Charlie Jones transferred to Purdue in search of a more high-powered offense. In his reunion with Iowa, it was the Hawkeyes who had the explosive offense. Iowa began to go to work on its third drive of the game and didn’t let off the pedal. Behind a career day for Kaleb Johnson and 376 total yards, the Hawkeyes handle Purdue for a 24-3 victory inside Ross-Ade Stadium. It was the first time since 2013 that Purdue failed to score a touchdown at home. Iowa’s defense limited the Big Ten’s leading passer to his worst game of the season. More importantly, Iowa stepped up in the face of difficulty and played one of its best complete games of the season.
High Flying Hawkeyes
The scoring began with a 91-yard touchdown drive to begin the second quarter. It was the Hawkeyes’ longest offensive scoring drive of the season. Spencer Petras completed four of four passes on the drive for 81 yards. It included a touchdown pass to Sam LaPorta and ignited the offense moving into the second and third quarters. Three of their next four drives ended in points. The three scoring drives combined for 15 plays and 203 yards. That’s an average of 13.5 yards per play en route to a 24-3 lead.
Petras had his best game of the season, throwing for 192 yards and two touchdowns while averaging 14.6 yards per attempt. The two passing touchdowns were the most in a game all season for Petras. The offense felt in rhythm all afternoon and his receivers continued to find openings in the Purdue coverage. LaPorta and Nico Ragaini caught the two touchdowns and combined for 127 yards on the day. The passing game has been largely non-existent early in the season, but things have changed in the last two games. Against Northwestern and Purdue, Petras went 34 of 53 for 412 yards with three passing touchdowns and a rushing touchdown.
On the ground, Johnson showed why he was one of the highest-touted recruits in last year’s class. The true freshman finished with a career-high 200 yards and a touchdown. He averaged just over nine yards per carry and continued to run with a smooth-flowing explosiveness that the running back room hasn’t seen in some time. His physicality and speed shown against Purdue were great indications of what his trajectory as a running back can be. He isn’t at this level yet, but Johnson’s ball-carrying in West Lafayette was reminiscent of Hawkeye-great Shonn Greene. The Doak Walker Award winner in 2008 was Iowa’s best tailback in the last decade. Johnson is up to 551 yards on the season.
Hawkeyes Explosive Offense
The Hawkeyes broke off eight explosive plays on offense on the day. Five came through the air and three were on the ground. Petras delivered a 41-yard pass to begin their first scoring drive and finished the day with five passes of more than 15 yards. Johnson’s career day on the ground included three rushes of more than 10 yards. They consisted of a 44-yard gain as well as a 75-yard touchdown run to open the second half. The Hawkeyes had four plays of 40-plus yards on the season entering the Purdue game. Petras and the offense nearly doubled that total with three in West Lafayette.
Charlie Jones and the Hawkeye Defense
Phil Parker’s defense had a great day against Purdue in all areas. While Jones ended the day with 102 yards on 11 catches for Purdue, he didn’t score and his team only finished with three points. It was the sixth game in a row where a Purdue wide receiver tallied more than 100 yards on the Hawkeye defense. The difference this time was Iowa’s ability to take away the explosive tendencies of Purdue. Aidan O’Connell had just two passes of more than 20 yards, each on separate drives. Those drives ended with a punt and an interception.
Iowa finished with five tackles for loss, three sacks, and two interceptions on the day. The two interceptions resulted in a touchdown and a field goal in the second quarter. These helped give the Hawkeyes a 17-0 lead into the half. O’Connell finished with just 168 yards and a 47% completion percentage. His 20 completions were his lowest in a Big Ten game all season. Other than the one field goal, Purdue’s drives ended with seven punts, three turnovers on down, and two interceptions.
The defensive stand that stood out among the others occurred late in the second quarter. Purdue drove the ball deep into Iowa territory down to the two-yard line. The field position was aided by a 15-yard penalty on Lukas Van Ness followed up with a 15-yard rush to put the Boilermakers near the goal line. After two incompletions, Van Ness cleaned up his mistake and sacked O’Connell for a 15-yard loss. The sack negated any thought of going for a touchdown on fourth down, and Purdue was forced to settle for three points. The Boilermakers didn’t sniff the red zone for the remainder of the contest and Iowa rolled to victory on the road.
Hawkeyes Handle Purdue Behind Explosive Offense
Iowa has taken a lot of national criticism for their lack of offense in the early part of the season. Rightfully so, the group has been among the worst in the FBS, if not the worst, in nearly every offensive category. The last two games have been different. Iowa has scored 33 and 24 points, respectively, and totaled 774 yards. The group has found a rhythm in the run game, and it took a major step forward against Purdue on the back of Johnson.
Kirk Ferentz has built the Hawkeyes into a program built to respond to adversity. The 2020 offseason was difficult for many reasons beyond a global pandemic. The season started with two losses and finished with six consecutive wins. Many considered Iowa to be the hottest team in the country at the end of the 2020 season. Last year, two grueling, mid-season losses struck the Hawkeyes down from their second-ranked seat in the AP Poll. They responded with four wins and a West Division championship.
This year isn’t over yet, but it’s fair to say that Ferentz’s unit is beginning to do just the same. They are stepping up in the face of adversity and national recognition as the worst offense in the country. The Hawkeyes have rattled off two wins behind great performances on both ends of the ball and are now one win from bowl eligibility. Iowa will host Wisconsin next week in search of their first rivalry trophy game victory of the 2022 season.
Main photo courtesy of Alex Martin/Journal and Courier