IOWA CITY — Iowa’s last punch Saturday was a 1-yard completion to the No. 2 tight end on a fourth-and-3 play.
That was how Iowa chose to go out in a 27-24 defeat to Purdue. Quarterback James Vandenberg completed a 1-yard out route to tight end Zach Derby on fourth-and-3. The Boilermakers took it from there.
Quarterback Robert Marve, on one good ACL, scrambled for 17 yards. He then completed a 20-yard pass to wide receiver Antavain Edison to move the ball to Iowa’s 29. After a timeout and with 5 seconds left on the Kinnick Stadium clock, Paul Griggs booted a 46-yard field goal to lift the Boilermakers (4-6, 1-5 Big Ten) on the game’s final play.
“It’s feels like you got kicked in the gut, for lack of being able to use a better term,” defensive lineman Steve Bigach said.
Behind Marve, who suffered a torn ACL in week 2 and completed 25 of 33 for 266 yards and two TDs against Iowa, the Boilers won at Kinnick for the first time since 1992, a span of six games. Purdue also didn’t have offensive coordinator Gary Nord, who was in a West Lafayette, Ind., hospital with a back injury.
Let’s not even talk bowl for the Hawkeyes (4-6, 2-4), who’ve hit their first four-game losing streak since 2007.
Right out of the gates, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz was asked how he was outcoached and why. He pointed to a first half where Purdue, which stopped a five-game losing streak of its own, took the fight to Iowa.
“They were more ready to play emotionally, more ready to play cleaner, more fundamentally sound,” he said. “You can say it’s this, it’s that, lunar moon, whatever . . . but that’s coaching. And that’s me. Coaching starts with me.”
He referenced victories over Minnesota and Michigan State on a day when his team was outgained 490 to 264, lost with a turnover margin of plus-3 in front of sellout crowd of 70,585 and spit back 10 Purdue penalties for 100 yards.
“It’s not like this has been a dog crap team,” Ferentz said. “You want to paint that picture, I’m not buying that.”
It became a portrait of someone in a news conference trying to say nothing. The bullet points were gone and it got testy and pointless.
There was some other stuff about connecting dots and how the offense, which averaged less than 4 yards a play for the fourth game this season, has kicked into reverse. And then another reference to the competent Iowa that beat Minnesota and Michigan State.
He went back to the first half, which saw Iowa trail by just 14-7.
“We’ve had our chances to win the last couple of weeks, but we weren’t there,” he said. “Today, we didn’t give ourselves a chance. I’ll sign on that one. I’ll sign on that one.”
OK, the first half was bad. Let’s go back to Iowa’s last punch in this. One-yard completion, No. 2 tight end, fourth-and-3.
That wasn’t everything. Purdue still moved the ball and Iowa wide receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley still dropped a 6-yard TD pass that would have given the Hawkeyes a 28-24 lead with about four minutes left in the game.
“I dropped a touchdown pass, put that on me,” Martin-Manley said. “I have to fix things personally, we have to fix things as a team. It was completely my fault.”
The fourth-and-3 set up at Purdue’s 35 with 21 seconds left. Ferentz crossed off kicker Mike Meyer, who earlier in the fourth quarter tied the game 24-24 with a 24-yard field goal, as an option. It would’ve been a 52-yard field goal into an 18-mph wind.
So, fourth-and-3, here we go: Martin-Manley and tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz, who caught his first TD pass of the season in the third quarter, ran hitch routes. Derby ran a quick out in the flat. He said that was his called route for the play.
Vandenberg said he interpreted the call go to the tight end (or fullback, which really was Derby’s position Saturday) in the flat. It was something they practiced all week. Purdue blitzed and had man-to-man coverage on the three receivers. Vandenberg said he thought the call was made to catch 3 yards on free safety Taylor Richards to his outside.
“We worked that several times this week,” said Vandenberg, who finished 19 of 36 for 190 yards and a TD. “That’s kind of how I understand us running it. The guys in the box were out of the box [around the line of scrimmage], so it’s just a race. I’m sure I’m going to see there was a shoulder for someone else [another receiver open], but that’s how I interpreted the call, that’s how we worked on it.”
Fiedorowicz looked to be open. That’s probably what Vandenberg referred to.
“Coverage dictates where the ball goes,” Ferentz said. “That’s usually how the passing game works.”
Usually that’s how it works, though who can tell with the Hawkeyes at this point.
The talking points have run out. Ferentz ended the day with references to a “lunar moon” and a “dog crap team.”
That is usually how it works for 4-6 teams.