Iowa run offense vs. Purdue run defense: This matchup is probably the biggest key to the outcome of Saturday's game in West Lafayette. Fred Russell is having another stellar season, with 1,010 yards rushing and a 4.7-yard average per carry. It should be a big plus to have Jermelle Lewis available for a handful of carries, as well. For the Hawkeyes to win this game, they will HAVE to be able to run the ball effectively…and consistently.
It won't be easy. The Boilermakers are only giving up 81 yards rushing per game this season. No Big Ten team has averaged 4.0 yards per carry against them yet. Advantage: IOWA (barely).
Iowa pass offense vs. Purdue pass defense: Nathan Chandler has thrown for 1,391 yards this season, including 14 touchdowns and only six interceptions. His 131.0 quarterback rating is excellent, especially considering his lack of experience coming in to this season. Maurice Brown was back in action last week against Illinois and looked healthy. The big receiver could be a huge factor against Purdue.
The Boilermakers have allowed 601 passing yards in their last three Big Ten games. Iowa will need to use the run to set up the pass against Purdue…and hopefully not find itself in a lot of third-and-long, obvious passing situations. The Boilers' five Big Ten opponents have only completed 52% of their passes against Purdue. Advantage: PURDUE (barely).
Purdue run offense vs. Iowa run defense: The Hawkeyes have held their last seven opponents to less than 75 yards on the ground. In the Big Ten, Iowa has only allowed 54.4 rushing yards per game. While Purdue might run for 75 yards on Saturday, Coach Joe Tiller will be looking to pass, pass and pass against the Hawks.
Jerod Void has run for 568 yards and nine touchdowns so far this season as the Boilers are running the ball a little more than in recent seasons. Purdue's offensive strategy will be the opposite of Iowa's on Saturday…the Boilers will try to use the pass to set up the run. Advantage: IOWA.
Purdue pass offense vs. Iowa pass defense: With Altoona native Kyle Orton at the controls for Purdue, the passing offense of the Boilermakers is extremely dangerous. Orton has completed 61% of his passes for 2,017 yards and 11 touchdowns, with only four interceptions. His receivers are also having outstanding seasons: John Standeford has 51 catches for 780 yards and two TDs, and Taylor Stubblefield has 62 receptions for 581 yards and three TDs. Purdue will use a five-wide receiver set against the Hawks at times and will likely use the short, controlled passing game as its version of a rushing attack. Iowa's D-backs must keep the Boiler receivers in front of them and not allow a "little play" to turn into a BIG play.
Iowa is going to need to flush Orton out of the pocket with regularity in the hopes that he gets hurried and makes a poor throw or bad decision. Look for Matt Roth and Howard Hodges to apply the most pressure. There will be a great deal of pressure on Antwan Allen and Jovon Johnson, as well as the linebackers and safeties, to keep Purdue from making the big play. Advantage: PURDUE.
Special Teams: The kicking game is solid for both schools, but look for the fourth quarter to be a battle of the kickers. Ben Jones has made 18 of 20 field goals this season for Purdue. But the Hawkeyes have the top kicker in the country in Nate Kaeding, who hasn't missed in 11 field goal tries this season. Advantage: IOWA.
Coaching: Kirk Ferentz has turned the Hawkeye program around. He was named the National Coach of the Year in 2002. Joe Tiller has done a terrific job at Purdue, leading the Boilermakers to a 92-60-1 mark during his tenure. Both of these guys will have their teams fired up and ready to go on Saturday, which should make it a fun game to watch. Advantage: IOWA.
Intangibles: Through the years, West Lafayette has been a difficult place for the Hawkeyes to succeed. And Purdue has usually been able to find a way to win its home games. Iowa is 0-2 on the road in the Big Ten this season, with subpar performances at Michigan State and at Ohio State. In both of those losses, the Hawkeye defense played extremely well, but breakdowns occurred in other areas. Advantage: PURDUE.
PREDICTION: I think the Hawks will get just enough offense—and they'll benefit from a defensive score—to squeak past the Boilermakers. With Purdue leading 23-21 with 14 seconds remaining, Nate Kaeding will nail a 44-yard field goal to give Iowa a 24-23 victory. FINAL: IOWA 24, Purdue 23.
Jon Miller's Prediction: Purdue 23, Iowa 10. (Sorry folks, I will be pulling hard for the Hawks of course, and hope that I am wrong and Marty is right!)
(Marty Gallagher founded the popular web site IowaSportsOpinions.com. You can e-mail him at Marty@IowaSportsOpinions.com.)