I watched Saturday's game against Purdue with my dad and my brother Jerry. We were at Dad's house, watching the game from his living room, because he underwent hip replacement surgery earlier this week. His status is day-to-day.
It could've been worse, of course. He could've suffered something more serious, like a "high ankle sprain."
Despite his inability to get off of the couch for the entire game (which really is no different than when he was 100% healthy), Dad managed to throw in his two cents worth at every opportunity. Except when he was asking Jerry to help him adjust his socks.
He and I argued two points throughout the day:
- Dad wanted Iowa to bring in Drew Tate to play quarterback. I said that it wouldn't matter and that Chandler probably gave the Hawks a better chance to win.
- Dad wanted Iowa to blitz EVERY play, I think. He must have mentioned 82,000 times this week to me that "Purdue's short passing game really scares me." I think his last words before his surgery were, "You've got to get pressure on Orton…" and he came out of surgery with, "…or he'll pick you apart." On the other hand, I was in favor of sticking with a four-man rush and dropping everyone else into coverage, for the most part.
Whenever Chandler missed an open receiver—especially a receiver who didn't have anyone within 15 yards of him down the middle of the field—Dad would bemoan Chandler's ability and beg for Ferentz to come back with Tate the next possession. I would always counter—even when he missed a receiver who didn't have anyone within 15 yards of him down the middle of the field—that Chandler has the most experience and that it wasn't Chandler's fault that Purdue's defensive line was claiming the Iowa backfield as an official residence.
Finally, when Chandler got the wind knocked out of him, Tate came into the game. I have nothing against Tate, of course. I think he'll be a very good QB for the Hawks. "OK," I said to Dad. "Let's see what happens now."
After the freshman scrambled for a decent gain, he threw a third-down pass into the dirt. I didn't need to say anything.
"Terrible pass," admitted Dad. Case closed? Of course not.
I think that Nathan Chandler was probably blamed on Saturday for everything ranging from Iowa's sputtering offense to Iowa's ineffective defense to David Bradley's shanked punts to the fires in California. Geez.
Although I will agree—wholeheartedly—that Chandler had a sub-par performance in West Lafayette and that over-throwing Ramon Ochoa in the first quarter was a HUUUUUGE play, there were way too many other bad plays, costly penalties and poor performances to go around to saddle the loss on Chandler's back.
As far as blitzing Kyle Orton early and often, I don't believe that I've seen Norm Parker elect to go that route as much as he did on Saturday. Ever.
How effective was it? As far as I could tell, the Hawkeyes' blitzes never rattled Orton in the least. Like a good veteran quarterback, I think he almost welcomed the blitz from Iowa, knowing that it would leave him with one or two mismatches to pick from. For example, how about a linebacker covering John Standeford? Even Dad might be able to complete that pass.
The final stats show that Iowa had zero sacks on the day. Meanwhile, Orton made Iowa pay for blitzing early in the second half when he hit Anthony Chambers, who scored on the 45-yard passing play to give Purdue a 20-0 lead.
It might not have been the final nail in the coffin, but the lid was certainly closed at that point.
The ‘Four Plays' Theory
Before the game, Brother Jerry said, "Every football game comes down to four plays." As the game unfolded, he reminded us of his observation…
- When officials ruled that Standeford was in-bounds on a third-down, sideline reception on Purdue's first possession, it certainly smelled like home cookin'. "That's Play Number One," Jerry said. "You watch…that will turn into a seven-point call." He was right.
- When Chandler threw the ball well beyond a wide-open Ochoa later in the first quarter, Jerry chimed in again. "That's Play Number Two. Seven more points."
- When the cameras zoomed in on Purdue's head coach, Joe Tiller, my mom said, "Hey, he looks like Wilford Brimley."
- After a penalty nullified Chandler's touchdown pass to Mo Brown that would have tied the score, Jerry said, "That's Play Number Three."
- When Orton burned the Iowa blitz with the TD pass to Chambers, Jerry added, "That's Play Number Four."
The "Four Plays Theory" is an interesting one and it certainly held true on Saturday. But—regardless of theories, QB controversies or other strategies—the simple truth is that when you're playing on the road against teams as good as Michigan State, Ohio State and Purdue, you simply can't afford to miss out on golden opportunities…nor can you "give" points away.
In their three road losses in 2003, the Hawks have been guilty in both areas. And there's definitely plenty of blame to go around BEYOND the Iowa quarterback.
Tough Day for Hawkeye Defense
In my column last Sunday, I raised the question: Is this the BEST defense in the history of Hawkeye football? After the performance at West Lafayette, I'm afraid we have our answer. Consider the following…
- Before Saturday's game, Iowa's opponents were averaging 13.7 points per game. Purdue nearly doubled that total with 27 points.
- Before Saturday's game, Iowa had given up an average of only 72 rushing yards per game. Purdue more than doubled that total with 154 yards on the ground.
- The Hawkeyes had held their last seven opponents to less than 75 yards on the ground prior to Saturday. Jerod Void ran for 120 yards by himself against Iowa, becoming the first person to do that against the Hawks this season.
- Before Saturday, Iowa's opponents averaged 2.1 yards per carry this season. Purdue averaged 3.5 yards per carry.
- The Hawkeyes' opponents had only run for three TDs prior to Saturday's game. Void ran for two himself.
- Before Saturday, Iowa's opponents were only 50 for 152 (33%) on third-down conversions. Purdue was 11 for 17 (65%).
- The Hawks had allowed a TOTAL of 23 points in the second and third quarters this season before Saturday's game. Purdue scored 20 points in those quarters against Iowa.
- In their first five Big Ten games, the Hawkeyes only allowed their opponent to keep the ball for five minutes ONE time. Purdue was able to put together THREE drives of at least five minutes, resulting in 10 points and a missed field goal. Of course, the possession that ended with a missed field goal all but ended Iowa's chances of coming back as the Boilers ate up 7:51 on the clock in the fourth quarter.
- Prior to Saturday, only Michigan had converted more than six third downs in a game against Iowa. Purdue converted 11 third-down plays into first downs.
Obviously, the defense was missing starters Jonathan Babineaux, Jared Clauss and Grant Steen. Although Babineaux is out for the season, Hawk fans should remain hopeful that Clauss and Steen can return to the field for the game against Minnesota this weekend.
Hopefully, the result will be more of the same success these Hawkeyes have enjoyed at Kinnick Stadium this season, where they are unbeaten in six games.
Considering the graduation losses and injuries suffered by the 2003 Hawkeyes, an eight-win season—with this schedule—would be quite an accomplishment. And who better to witness such an achievement than the Golden Gophers?
(Marty Gallagher founded the popular web site IowaSportsOpinions.com. You can e-mail him at Marty@IowaSportsOpinions.com.)