1. Stuff the Boiler Running Game – Over the last five seasons, Purdue has had one of the best passing attacks in the nation. However, although the passing attack sets up the Boiler running game, the 2001 Purdue Offense is getting 160 of its 410 average total yards per game on the ground. Coach Tiller and his program were finally able to qualify for the Rose Bowl last season after a 33-year absence, and it is not a coincidence that RB Montrell Lowe and the Boiler ground game provided the offensive balance that had been lacking in previous seasons.
Over the last five seasons, Purdue has not given up many sacks even though they pass a high percentage of the time. Part of their success in avoiding sacks had to do with having a great quarterback like Drew Brees, but much of it related to an underrated offensive line and a system that thrives on short passes. In 1998, Iowa had Jared DeVries and other good players on their DL, but the Purdue Offense made them ineffective in the game that season because Brees was able to get the ball off so quickly. Maybe things would have been different that year if Iowa actually had some DBs that could get up and cover, but most pass rushers usually have a hard day against Purdue.
The strength of the Iowa front seven is as run stoppers, not at rushing the passer. As one of the most physical DLs in the conference, they must play to their strength and take the balance away from Tiller's offense. In addition to the RBs for Purdue, QB Brandon Hance has gained yards on option plays and QB draws. If they can punish the backs with hard hits and make Purdue one-dimensional, it should help the Hawk cause.
2. The Iowa LBs and DBs need to cover and play physical – Although a healthy FS Chris Smith would further reinforce my statement; the 2001 Iowa Secondary is MUCH better than the 1998 version. Matt Bowen and Eric Thigpen were good safeties on the 1998 team, but the cornerback situation was one of the weakest in the Big Ten that season. Although the 2001 version is still young and lacks depth, Bennie Sapp and Matt Stockdale are the best pair of Iowa corners since 1997.
Having a healthy Smith and Jermire Roberts would help in this game since Purdue runs out of a spread formation that requires defenses to play extra DBs. Despite their injuries, there still is enough talent on the two-deeps to win the game. Much like the Northwestern game last season, the Hawks must be able to cover and tackle well out of both zone and man coverages. In the 1998 game, Brees and the Boilers were able to take the Iowa DL out of the game because the Iowa DBs played so far off the line of scrimmage. As a result, Brees continued to complete short passes and got rid of the ball so quickly that the Iowa DL didn't have much of chance.
If the DBs play up a little more than their 1998 counterparts, and the DL and front seven take away the Purdue running game, the Hawks may have a good chance. Many writers have speculated that Iowa must blitz and put severe pressure on Purdue to win, but that could be much easier to do if the run stoppers get the Boilermaker offense into many 3rd and long situations. I believe the Hawks are going to blitz a small portion of the time while spending more time dropping defenders into coverage.
This game will not be won or lost by a continual pass rush, but rather with good coverage and tackling. The Iowa Defense can take away the offensive balance of the Boilers, but then the players in coverage still need to be able to cover and tackle so that short passes do not turn into long gains. The depth in the secondary could be a question for this game, but the starters have shown that they are capable of competing.
3. Special team need to perform – With as much pride that Coach Ferentz takes in having his team organized and ready to perform, he had to be livid watching the game films of the Penn State game. The Iowa Special Teams were the strength of the team last season, but last Saturday the unit looked as disorganized as a typical Michigan State special teams unit under Coach Williams.
Look for this part of the Iowa team to be much better this week. If players are not performing better there will be changes. CB Bennie Sapp, SS Bob Sanders, TE Dallas Clark, and other main Hawkeye players have been great special teams players in the past. Although some of the Hawkeye starters are still on special teams, their roles could be increased if things didn't progress in practice this week.
The punting situation could also change if P David Bradley continues to struggle. K Nate Kaeding has performed so well over his last six games, that it would be great to leave him at kicker just as he is. However, if Bradley struggles, Kaeding needs to take over the additional responsibility of punting so this unit does not remain a major weakness.
4. Run right at the speed of Purdue – Purdue's strength coming into the season was supposed to be on defense as 10 starters return from their Rose Bowl team. They have talented players like pass rusher Akinola Ayodele and ball hawk Stuart Schweigert. Whereas the strength of the Iowa Defense is size and strength, Purdue is known more for its defensive speed and range. They do a very good job of stopping the east-west running plays and putting pressure on the QB.
If Iowa falls into 3rd and long situations, it could be a tough day as Minnesota QB Travis Cole was picked off 3 times last week by Purdue. However, the Minnesota Offense found the Boiler weakness as they ran very effectively the whole game. Purdue has probably spent all week trying to shore up their run defense by putting in run blitz packages to stop the Iowa ground game, but QB Kyle McCann has more than enough ability to read the defense and deliver the ball to the open receiver.
Iowa needs offensive balance, but this week the running game must open up the passing game. The OL was great at pass blocking last week against PSU, but the run blocking was below par against the Nittany Lion front four. Penn State had 8 to 9 players in the box at times, but Iowa must be able to run block effectively in those situations at least some of the time. If opposing defenses continue to do that, Kahlil Hill and Clark are going to have big days.
Ladell Betts also made the OL look worse than they were because he was not his usual self. Although he still had some nice runs as he gained 95 yards on 33 carries, his injury during practice showed as he looked hobbled in the game. He needs to play some this Saturday, but if he isn't feeling better, Aaron Greving, Siaka Massaquoi, Fred Russell, and Jeremy Allen are all capable of doing good things with the football. Because of the speed of Purdue, backs like Betts, Allen, and Greving would all be very productive if Iowa follows a game plan of slamming it between the tackles right at Purdue. Teams that run away from the Florida Defense of past years have usually been burned. However, Nebraska won the national titles several years ago by running it right at them. This year's Purdue team is not the Florida team of 1995, and Iowa is not the Nebraska team of that year, but the concept should be the same. Once the ground game is established, everything else should open up. The OL and Allen are capable of doing it, and Hill is blocking much better this season.
5. Respect Purdue, but not too much – Although Purdue leads the all-time series 42-28-1, Iowa dominated the Boilermakers during the Coach Fry era. Purdue fans would say that those things do not matter because Coach Fry and Chuck Hartlieb will not be on the sidelines on Saturday, but the Hawkeye players need to remember that Drew Brees, Bob Griese, and Vinny Sutherland are also not on the Boiler sidelines anymore. Brandon Hance and the Boiler Offense are going to be a formidable challenge, but they have not been statistically dominant so far this season. In fact, they have struggled at times in each of their three games, and the opponents are very similar to who Iowa has played. Their conference game was on the road in the Metrodome, but the Penn State Defense that Iowa played against is much better than the inexperienced Gopher Defense.
Both teams have played a similar schedule strength-wise, and Iowa has done better than the Boilers in almost every major statistical category. Purdue has an advantage because the game is in West Lafayette and they are the defending Big Ten co-champs. Purdue will provide the best defense and offense that Iowa has seen this season, but Iowa will provide the best offense and defense that Purdue has seen so far this season. Both teams are 3-0 overall and 1-0 in conference play, so it should be a great game.