Iowa Not Ready for Prime Time

Despite all the horrible mistakes by the punt team and struggling on offense almost the entire second and third quarter, it looked for a time early in the fourth quarter that Iowa was going to get its second Big Ten win of the season. Even though the defense was continually put in bad situations by the offense and special teams, it looked as if they were going to be the difference in the win. If only the offense could just string some first downs together and give the defense some rest.

Unfortunately, the Iowa Offense and the OL never were able to rise to the occasion in the final stanza, and Purdue prevailed, 23-14.

Did this game remind anyone of the Iowa road games in the Big Ten in 1997? Although the Hawks were 4-4 and 7-5 overall after winning all of their home games, the talented Coach Fry team went 0-4 on the road in Big Ten action. Playing on the road in the conference is difficult, but the Iowa Defense that season was very good in almost every game. Yet the talented Iowa Offense of Tim Dwight, Tavian Banks, and company could never sustain drives or score a lot of points. All four of the road losses were close losses that the defense played well enough to win, but the offense and special teams didn't get the job done. Remember all of the missed kicks late in the Wisconsin and Northwestern games that year?

Although this article is rubbing salt into old wounds for many Hawk fans, today's game opened those wounds as the defense played like the 1997 unit. Much like the 1997 unit, they were forced to be on the field WAY too many times and gave Purdue too many chances, as the Iowa Offense did almost nothing after the 1st quarter. Iowa only had 12 first downs for the entire game, and 9 of those came in the first half. The only drive of note for the offense in the second half was after sophomore SS Bob Sanders picked off a Purdue QB Brandon Hance pass that was marked at the Iowa 30.

Kyle McCann completed a 10-yard pass to Kahlil Hill and a 37-yarder to C.J. Jones to bring Iowa into Purdue territory. Nate Kaeding was set to attempt a 31-yard field goal, but an off sides penalty on Purdue gave the Hawkeyes another chance. McCann found Hill for a 7-yard touchdown reception with 6:38 left in the third and a 14-13 lead. Unfortunately, that was the last positive play of the game for the offense.

The Iowa defense, ranked 11th in the nation and first in the Big Ten in total defense, held the Boilermakers to 217 yards -- their lowest output this season -- and completely shut down the passing game. Hance, who threw for 308 yards last week against Minnesota, was 17-for-34 for 147 yards with one interception. Purdue had 70 rushing yards on 30 carries.

Of Purdue's 217 total yards, more than half came in the 4th quarter. Much like the 1997 defense, the 2001 defense will feel like they should have held on to win after taking a 14-13 lead, but it is asking a lot to repeatedly expect them to stop Purdue when the Boilermakers were continually starting with the ball around the 50-yard line.

How did Purdue continually start with such good field position? Besides having the inability to move the ball on offense most of the game, Iowa punted 12 times for an average of 30.9 yards. When repeatedly forced to punt by the Iowa Defense, Purdue punters responded with 9 punts with a 40.9 average. Within those stats, Iowa P David Bradley shanked a few of his punts while getting another blocked as a result of a protection breakdown. On the other hand, Purdue out-kicked the Iowa punt returners twice in the contest.

The Purdue Defense played very well as the game went on, as they hurried QB Kyle McCann and the Iowa passing game almost the entire last three quarters. The Boilers ended up with five sacks, but they also flushed McCann into running situations countless times. Although McCann ended up only 21-33 for 167 yards after a good start, the lack of an Iowa running game was the dagger for the offense. Iowa seemingly started almost every series in a 2nd and long and 3rd and long situations, and as a result, Purdue was able to blitz and cause havoc to the Hawk passing game. The defenses of both teams did not let the offenses achieve any sort of balance.

McCann ended up throwing two interceptions, but his passing wasn't the reason the Hawks lost the game. One interception was the result of a receiver error, and that error was big as Purdue's Ashante Woodyard ran the pick back 86 yards for a TD and 7-0 lead. McCann's other interception came late in the game after Purdue was up nine with little time remaining.

The Boilermakers were able to shut down TE Dallas Clark as the playmaker had only 2 catches for 13 yards. However, WR C.J. Jones had his best game in an Iowa uniform as he had 6 catches for 77 yards. WR Kahlil Hill also had 7 catches for 43 yards and a TD.

Despite the embarrassing play of the punt unit, Iowa could have won the game if the OL and Ladell Betts had gotten the ground game going. In what was his worst statistical game of his career, Betts had only 6 yards on 12 carries. Just as mind boggling, Iowa only had 33 yards on 34 carries as a team! Although the OL has pass blocked well so far this season, the OL has not run the ball well on anyone other than Kent State in the opener.

What is interesting about the Iowa Offense isn't the amount of running plays or passing plays being called, but the lack of physical play on that side of the ball. While the Iowa Defense has taken tremendous steps forward this season in becoming a much better unit with their physical play, the offense is only moving the ball with finesse football. Even when Iowa does run the ball effectively, it tends to be longer developing plays that are off-tackle or further outside. Iowa has almost never run between the guard-center gaps, and a basic QB sneak has not been run yet. The coaches are more than capable of calling these plays, but it speaks volumes about how they perceive the OL and their strengths and weaknesses.

Ladell Betts is a warrior who can play on my team any day, but he physically is not the same Ladell that I remember from 1999 or 2000. Aaron Greving did play some today, but this offense does not look as good with a hobbled Ladell who can't hit the hole. If he can get healthy and the OL starts blocking like a good Big Ten run blocking line, the rest of the Iowa Offense will be able to thrive. Much like Illinois of the last two years, Iowa is not going to have consistent offense success this season until they find balance in running and passing. Today there was no offensive balance at all.

For most of the game, the Iowa Defense played exactly like they were supposed to. They only gave up one long drive, and most of the game they were forcing Purdue into 3-and-out situations by making the Boilermakers one-dimensional. Purdue could not run at all, and as a result, it made it much harder for Purdue's short passing game to get enough yards to convert first downs.

Purdue was completing passes, but there were almost no yards gained after the catches as Iowa defenders like CB Bennie Sapp and SS Bob Sanders were hitting people right away. Besides his interception, Sanders also had Purdue receivers hearing footsteps as some passes were dropped because he was hitting so hard. CB Matt Stockdale and Sapp did a nice job of breaking passes up. LB Fred Barr and LB Grant Steen were also all over the field.

The front four got some help from an occasional blitz, but for the most part, the defense dropped seven and rushed four. DT Jerry Montgomery had a perfect chance to pick off a pass in the end zone right before Purdue scored its go-ahead TD, but he dropped it. The unit looked tired in the 4th because Purdue kept getting the ball back. However, the ability of the front four to close running lanes and be physical helped to set the tone for a good defensive performance most the game.

Overall, the defense looked like Coach Norm Parker's old Vanderbilt defenses. If they continue to play this well, the team is going to win some games and get back to a bowl game for the first time since 1997. However, whether you are South Carolina, Wisconsin, or Iowa, a road win in conference play is worth its weight in gold. Iowa had a great chance to get a road win, but it didn't happen. This team could come back and have a good season, but today's loss just made it harder to get 4 or 5 Big Ten wins and 6-8 regular season wins.

They had an opportunity, but they didn't get it done. Hopefully it won't affect their goals for the season. The weaknesses of this team over the last few years have started with the OL and the secondary. The secondary has been answering the bell all season, but the OL took a step backwards today. If they can takes two steps forward next week and if the punt team can even perform to an average Big Ten level, things will look better in East Lansing.

(All Photos Are Credited to Michael Conroy of the Associated Press)

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