It’s been a struggle for Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras this season, as the veteran quarterback has held on to his job despite a fan push to get Kirk Ferentz to change his QBs to spur a sputtering offense.
But perhaps Petras started to find a groove last week vs. Northwestern, when he threw for 220 yards on 21-of-30 with a passing touchdown and a rushing score. Most importantly, he didn’t turn the ball over. This season, Petras is averaging only 151 yards passing per game, with 3 touchdowns and 5 interceptions.
The Boilermakers can not let him get untracked Saturday. Chasing him around the backfield might be the best option for preventing Petras from getting into a rhythm. The Iowa quarterbacks have been sacked 24 times this season, a 3-per-game average that has the Hawkeyes ranked 103rd (tie) in the country for sacks allowed.
Establish the Mock Train
Perhaps the biggest offensive development for the Boilermakers this season has been the arrival of redshirt freshman running back Devin Mockobee.
The walk-on has 3 100-yard performances in Purdue’s past 4 games, as the Boilermakers have found at least some bit of balance to their offense. Perhaps that’s been the element missing from Purdue’s weather-game loses in years past, that Brohm’s not been able to go in another direction offensively, instead being forced to continue throwing the football.
But not now. If weather forces Purdue to the ground, then it has a potential answer, as Mockobee has shown not only to be a player who can get gigantic chunk plays but one who can hold up with a bunch of carries, too. In Purdue’s victory against Nebraska 3 weeks ago, he toted the ball 30 times, going for 178 yards and a touchdown.