Saturday, November 9, 2013

Game Day: Iowa at Purdue at Ross-Ade Stadium

West Lafayette, IN - It is an historic day in West Lafayette, as the Legends and Leaders match up comes to an end for each of these two Big Ten football programs this season. The next time each team plays one another, both Iowa and Purdue will be in the same Big Ten division.

The 2013 season is the final season of the BCS. It also the final go around of the Big Ten division names, Legends and Leaders. Next year, Maryland and Rutgers will join the Big Ten and realignment will bring Iowa and Purdue together as division foes in the new Big Ten realignment. The series had been renewed as cross-division protected rivalry with the creation of the Leaders and Legends divisions in the Big Ten in  2011.

Iowa (5-4, 2-3 B1G Legends) last won in 2011, when Kirk Ferentz last brought his Hawkeyes to West Lafeyette, in a 31-21 victory. Purdue (1-7, 0-4 B1G Leaders) hasn't beaten Iowa at home, since 2007, back then Joe Tiller was still on the sidelines leading the Boilermakers. So, first-year coach Darrell Hazell and his Boilermakers hope to notch win number one in Big Ten play at the expense of Iowa.

It has been a long season for Purdue, with a six game losing streak under Hazell, who enjoyed two seasons at Kent State. Prior to his first head coaching job, Hazell served seven seasons as an offensive assistant at Ohio State, under Jim Tressel.

From 1961 to 1980, the Boilermakers owned this series, winning 20 straight against the Hawkeyes. During Coach Ferentz's first season at Iowa, as first-year offensive line coach, under head coach J. Hayden Fry, the Hawkeyes ended the Purdue win streak and went on to clinch a trip to the Rose Bowl.

Neither, Iowa nor Purdue will be representing the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl in 2013. Likely, Ohio State and Michigan State will play for that honor, though the Spartans have a longer road to clinch in the final four weeks of Big Ten regular season play.

Last season, Iowa went through an awful 4-8 season. This season, a win over Purdue would make Iowa bowl eligible. A loss would likely suggest last year's 27-24 loss to Purdue on Senior Day at Kinnick Stadium wasn't the bottom of the Kirk Ferentz downward slide?

Iowa's artificial biggest rival, Purdue, could foil the Hawkeyes quest to rebound and become bowl eligible? Last year, Purdue's last minute win over Iowa, with a field goal, sparked a Boilermakers three-game run to clinch a bowl bid under former head coach Danny Hope.

This year, there will be no bowl games for the Boilermakers, so Iowa reprsents a step in the building process. For Iowa, a win will represent progress in the rebuilding process, after an ugly 2-6 Big Ten finish in 2012, which included six striaght Big Ten losses.

So, what gives in the 2013 match up between Iowa and Purdue?

Purdue's offense hasn't reached the Red Zone in any of its four Big Ten games, all loses. In Iowa's four losses in 2013, the Hawkeyes have fallen against four Top 25 teams (Northern Illinois, Michigan State, at Ohio State and Wisconsin), leading at halftime in three of the four defeats. Purdue is 0-4 against all four foes Iowa has lost to this season, as well.

QB: Purdue has turned to true freshman Danny Etling, in Week 5 vs. Northern Illinois, when Coach Hazell incerted Etling and pulled fifth-year senior Rob Henry before halftime of the game with the Huskies. Iowa first-year starter, redshirt sophomore Jake Rudock opened the season vs. Northern Illinois. Last week, Rudock was knocked out of the game vs. Wisconsin, so redshirt freshman C.J. Beathard got his first taste of Big Ten football. Iowa has 12 TD passes and 10 interceptions this season, while Purdue's two QBs have combined for seven TDs and 11 interceptions. Who manages the game the best may very well help lead their team to victory on Saturday?

RB: Junior Akeem Hunt leads the Boilermakers in rushing with 316 yards, averaging 3.7 yards a carry. At one time, the Iowa defense, through six games were the only team in the FBS to not allow a touchdown. That mark ended at Ohio State. Iowa goes four deep at running back and they will use some fullback in the power run game. Junior Mark Weisman has played injured the past four games, so junior Damon Bullock has carried more of the load. Earlier in the season, QB Rudock was a dangerous weapon in the red zone, leading Iowa wil five touchdown runs. Iowa was very solid running the football in the Big Ten opener at Minnesota, which ended in a 23-7 win.

A key element of the game will be whether Iowa establishes a solid running game? Who stays ahead on second and third down will be important for both teams, with young quarterbacks.

"At the end of the day, we're better if we're balanced and able to dictate to the defense what we're going to do," Ferentz said at his press conference ahead of this week's Purdue game.

Iowa offensive coordinator Greg Davis has thrown out different approaches each week, with a variety of success on offense.

"Kirk lays out exactly what`s to be expected on the road," said Davis. "We're going to leave tomorrow (Friday) and it's treated like a business trip. It's just about focus and our guys have done a really good job on the road so far."

At Ohio State, Iowa used a lot of three tight end packages. For three quarters, Iowa was very business like taking care of business with the game tied 24-24 at the end of three quarters. The Buckeyes prevailed. Can the Hawkeyes prevail at Ross-Ade Stadium on Saturday?

Iowa goes five deep at tight end, lead by senior TE C.J. Fiedorowicz, who is second on receptions and leads Iowa with four TD receptions. Iowa has witnessed sophomore WR Tevaun Smith emerge in Big Ten play, especially, as a playmaker in the passing game. Iowa is lead by junior WR Kevonte Martin-Manley as the leading receiver, with 34 catches and two TDs. RB Bullock is a weapon in the passing game. Sophomore TE Jake Duzey and JC WR transfer Damond Powell have combined for explosive TD catches in Big Ten play.

"They do a lot of different things on defense, so our guys will need to be sharp," Davis said. "They'll mix up their coverages. They played Michigan State close only allowing one offensive touchdown. They're a team that is growing defensively."

New OC John Shoop has RB Hunt leading the Boilermakers passing game through the half way point of the Big Ten season for Purdue. Shoop is using using a dual TE set for Purdue after five seasons at North Carolina offensive coordinator and four different stops in the NFL as an assistant. Junior TE Justin Sinz leads the non-backs in receiving with 23 catches, two TDs. True freshman WR Deangelo Yancey leads the wide receivers with 15 catches, 1 TD.

Iowa has six offensive linemen that lead Iowa's balanced attack, though it is still very much a work in progress in Year 2 under their second-year offensive coordinator and second-year offensive line coach Brian Ferentz.

Iowa's front seven and secondary should match up well against the Boilermakers. The Purdue offensive line has three young underclassmen in the interior offensive line, with two freshmen guards and a sophomore center Roger Kugler, who started the last seven games of his redshirt freshman season at RG. Purdue has two senior tackles to anchor the outside. Iowa's strength is inside on defense. How effective will Iowa Raider defensive package be verse QB Etling in obvious passing downs.

It should be an interesting game for Iowa's defensive coordinator Phil Parker, in his fifteenth season under Ferentz at Iowa, second season as coordinator. Purdue's defensive coordinator is Greg Hudson, who brings experience from most recently Flordia State linebacker coach for three season, prior to that East Carolina (five years as DC) and Minnesota (5 seasons).

Purdue is lead in sacks by senior left defensive end Bruce Gaston, who will match up opposite Iowa senior right tackle, captain Brett Van Sloten, which should be an interesting match up on Saturday.

The leading tacklers for the Boilermakers are three members of the Purdue secondary. Purdue has some ability to get the sack, so has mentioned earlier, down and distance will be important for each team's young offense.

Iowa's strength on defense is the three senior linebackers, Anthony Hitchens,  James Morris and Christian Kirksey, who are 1-2-3 in leading Iowa in tackles and have combined for seven sacks. How much pressure can Iowa's linebackers and defense put on the freshman quarterback for Purdue?

Iowa will be without senior leader Dominic Alvis in the defensive line for the third straight game. Sophomore DE Drew Ott and junior replacement Mike Hardy are playing well, as they did in the overtime win over Northwestern.

Special teams could play a big role in the Iowa at Purdue game.

Purdue has an outstanding kickoff return man in RB Hunt, who averages 26.4 a return and has taken one the distance this season, with a 99 yard return. Sophomore CB Frankie Williams has averaged 19.8 yards a punt return on four returns. This could play a big role in sparking the Boilermakers offense on Saturday.

"We have to protect the punt on punt team first, then get down there and everyone has to know their lane assignments," Iowa linebacker Hitchens said. "When we get to the ball carrier we have to wrap up.

"On kickoff, he (Hunt) is very explosive -- we have to get off blocks and be able to make the play when it's there."

Hitchens said the Hawkeyes have had a good week of practice, getting a lot done and focusing on detail.

"That was our main focus this week and I think we're doing a good job of it," he said.

Both teams have a sophomore and senior in the kicking battery. Iowa has a senior placekicker in Mike Meyer, who consistent. Purdue has a senior punter Cody Webster, who could help play a big role in field position for the Boilermakers on Saturday. Iowa sophomore punter Connor Kornbrath is growing week by week, especially in Big Ten play. Purdue sophomore placekicker Paul Griggs is only 50/50 on field goals.

Iowa has vetarans in special teams, as well as some young players. Senior kick returner Jordan Cotton lead the Big Ten in 2012. He hasn't been as strong under a new special teams scheme in 2013, but is capable. Iowa hasn't been as strong on punt returns in Big Ten play, but Martin-Manley leads the country and has taken two back for TDs this season.

How wild of game will this be at Ross-Ade Stadium?

Purdue is 1-7, while Iowa is 5-4. Iowa needs to put the Boilermakers away early. Iowa has played well in first halves most of the season, leading in eight of the nine games played. So, a fast start would be a good strategy for the Hawkeyes. How will they execute?

We shall see...

Our pick is for Iowa to cover the point spread (15 points), with a Iowa 31, Purdue 13, type game on Saturday in Ross-Ade Stadium.

The Hawkeyes are seeking to improve on all phases of the game ahead of another bye week. The game kicks off at 11 a.m. Central Time on the Big Ten Network.

Wishing all a Happy Veterans Day this Monday, as both celebrate it today on the gridiron, with a tribute to our Veterans...

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