WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Finally, Iowa won’t have to talk about its winless road record anymore.
James Vandenberg threw three touchdown passes, including two to Marvin McNutt, to help Iowa defeat Purdue 31-21 on Saturday for the Hawkeyes’ first road victory of the season.
“This is great,” a relieved Vandenberg said. “This is something we knew we had to do. It was a big emphasis.”
Vandenberg passed for 273 yards, and McNutt caught nine passes for 151 yards. Marcus Coker rushed for 139 yards on 30 carries for the Hawkeyes (7-4, 4-3 Big Ten), who had lost their three road games by a combined 14 points.
The Hawkeyes outgained the Boilermakers 408 yards to 286 but struggled to put away scrappy Purdue.
“I don’t think anybody thinks we executed as well as we could have today, but the main point is we fought through the ups and downs and we beat a good team,” Vandenberg said.
Tanner Miller led Iowa’s defense with two interceptions. Now the Hawkeyes can look forward to a much-anticipated border matchup Friday at Nebraska.
“It’s awesome that they’re in our conference, and a lot of people are looking forward to this game,” Vandenberg said. “I know we are. I know they are.
“It’s going to be a great rivalry for years to come. To be able to go over there and play a game is as good as it can get.”
Antavian Edison caught nine passes for 97 yards and Ralph Bolden ran for 71 yards for Purdue on Senior Day. But now the Boilermakers (5-6, 3-4) will need to win Saturday at Indiana to become bowl-eligible.
Quarterback Robert Marve, the hero who scored the game-winning touchdown the previous week against Ohio State, threw two interceptions and fumbled once.
It looked like Purdue might have a chance to close its 10-point deficit late. It appeared that Marve had run for a touchdown that would have cut Iowa’s lead to 31-28 with an extra point, but he fumbled into the pylon for a touchback, and Iowa took over with 1:27 remaining.
“The last call was frustrating, but if we played a little better, it wouldn’t have come down to that,” Purdue cornerback Ricardo Allen said.
Frustration boiled over as Iowa prepared to take a knee and run out the clock, and linebacker Dwayne Beckford was ejected for throwing a punch.
“With everything going on, you have games like that and you get through them,” McNutt said.
Iowa scored on its first possession with a 26-yard touchdown pass from Vandenberg to McNutt.
Purdue responded with a 13-play, 63-yard drive. Gabe Holmes caught his first career touchdown pass, a 14-yarder from Caleb TerBush, to tie the score.
Iowa answered when Vandenberg found C.J. Fiedorowicz for a 5-yard touchdown pass to make it 14-7.
Purdue’s Carson Wiggs considered a fake punt but decided to kick while running instead. It was blocked by Collin Sleeper, and Iowa recovered at the Purdue 9. The Boilermakers caught a break when Mica’il McCall fumbled on the second play of Iowa’s possession, and Purdue’s Will Lucas recovered.
After an exchange of punts, Marve stepped in at quarterback for TerBush and led the Boilermakers down the field. But Miller intercepted Marve at the Iowa 1-yard line.
On the next play, Vandenberg dropped back into his end zone and was pressured by Dwayne Beckford. Vandenberg fumbled as he was going down, and Purdue’s Brandon Taylor recovered in the end zone to tie the score at 14.
Iowa took a 21-14 halftime lead on a 2-yard touchdown run by Coker with 31 seconds left in the second quarter.
“We were able get some runs, which helped slow them down a little on their pass rush,” Vandenberg said. “We knew that was a talented front, but give a lot of credit to our O-line. They fought well all day, opened some holes for Coker and gave me some time.”
Iowa’s Mike Meyer kicked a field goal, and then Vandenberg connected with McNutt again for a 51-yard touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter to give Iowa a 31-14 lead.
Bolden’s 11-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter after TerBush returned to the game cut Iowa’s lead to 31-21.
Purdue got another chance to stay in the game. Marve re-entered on a fourth-and-18 and completed a 22-yard pass to Edison before eventually fumbling and allowing Iowa to close out the game.
Now Iowa can try to take its momentum to Lincoln.
“It’s a monkey off our back,” McNutt said.