The Iowa Hawkeyes will put their school-record eight-game road winning streak on the line this weekend in West Lafayette, Indiana, against a Purdue squad looking to build on the impressive offensive performance generated in a 34-31 overtime win at Illinois last Saturday.
While the Boilermakers’ offense found its footing last week, the Hawkeyes remain very much a team in disarray on that side of the ball. Iowa struggled to convert on trips inside the red zone against Minnesota despite the defense doing its part. The Golden Gophers were forced to punt on all but two possessions. Still the Hawkeyes made enough plays to escape TCF Bank Stadium with a 14-7 win.
This is the 87th meeting between these Big Ten teams, with Purdue leading all-time series 46-37-3. The Boilermakers’ last victory over Iowa came back in 2012.
Iowa at Purdue
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 15 at 12 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN2
Spread: Iowa -12.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Iowa’s offensive line
Hawkeyes quarterback C.J. Beathard was the talk of the Big Ten during last season’s 12-0 run in the regular season. But much of his success in 2015, in true Iowa form, can be attributed to the talent and performance of his offensive line. That consistent, rock-solid play up front has not carried over to this season, and as a result Beathard has paid a heavy price. He has found himself constantly under duress and has ended up on his backside by the time the play is over far too often. Not surprisingly, the Hawkeyes’ offensive production has suffered as a result, as Iowa currently sits 10th in the Big Ten in total offense at 319.7 yards per game. Purdue, certainly not known for being an offensive juggernaut, is actually one spot ahead of the Hawkeyes right now in that category at 332 yards per game. If Iowa wants to get back to where it was last season from an offensive standpoint, the O-line must find its way, and quickly.
2. Purdue rush defense
Iowa’s struggles up front have also carried over to its usually reliable running game. A top-50 rushing offense in the FBS in 2015, the Hawkeyes are languishing at No. 94 in that same category this season. Both returning running backs, Akrum Wadley and LeShun Daniels Jr., have had their flashy moments, including the game-winning, 54-yard scamper by Wadley which put Iowa ahead of Minnesota for good last week. Purdue enters this game struggling mightily against the run. The Boilermakers are second to last in the Big Ten and 118th nationally in rushing defense at 244.2 yards per game allowed. This could be the matchup that the Hawkeyes need to regain their ground game swagger.
3. Head coaches
Even if they are willing to admit it out loud, you couldn’t tell from last week that either Purdue head coach Darrell Hazell or Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz believes his team is anything other than a national title contender this season. Purdue had one of its most impressive offensive outputs of the season against what had been one of the nation’s better defenses, from a statistical standpoint. On the other side, the Hawkeyes’ coaching staff did the nearly unthinkable in years past, choosing to for it on fourth-and-inches repeatedly in the hard-fought win at Minnesota. Clearly these are two coaches not all that fazed by the current negative chatter around their team’s performance to this point.
Both the Hawkeyes and Boilermakers are within striking distance of that all-important sixth win, which means bowl eligibility. Given the preseason talk which put Iowa back in the Big Ten Championship Game after winning the Big Ten West Division again, there’s no question the heat is once again on Kirk Ferentz to deliver a win and extend the Hawkeyes’ school-record road winning streak by beating Purdue. Look for his team to finally get that message and respond, although in yet another underwhelming performance.
Prediction: Iowa 27, Purdue 17
— Written by Robert A. Boleyn, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a native Iowan currently calling Southern California home. Boleyn attended both the University of Iowa and UCLA, is a former Contributing Writer for the Daily Iowan and a die-hard Hawkeye and Big Ten alum. Follow him on Twitter @BoleynRobert.