When the Hawkeyes have the ball
Purdue's defense has three bona fide playmakers in tackle Kawann Short (6-3, 310), linebacker Dwayne Beckford and cornerback Ricardo Allen. But the Boilermakers have struggled to put together a consistent effort, allowing nearly 300 yards on three occasions this season and 35-plus points in those three games.
Short, a junior, is paired inside with tackle Bruce Gaston (6-2, 303). Short is strong and active and leads the team in sacks (6½) and tackles for loss (15½). Short has earned Big Ten player of the week twice this season, including last week when he led the Boilers to an upset over Ohio State with three sacks.
Beckford (6-1, 228 junior) is fourth on the team in solo tackles (38) and leads in total tackles (80). He also has four pass breakups and an interception.
Allen (5-9, 176 sophomore) has three interceptions, taking one of those 37 yards for a touchdown in a 45-17 victory over Minnesota (same program that beat Iowa 22-21). In less than two seasons, Allen has six interceptions. Three of those have been returned for touchdowns.
Allen and Iowa wide receiver Marvin McNutt (6-4, 215) should set up for the feature matchup. McNutt needs one TD catch to tie Mo Brown (2002) for the season TD reception record (11). McNutt also is No. 3 on Iowa’s career receptions list with 153. He trails Kevin Kasper (157) and Derrell Johnson-Koulianos (173). The senior from St. Louis owns every other Iowa receiving record, passing the season and career yardage marks last week.
McNutt might be spurred this week by a snub from the Biletnikoff Award committee. The award that goes to the nation's top receiver left McNutt off its list of semifinalists.
Even with Short and Gaston up the middle, Purdue is 10th in the conference in rush defense with 188.30 yards a game. The Boilers allow 4.38 yards per carry (Iowa allows 3.83, in comparison) and has allowed 20 rush TDs (Iowa has allowed 11).
The Boilers put eight and nine defenders near the line of scrimmage last week against Ohio State, holding the Buckeyes to 163 yards, their worst effort in five weeks. Purdue was able to do that because OSU quarterback Braxton Miller has completed just 46 passes this season. They won't be able to do that against Iowa and quarterback James Vandenberg.
Iowa's offense was battered against Michigan State last week. The chore this week will be establishing some rhythm and a running game, a week after sophomore running back Marcus Coker was held to his fewest yards (57) since the opener when he was held to 41 yards.
Iowa could go a long way to accomplishing its goal of being balanced if the interior of the offensive line provides some push. Against two of the Big Ten's premier inside D-linemen (Jerel Worthy and Kevin Pickleman), the Hawkeyes struggled. The Spartans played Iowa's zone runs perfectly, running laterally with linemen and keeping everything in front of them. The Hawkeyes weren't able to cause the trainwreck that makes zone runs work and time after time, Coker was cutting back into a sea of bodies.
Vandenberg should keep Purdue a little more honest at the line of scrimmage, but he needs to be flexible in his reads with a McNutt-Allen matchup likely going stalemate at least a few times.
When the Boilermakers have the ball
Purdue coach Danny Hope's team has shown tremendous resilience at the quarterback position and it paid off in last week's victory over Ohio State. Caleb TerBush and Robert Marve combined for 25 of 37 for 234 yards and an interception. Marve put the finishing touches on Purdue's signature victory of the season when he directed an overtime TD drive.
Sure, the numbers might not blow your hair back, but consider the Boilers' adventure at the QB position in the last two seasons. Marve tore two ACLs and wasn't ready until the start of the Big Ten season this year. TerBush, a steady athlete who can run and pass, was academically ineligible last season. Rob Henry, who was poised to be the starter this year, tore an ACL in late August.
TerBush is steady and that's it and that's OK. He has completed 61.4 percent of his passes for 1,525 yards, with 10 TDs and six interceptions. And given last week's performance, Marve might be the guy this week. He completed 10 of 13 and showed his best burst since arriving at Purdue in 2009.
The biggest difference between them is that the staff will call running plays for TerBush. Marve runs if forced. TerBush can spread the ball around. He completed passes to eight receivers in a 21-14 victory over Illinois. Last week, nine players caught passes.
Overall, six players have at least 10 receptions. Wide receiver Justin Siller (40 receptions, 9.7-yard average, one TD) is the leading receiver.
Purdue rotates tailbacks - Ralph Bolden and Akeem Shavers. Bolden (54.9 yards per game) has battled back from knee injuries. Shavers (35.7) is a junior-college transfer. Again, the numbers don't stand out, but they can be effective runners, particularly when the Boilermakers (who showed a lot of no huddle last week) spread the field. Bolden is averaging 4.6 yards per carry; Shavers is at 4.4.
Purdue is extremely multiple under coordinator Gary Nord. The Boilers have even shown some Wildcat this season with Siller, a former QB, taking the snap. The Boilers will use a lot of formations and a lot of running mixed in with short passing.
The no-huddle tempo is what could give Iowa's defense problems. The Hawkeyes don't have much depth in the front seven, so players like DT Joe Gaglione, DE Joe Forgy and LB Anthony Hitchens likely will be counted on to keep regulars fresh.
One really great debate point for you to think about: Given the modest expectations for Iowa's defense this season, has it held up its end? The rush defense has to be about where it was expected to be, middle of the Big Ten allowing 3.83 yards a carry. The secondary? Yes, those numbers are a surprise, with the Hawkeyes last in the conference with 239.3 yards a game.
What is undoubtedly missing from this defense is disruption. The Hawkeyes have had just four sacks the last four weeks and are stuck on 14 this season (the low in the last five seasons was 17 in '08). Tackles for loss also are on pace for a five-season low with 46 (11th in the Big Ten). The five-year low was 57 last year.
The disruption number that gets your attention is interceptions. Iowa has just seven going into its last two regular-season games and bowl. Unless there's a run that hasn't been there this season, this could be Iowa's fewest interceptions since nine in 2000.
Purdue kicker Carson Wiggs has a "show-off," kind of like a golfer who can drive the ball 350 yards with regularity. Wiggs is ninth in the nation with 21 touchbacks (his touchback percentage, 38.9 percent, also is ninth in the nation). He's made 12 of 17 field goals, including his last five, and has longs of 53 and 50 yards. Wiggs also shares punting duties with Cody Webster, placing 15 punts inside the opponents' 20. Webster is 18th nationally with 43.5 yards a punt. Raheem Mostert leads the Big Ten with 31.2 yards a kick return.
Iowa's special teams factored negatively in last week's loss to Michigan State. The Spartans downed a punt at Iowa's 2. After a three-and-out, Keshawn Martin returned the ensuing punt 20 yards to Iowa's 35. MSU scored, Iowa kick returner Jordan Bernstine fumbled the ensuing kick and MSU scored again.
"Our consistency isn't where it needs to be," Ferentz said this week when asked if special teams have a chance to be better next year. "We'll pick up two players who should've been or could've been helping us right now. Could've been, should've been, all that stuff, but with Dakota Getz (ACL) and Shane DiBona (Achilles), that chipped in."
Maybe they would've helped, but two players probably wouldn't have made Iowa's special teams trustworthy this season.
Several weird trends swirling around here. Iowa is 0-3 on the road this season, and 0-for-5 in its last five regular-season games. On the plus side, Iowa is 3-0 following losses this season (beating Pitt, Northwestern and Michigan after defeats). Something is going to give today. Does this game come down to the Allen-McNutt matchup? Iowa has leaned heavily on McNutt. In the last five weeks, McNutt has 36 receptions for 603 yards and six TDs. The rest of the Hawkeyes have caught 41 for 484 and four TDs. Can RB Marcus Coker take another 20-plus carries after last week's pounding? Get ready for the "bendiest don't breakiest" Iowa defense this season. If the Hawkeyes want to win, it can't afford to break as they did last week.Iowa 31, Purdue 27