The second half of the Iowa football season begins Saturday when the Purdue Boilermakers visit the second-ranked Hawkeyes. After a perfect 6-0 start to the year and victory over Penn State, Iowa has achieved their highest ranking since the 1985 season. Excitement is building in Iowa City, but the road has just begun. The remainder of the schedule is the Big Ten West, and Purdue is first on the list. The Boilermakers have been one of Iowa’s most difficult opponents in recent years, and Saturday’s game will be no different.
Since his first year as Purdue head coach in 2017, Jeff Brohm has had great success against the Hawkeyes. Purdue has won three of the last four meetings, and Iowa’s lone win came in 2019 by six points. The Boilermakers have found a way to crack the Hawkeye defense through the air under Brohm, and their persistence has been Iowa’s achilles heel.
In each of the last four contests, Purdue had a different quarterback under center. In each of those four games, they had a receiver go over 120 yards with at least one touchdown. Twice, that receiver hauled in three touchdowns. Since 2017, Purdue has averaged 295 passing yards and 40 attempts per game against Iowa. They get the ball in the air a lot and have had consistent success in doing so. In the last two seasons, Boilermaker receiver David Bell has been that guy. The junior will line up in his third game against Iowa this weekend looking for similar results.
Boilermaker Difference Makers
After sitting out week four in concussion protocol, Bell was back on the field for Purdue last week. He tallied 120 yards on six receptions, picking up right where he left off. This season, Bell has 431 yards in four games, averaging 16 yards per catch. He has played Iowa twice, and had great statistical performances in each game. In 2019, Bell broke onto the scene as a freshman after catching 13 passes for 197 yards and a touchdown. Last season, he caught the game winning score with two minutes to play to beat the Hawks. Bell had three touchdowns on the day along with another 13-catch performance.
This year’s Iowa secondary will be nearly identical to what Bell faced in 2020. As a junior, he has become a veteran on the Purdue offense. His knowledge and success against the Hawkeyes’ defense is going to play a big role in how both teams prepare. Purdue quarterback Aidan O’Connell threw the ball 52 times last weekend against Minnesota on a rainy afternoon. The Boilermakers are going to test Iowa through the air, and Bell will be the top target. Iowa’s leading cornerback Riley Moss is likely going to be out this week after suffering a non-serious knee injury. Terry Roberts will step in and get significant snaps against Bell. Roberts played 24 coverage snaps last week after taking over for Moss and only gave up one reception. He nearly came down with his second interception of the season as well. Even against a secondary without Moss, Bell will have his toughest challenge of the season. However, expect him to get the bulk of the targets all afternoon.
On the defensive side of the ball, George Karlaftis will be getting pressure off the edge. Karlaftis is on a lot of 2022 NFL draft boards as one of the nation’s best edge rushers. He has a 85.2 defensive rating according to Pro Football Focus, making him the third best edge rusher in the Big Ten. He has just two sacks on the season, but has eight quarterback pressures and eight quarterback hits. In addition to the pressure up front, he leads Big Ten edge rushers with two forced fumbles on the year. When Karlaftis can get to the passer, he’s quick to the ball and has been successful at knocking it loose.
Karlaftis’ ability to get to the quarterback will be a test for Iowa’s offensive line. The Hawkeye line has been solid in the run game and Pro Football Focus has them at fourth in the country in run blocking efficiency. However, it’s a different story when it comes to pass blocking. Iowa ranks 101st in the nation with just a 49.8 pass-blocking efficiency rating. Part of Iowa’s struggles this year have been allowing pressure on Spencer Petras in the pocket. He has taken costly sacks and routinely has defenders getting to him. An edge player like Karlaftis will try to exploit this weakness in Iowa’s offensive front. In five games thus far, Karlaftis has shown his ability to get pressure and strip the ball. The offensive line for Iowa will be tested on the outside. Their ability to contain Karlaftis will be pivotal in Petras’ success through the air.
The turnover battle will continue to be one of Iowa’s keys to success. Their plus-minus is turnover margin is an astounding +15. They have recorded 20 total turnovers on the season thus far, and there’s still half of a schedule left. Of the total, 16 have come in the form of interceptions. Purdue puts the ball in the air a lot and has thrown six to the other team this year. They average just over one interception per game, which could play into Iowa’s hands. Forcing nearly three interceptions per game, the Hawkeyes will be looking to capitalize on the passing game of Purdue. Last season against the Hawks, O’Connell threw two interceptions. Forcing the interception has been Iowa’s bread-and-butter all season, and it is likely to continue on Saturday.
On the other side, Purdue has been good at neutralizing the turnover against the Hawks. Since 2017, the turnover battle between the two is even at six per team. Last year, Purdue forced two fumbles to equal out their two interceptions on the day. Winning the turnover margin against Purdue will be another important piece of Iowa’s success on Saturday. The Hawkeyes are the nation’s best in the turnover margin at plus-15. Purdue is tied for 119th at minus-5 on the season. Petras only has two interceptions and Iowa has fumbled twice. In the face of Karlaftis, the offensive line will need to step up to help mitigate the potential of Iowa turnovers through the air.
Boilermakers Visit Second-Ranked Hawkeyes
Homecoming in Iowa City marks the beginning of the road to Indianapolis. Their path is set up right in front of them, but it won’t come without the tests of the Big Ten West. Purdue has had Iowa’s number for the last four seasons, and they visit on Saturday afternoon with a pass-heavy offense. Iowa’s secondary has taken advantage of passing offenses this season. When an opponent’s pass is in the air, a Hawkeye is likely to come down with it. Lately, however, when Purdue puts the ball in the air against Iowa, their receivers go for over 100 yards with multiple scores. Saturday, Iowa has a prime opportunity to get things on the right track when the Boilermakers visit the second-ranked Hawkeyes. Success will come by limiting David Bell and Aidan O’Connell in the passing game, and winning the turnover battle.