Purdue certainly got some breaks from the officials in their victory, as the Big Ten announced that an out-of-bounds call from the first overtime against Minnesota's Antoine Henderson was wrong. There is also still some controversy as to whether the game-tying field goal, which was snapped as the last second ticked off the clock, could have even been possible. Purdue certainly stole a win, and they'd love to take the guesswork out of this week's contest. This game could go either way, and it will likely come down to a couple key matchups.
Purdue's Brandon Hance, a redshirt freshman with seemingly limitless potential, is lining up under center this year. After 3 games, he has completed 57 of 98 passes for 675 yards, and 5 touchdowns. Fine, but unspectacular numbers, considering the competition and the system he works in. His efficiency rating is 124.69, which qualifies for th in the nation. That's good, but it's not as good as Iowa's Kyle McCann, who has been a mainstay in the top 5 thus far this year. He's still at #2 in the nation, with his remarkable 41-59 completion ratio and gawdy 178.2 efficiency rating. McCann has also shown quite a bit more poise and consistency in the pocket. Also, though he didn't play against Penn State, Coach Ferentz said Brad Banks could certainly see some playing time against Purdue, should Iowa need a "change of pace." The Hawkeyes must pressure Hance into mistakes, as the Boilermaker offense will go through him on Saturday. An argument could certainly be made that McCann is a better quarterback, but since Purdue's system is geared for Hance's success, Purdue will get the edge at quarterback.
At tailback, Iowa's Ladell Betts is looking to recover from a foot injury that limited him to under 3 yards per carry against Penn State. True, he rushed for 95 yards and 2 touchdowns, but he clearly wasn't the usual Ladell Betts. Coach Kirk Ferentz said they would look into using a backup, like Aaron Greving or scatback Fred Russell. Betts, who has racked up just 77 yards per game in his first 3 games, is way off pace for the Iowa rushing record, and will likely take up the #2 spot between leader Sedrick Shaw and Tavian Banks. Purdue also has a two-pronged attack at running back, as Montrell Lowe and Joey Harris have combined for 394 yards. While Lowe has gotten the vast majority of the carries, with 48 to Harris's 15, Harris has made the most of his carries. Harris has racked up 158 yards and 3 touchdowns, while Lowe has yet to reach the end zone thus far. Still, Harris isn't even on the 2-deep, as Sedrick Brown, who has 32 yards on 16 carries, takes that spot. The question of whether Iowa or Purdue has the advantage at running back depends on Betts's health this weekend.
A large part of the offensive production this weekend will be at receiver and tight end, and both teams boast units worthy of the upper half of the Big Ten. Iowa boasts the trio of Kahlil Hill, Chris Oliver, and CJ Jones, who have combined for 26 catches and 321 yards. Also, tight end Dallas Clark has been nothing short of spectacular, catching 16 passes for 274 yards—the most yards for a tight end in the nation. The Hawkeye receivers will face a fine secondary, as sophomore free safety Stuart Schweigert led Purdue in tackles last year as a true freshman, and leads them this year as well with 26. He also intercepted a pass against Minnesota to seal the 35-28 victory, and leads the team in interceptions, with 3 already. Nonetheless, Purdue has given up 180 yards of passing per game on a 56% completion rate to 3 teams not known for their passing games: Akron, Cincinnati, and Minnesota. They will probably give up about 200 more this week, and the lion's share will go to the dynamic duo of Hill and Clark yet again. While the Iowa receivers won't exactly have their way with Purdue's defensive backs, they will certainly be able to sustain the passing game.
(Quick note: Purdue defensive back R'Kes Starling has one of the best names ever.)
Purdue's receivers sure aren't bad either. Wide receivers Taylor Stubblefield, John Standeford, and Seth Morales all have big-play potential, and could easily outplay the Iowa defensive backs if they don't bring their top game. Also, Purdue tight end Tim Stratton is one of the top at his position in the conference, if not the nation. He is second on Purdue in receptions, with 16 for 145 yards. Benny Sapp and Bob Sanders hit like Mack trucks last week, though, so expect more highlight reel-style hits. Shane Hall will once again start at free safety as Chris Smith recovers from a knee injury, and though he was heavily criticized last year, his play against Penn State was not bad at all. While it's premature to think the Shane Hall Redemption Tour of 2001 has begun, it is reassuring to know that the play at safety has not dramatically declined in quality with Smith out. Nonetheless, with the Iowa secondary at less than full strength and its depth still thin, expect big numbers from Purdue through the air. Stopping them from converting these yards into points will be crucial for Iowa.
At linebacker, the two teams have different types of player. Purdue's Gilbert Gardner and Landon Johnson are both 6'2", and neither player tops 220 pounds. Meanwhile, Iowa's starting linebackers go about 240 pounds across the board, and both Grant Steen and Roger Meyer are 6'3". The Iowa linebackers have performed admirably this year, allowing only 104 yards of rushing per game. Meanwhile, Purdue has given up an average of 145 yards, and the linebacking corps's leading tackler, middle linebacker Joe Odom, only ranks 5th on the team in tackles, with 18. Iowa seems to have better strength in the middle of the defense, and if they can parlay that into a good overall defensive performance, Saturday could be a happy day for Iowa fans.
Iowa's offensive line is still struggling to get back to full strength following yet another rash of early injuries, but it seems like they're settling into their usual rotation, starting Robert Gallery, Eric Steinbach, Bruce Nelson, Sam Aiello, and David Porter. Alonzo Cunningham will be the first off the bench at guard, and Kory Borchers could see some time at tackle. Ben Sobieski still hasn't cracked the two-deeps, but that could change in a few weeks. The Hawkeyes have only allowed 5 sacks for 26 yards in 3 games, and the fact that they opened up holes big enough for someone with one foot to gain 95 yards is not bad. The Hawkeyes will face another fine defensive line, as Purdue's Akin Ayodele and Jeff Bennett are a fine pair of defensive ends, and Matt Mitrione is one of the top defensive tackles in the conference. The Iowa linemen must continue to provide good protection for McCann, as the Purdue defensive linemen have combined for 4 of Purdue's 6 sacks this year.
On the other side of the trenches, the Iowa defensive linemen are having a solid year. Aaron Kampman and Derrick Pickens are each in Iowa's top 5 for tackles, with 7 of Pickens's 17 tackles coming for a loss. All in all, the Iowa defensive line corps has racked up 7 sacks, and considering that Purdue has given up 7 of its own, Iowa's chances for pressuring Brandon Hance into a mistake are favorable. Purdue's offensive line is remarkably big, as they average over 6'4" and 294 pounds across the board. The largest of the bunch is 6'8", 297 tackle Kelly Butler, a redshirt freshman. The line lacks experience, as only 1starter returns from last year, but Purdue's offense has not exactly ground to a halt. How much trouble Hance gets into at their hands is a huge factor in this game.
On special teams, Iowa struggled mightily last week, directly contributing to half of Penn State's 18 points. Coach Ferentz looks to correct these mistakes, as Iowa can't afford the same kinds of mistakes they made against the Nittany Lions. Kahlil Hill is making his case for All-American at returner after a remarkable 76-yard kick return to open the game against Penn State. He currently averages 34 yards per kickoff return, but that's only after 4 returns, so that average may be a bit skewed. Now that the Hawkeyes are in the Big Ten portion of the schedule, he ought to see more kicks, as the Hawks won't be winning 51-0 very much anymore. Kicker Nate Kaeding has had a fine year, going 5-6 on field goals, with his only miss coming on a block. Also, he has regularly been recording touchbacks on kickoffs. David Bradley must work on getting his punts off quicker. Purdue kicker Travis Dorsch is 6-7 on the year on field goals, missing only a 50-yarder against Minnesota. Like David Bradley, Purdue punter Scott Kurz has struggled this year, punting at a clip of only 34.2 yards per punt. However, since Purdue has suffered far fewer mental lapses, they have the better special teams unit.
My final prediction: 27-24, Iowa! Go Hawks!