Coming into Saturday’s game with Iowa, Purdue football still had a buzz about it coming off a bye.
Halfway into their matchup with Iowa, that buzz felt dead.
The Hawkeyes were able to get their struggling offense in gear for a few big plays, then they were content to rely on their stout defense to secure a 24-3 Saturday afternoon in West Lafayette.
With the gloomy weather in West Lafayette, the past failures in poor conditions were brought up and proved to be true today. The windy weather was hardly the main factor in the defeat, as a punchless offense struggled to move the ball with any consistency. Purdue finished the day 2 of 16 on third down conversions and was outgained 376-255 in total yardage. Adding insult to injury, the much maligned Iowa offense hit on multiple big plays and put Purdue in a 24-3 hole very early in the second half.
The game turned early on when Purdue was unable to take advantage of one of its few big plays on the day. A 41 yard pass to Charlie Jones got the Boilermakers out of the shadow of their own goal posts to midfield, but three plays later they had to punt. Jack Ansell pinned Iowa back to its own nine yard line, but a 41 yard connection from Spencer Petras to Sam LaPorta got Iowa out of trouble. Six plays later on 3rd and 8 Petras found LaPorta for a 16 yard TD, his first TD catch of the season.
Purdue’s next two offensive series ended in interceptions as Aidan O’Connell had two passes go high over the middle and they were each intercepted by Seth Benson and Kaevon Merriweather.
Charlie Jones has been the next Purdue receiver to have a special year following Rondale Moore and David Bell, but he has been relied upon far too much. Although he had 11 catches for 104 yards today, that held the offense back. Only two other wide receivers had receptions today, the rest were either tight ends or running backs on check downs.
On several occasions, O’Connell had a back wide open in the flat, a receiver that was just getting open when he had the time, or just flat-out missed someone in favor of going Jones’ way. In the same way he had David Bell as a safety net, he treats Jones. Jones is a great talent and has had a special year, but in a Jeff Brohm spread-out offense, that’s not going to cut it.
It never seemed like Purdue’s quarterback felt comfortable both against Iowa’s tough defense or the conditions in West Lafayette. His season total in interceptions has doubled in the last two games with five now. A preseason dark horse for Heisman, the former walk-on has fallen apart in the most critical time of the year.
You’d be crazy to say this quarterback, with this head coach and these weapons are done though. Something has to change with this offense after today, and it will.
On defense, the trend of allowing explosive plays continued against the least explosive offensive team in the Big Ten. A lot of their issues are due to bad tackling, but a play like Kaleb Johnson’s 75-yard touchdown run has something to do with the scheme the Boilermakers employ. Johnson isn’t some slouch, averaging 4.8 yards per carry while splitting time in the Iowa backfield. However, going off for 200 yards on a 9.1 average is video game numbers that should be unacceptable for Purdue.
A lot has been made of the big plays this defense has allowed. As far as the pass plays, they have had a hard time with man coverage on the outside. Ron English and Mark Hagen have done this time after time, but it hasn’t worked. A big key when playing that defensive philosophy is getting pressure across the line of scrimmage, which is something they have also failed to do much of.
In the postgame presser, Jeff Brohm said they’ve been beaten too often in those scenarios and need to change that. Whether that is playing a little bit of a different style, or blitzing linebackers less is yet to be determined.
What makes things worse, at least on the surface, is being dominated by Spencer Petras and this team. They have been the brunt of jokes all season about their offense and how they’ve handled it. Now, they’ve won two games in a row and absolutely sliced up the Boilermaker defense. Petras finished with 192 passing yards and two touchdowns, which does not seem like a phenomenal game, but it came mostly in the first half.
Iowa’s future NFL tight end Sam LaPorta torched the Boilermakers on one drive in the first half, racking up all 71 of his receiving yards and a touchdown. All three of those catches came lined up across from Jalen Graham, who is Purdue’s best defensive player this season. When you have guys with the skills of LaPorta to deal with, you’re going to be in for a long day.
The same can be said for some of the big runs against Iowa and Wisconsin. When the defense brought pressure or stacks up the line while playing man, Johnson was able to make a guy or two miss and there just wasn’t anyone on the back line at safety.
All of the mistakes of the early half of the season were covered up because of Purdue’s wins, but now they have nowhere to hide. This is not a broken team. All of the same pieces people were saying could make the Big Ten Championship Game are still there. I anticipate Brohm and the staff to put it on these guys during practice throughout the week and have them ready to play “Spoilermakers” once again next weekend.
Like always in the Big Ten, that will be no easy task. Purdue scored three points against a good Iowa defense this afternoon. Next week, they play arguably the best defense in all of college football with a trip to Illinois looming. A must-win game in order for Purdue to have any sort of momentum heading into the final two games of the year.