Early in the Big Ten season, the focus was divided between high-powered Minnesota and explosive Purdue.
As the season heads into the home stretch, most look at Wisconsin and Michigan.
Iowa has largely been ignored, but the Hawkeyes have been in the picture all season.
The Hawkeyes outlasted Purdue 23-21 in Kinnick Stadium for its fifth straight conference win — a victory that left them just one game behind the Badgers and the Wolverines.
Injuries may have depleted their running attack, but the Hawkeyes win by any means necessary. QB Drew Tate continues to grow and is doing an excellent job of throwing and leading the offense. Against Purdue, Tate completed 24 of a career-high 45 passes for 270 yards with two touchdowns and just one interception.
The Hawkeyes came out of the gate in impressive fashion, building a 17-0 first-quarter lead. But the Boilermakers — who have now lost four straight conference games and did not have QB Kyle Orton (hip) — kept plugging away.
The Boilermakers pulled within two points when Taylor Stubblefield caught a 10-yard pass from Brandon Kirsch with 25 seconds remaining.
However, the Hawkeyes snuffed out the Boilers' hopes when Ed Hinkel gathered up the ensuing onsides kick.
The Hawkeye defense once again played steady and dependable football, limiting Purdue to 52 rushing yards. Kirsch threw for 280 yards and three touchdowns, but the Hawkeye defense also intercepted him twice.
"We weren't totally surprised that Kirsch started," head coach Kirk Ferentz told the Des Moines Register. "I thought last year (a 27-14 Purdue win) Kyle Orton played like a senior against us. I was hoping we wouldn't have to face him again, but it wasn't like they were running some guy out there who didn't know what was going on."
The Hawkeyes are not the most gifted team in the Big Ten. They have been hit hard by graduation in the past two years and are also dealing with myriad major injuries, especially at running back. However, they play hard and have put themselves in position to contend for the conference title with just two weeks to go.
GAME BALL GOES TO: QB Drew Tate — The responsibility for moving the Iowa offense is all on Tate's shoulders since injuries have devastated the running attack. Tate completed 24-of-45 passes for 270 yards against Purdue, with two touchdowns and one interception, and did a solid job of managing the game.
KEEP AN EYE ON: CB Antwan Allen — Always sharp and aware in coverage, Allen blunted a Purdue comeback in the fourth quarter when he intercepted a Brandon Kirsch pass to thwart a Purdue rally. Allen makes up for in skills what he lacks in size (5-10 and 180 pounds).
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're not the prettiest car in the lot, but collectively we've got guys who are getting the job done." — Head coach Kirk Ferentz, on his feisty but undermanned team.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
LOOKING GOOD: This team is loaded with poise and maturity. Even though the running game provided only 43 yards, the Hawkeyes jumped to an early lead thanks to steady QB play and a solid defense. Iowa is just a game behind Michigan and Wisconsin in the Big Ten title race. If the Wolverines lose one of their last two games, and the Hawkeyes can beat Minnesota and Wisconsin, they will gain at least a share of the conference title.
STILL NEEDS SOME WORK: The running game hit a major pothole. RB Sam Brownlee gained 52 yards on 25 carries, but the rest of the Hawkeye running attack was held to minus-9 yards. That lack of production puts too much pressure on the passing game and the defense.
ROSTER REPORT: Iowa trainer Paul Federici is at a loss to explain ACL injuries to Iowa's top four running backs this season. Division I-A teams averaged less than one season-ending surgery per team last year, and the Hawkeyes have already had four. Brownlee has now started three games in a row — and miraculously has not been hurt. "We've brainstormed with colleagues, the NCAA and other schools about variables that could have caused the ACL injuries," Federici told the Des Moines Register. "We haven't been able to identify any variable or a set of variables that identify the reason for what we've seen."
Next Up: Iowa Still In The Running
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