Saturday, September 27, 2014

Big Ten Opener Week 5: Iowa at Purdue

West Lafayette, IN -- The Iowa Hawkeyes (3-1) traveled to West Lafayette on Friday for today's Big Ten conference opener against the Purdue Boilermakers (2-2). While the Boilermakers enjoy Homecoming this weekend, the Chicago Center Fire on Friday derailed Iowa's charter flight to West Lafayette, so the Hawkeyes made a six and half hour bus trip, rather than an approximate hour plan trip.

How will the travel change impact the Hawkeyes last minute preparations for Purdue, we shall quickly determine, as the Hawkeyes - Boilermakers kickoff at 11 a.m. on the Big Ten Network from Ross-Ade Stadium on the campus of Purdue University.

The Hawkeyes need the offense to click in today's Big Ten opener.

Whether under center or on the headset, those inside the University of Iowa football program expect two quarterbacks to make an impact when the Hawkeyes visit Purdue today.

Junior Jake Rudock has started 17 consecutive games since making his Hawkeye debut in the 2013 season opener, but he was injured at Pittsburgh last week and did return after halftime.

He was replaced by sophomore C.J. Beathard, who led Iowa to three consecutive scoring drives, including a 13-play, 52-yard march in the fourth quarter that put Iowa ahead for the first and final time. Iowa won thier third consecutive road game, with the 24-20 win at Pittsburgh, last Saturday.

Beathard's final line included 98 yards passing on 7-of-8 attempts. He engineered an offense that scored 17 second-half points, and he did it using seven receivers, Mark Weisman's legs, Marshall Koehn's foot, and Rudock's support.

"Jake was very positive and encouraging when I came off the field," said Beathard. "He would tell me what (Iowa offensive coordinator Greg) Davis was saying on the headset. He would tell me what we're thinking here, or what we're thinking there. He wants to win just as bad as I do."

Rudock doesn't just want to win, he knows how to win. He won eight games in his first season under center, increasing Iowa's victory total by four games from the previous year, and in two of those games he erased a fourth-quarter deficit.

That leadership -- whether communicated from the huddle, headset, or sideline -- had his teammates' attention last week.

"When a guy goes out, and when a true leader goes out, they help the team by staying on the sideline trying to keep spirits up and letting guys know what they can do to improve if they make a mistake," said senior right tackle Andrew Donnal. "They stay positive for the guys, and that's exactly what (Rudock) did on the sideline."

Senior wide receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley said the quarterback dialogue is a two-way exchange of ideas, and that both Beathard and Rudock influence the offense whether they're in the game or not.

"Both of the quarterbacks communicate," said Martin-Manley. "When Jake is in the game C.J. is talking to him, or if C.J. is in the game Jake will talk to him. They're both very into it. If one is not on the field physically, he is still there mentally."

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz says the quarterbacks have their differences -- personalities, throwing styles, leadership styles -- but he says "that's the neat thing about football."

"You've got a lot of diverse backgrounds, personalities, ages, all that stuff," said Ferentz. "But (Beathard and Rudock) share a common bond in terms of they're here to help the team be a better football team."

Ferentz added that both quarterbacks are great teammates, and no matter who takes the field today, the offense is in good hands.

"I think I'm safe in saying our players have total confidence, just like the coaches, in both quarterbacks, and that's a good thing," said Ferentz. "But they've earned it. They've worked hard and played tough."

C.J. Beathard is likely to make his first start of his young career at Purdue. He played in last year's November road trip to West Lafayette.

"We're here for one reason," said Beathard, "and that's to win games."

The real key offensively for Iowa is the running game today. Who will step forward at Purdue today in the B1G opener?

Will there be pressure on the Hawkeye running backs?

"No," junior running back Jordan Canzeri added. "It's not who's starting and who isn't. I was able to be the first to get carries and feel out the defense. It wasn't much of a new, crazy thing to me, but I'm ready to take that responsibility."

Canzeri opened the Pitt game with a 2-yard run and had attempts on four of the first five rushing plays. He finished with eight carries for 23 yards. Senior running back Mark Weisman gained 88 yards on 22 attempts with two touchdowns.

"It's about who is making plays and getting the hot hand," Canzeri said. "Mark did great during the game, that's why he got the majority of the carries. We know that going into each game that whoever has the hot hand is going to get the ball."

Canzeri's only previous start was against Oklahoma in the Insight Bowl. He led Iowa with 58 rushing yards on 22 carries and caught six passes for 28 yards and a touchdown.

As exciting as that postseason performance was, Canzeri registered his only collegiate 100-yard rushing effort Nov. 9, 2013, at Purdue. The Hawkeyes return to Ross-Ade Stadium on Saturday.

"It was a great feeling having the performance I did, but it was a credit to the offensive line and (quarterback) Jake (Rudock) for the checks he made," Canzeri said. "Even though I was told I had a great game, I expected a lot more. I'm ready to do more than last year if I get that opportunity."

Last season against the Boilermakers, Canzeri carried the ball 20 times for 165 yards and a 2-yard touchdown run that gave the Hawkeyes a 7-0 lead. Iowa went on to pick up 318 yards on the ground and 191 through the air.

This season Weisman leads the team with 54 carries, 184 yards, and four touchdowns. Canzeri has 23 attempts for 89 yards; senior Damon Bullock has carried the ball 20 times and leads the backs with 15 pass receptions; sophomore LeShun Daniels, Jr., compiled 12 carries in the first two games. Iowa has used redshirt freshman Jonathan Parker on the jet sweep in the first two weeks of the season.

No one in the Iowa offensive backfield is looking for the spotlight. Weisman jokes that he will let Canzeri take outside zone running plays if they are called. Canzeri tells Weisman that third-and-1 attempts are all his.

"It's great to have the relationship we have," Canzeri said. "We're both ready, and it's good that we're all humble, no one is selfish."

Iowa has won five of its last six regular-season games away from Kinnick Stadium, including three in a row. The consecutive win streak began a year ago at Purdue.

Today, is the twelve conference season opener played on the road, in Ferentz's 16th season at Iowa. Iowa is going for their third staight B1G road opener today, after the 19-16 OT win at Michigan State in 2012 and last year's 23-7 win over Minnesota. Iowa is also going for their third staight win at Purdue, and seven in the last nine games in the overall series.

"You always want to win on the road," Canzeri said. "You want to win every game, but it's especially tough on the road because you have the harsh environment and (most of the) fans are against you."

Kickoff is scheduled for 11:01 a.m. and the game will be televised by BTN with Scott Graham, Stanley Johnson, and Evan Fitzgerald calling the action.

Whether Canzeri, Weisman or any other Hawkeye back is getting the bulk of the playing time is insignificant as long as Iowa improves to 4-1 overall.

"If it's someone else getting the ball and they're having that breakout game, then we're all happy," Canzeri said. "We want the offense to move, get the job done, and score points."

Purdue is in the second year under coach Darrell Hazell, who was 1-11 in 2013, and opened 2014 with an improved 2-2 record. Next up, the Boilermakers are seeking their first B1G win, after finishing 0-8 last season.

Hazell spent two seasons as head coach at Kent State, prior to landing the job at Purdue. But, prior to head coaching, Hazel was wide receiver coach, later assistant head coach, under Jim Tressel at Ohio State from 2004 to 2010, so success on the gridiron is in his resume.

Sophomore QB Danny Etling is expected to start at quarterback today for  the Boilermakers, dispite an ankle injury in last Saturday's 35-13 win over Southern Illinois. He started seven games as a true freshman in 2013.

Purdue ranks seventh in the country in terms of most underclassmen (Fr., R-Fr., So., R-So.) in fall training camps. 70 of the 101 players in Purdue’s camp were sophomores or younger.

Iowa played a very young Pittsburgh team last Saturday. Pitt ranked first in the country in terms of most underclassmen.

Freshmen wide receiver Gregory Phillips had Purdue’s longest reception in week one. Phillips caught one pass for 29 yards in the game’s second quarter.

Sophomore DeAngelo Yancey led the team in receiving yards with 546 as a true freshman in 2013. His total ranked 13th among freshmen in FBS.

Linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley had a career-high nine tackles against Notre Dame in week three. He already has an interception and fumble recovery this season. Bentley is starting for Purdue as a true freshman.

Other contributors are linebacker Gelen Robinson, who picked up his first career sack against Notre Dame. Linebacker Danny Ezechukwu (redshirt freshman) had a half sack also against Notre Dame.

Redshirt freshman running back Keyante Green played half the fourth quarter last week and had a game-high 71 rushing yards on 13 carries. His role could be bigger this week?

Senior Akeem Hunt will start, but senior speedster Reheem Mostert fumbled last week and will not start, which may give Green more opportunities in the B1G opener?

Freshmen Miles Norwood, D.J. Knox, Da’Wan Hunte, Trae Hart, David Yancey, John Strauser, Jason Tretter and Jordan Jurasevich have all also played already this season.

For Iowa, only three true freshmen have played in the first four games of 2014.

Placekicker Mick Ellis is kicking PATs and sharing field goal duties (short FG kicker) with junior Marshall Koehn, who kicked a career long 52 yarder at Pitt last Saturday. 

Linebacker Ben Niemann and strong safety Miles Taylor play primarily special teams, though Niemann was on the field, on the final play at Pitt. As a developmental program under Ferentz the past 16 seasons, Iowa redshirts freshmen more than not. There are exceptions and 2014 is not.

Turnovers will be a key statistic in today's Hawkeyes - Boilermakers game.

 Purdue has forced five turnovers through the first four games and has made the most of them. The Boilermakers have scored a touchdown after each of the five takeaways they have this season.

If Iowa can play a clean game, the Hawkeyes should continue success on the road. But, if Iowa allows Purdue to stay with them, then Iowa may be looking at it's fifth straight one possession game in 2014.

On offense, Purdue has a very effective tight end. Justin Sinz has been one of the Boilermakers’ most consistent pass catchers over the last couple years. The senior caught at least one ball in 16-straight games, all 12 last season, and all four this year.

Another player to watch in the Purdue passing game will be the running back. Iowa has three new starters at running back. Hunt and Mostert have the ability in the passing game, as well.

The Boilermakers have shown improvement in several areas from last season. Iowa has stuggled in all three areas of the game, until the second half at Pitt.

Purdue's junior placekicker Paul Griggs has knocked down six of seven field goals through the first four games, after going six for 12 all of last year. Iowa had problems in the first two weeks of the season, with field goal kicking.

Purdue has nearly doubled its points per game from last season. The Boilermakers are averaging 27.2 points per game through the first four games, after averaging 14.2 a year ago. Iowa's defense has been up and down, depending on which half.

The Boilermakers have scored six rushing touchdowns this season, already matching the total from a year ago. Iowa's defense gave up their first two rushing touchdowns of the season in the first half at Pitt.

Ryan Watson has recorded four sacks this season through the first four games, already surpassing last season’s leader, Bruce Gaston, who had 3.0. Iowa has a strong front four, with junior defensive end Drew Ott leading Iowa with three sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss.

Purdue’s yards-per-game output has increased from 282.9 yards per game last season to 351.0 so far this season. Iowa won 38-14 last season, so what unfolds this season in West Lafayette?

The Boilermakers have returned eight punts for 134 yards this season, compared to nine for 104 all of last year. Iowa has a new punter in junior Dillon Kidd, who is a junior college transfer. Kidd did a good job against a strong punt returner for Pitt.

Purdue is averaging 146.8 yards on the ground per game, up more than double from last season. Iowa's defensive strength is stopping the run led by senior defensive tackles Carl Davis and Louis Trica-Pasat.

The Boilermakers have 134 interception return yards this season, up from 59 from all of last year. Iowa likely has Beathard making his first start, so this will be an interesting match up. Beathard threw two interceptions last year in his 27 passes thrown.

Purdue is converting 43% of its third downs, up 12% from last season. Iowa is higher at 46.7% and the Hawkeyes defense is holding opponents to 35.7%, which favors Iowa. Purdue allows 46.8% on defense, so which team stay ahead in down and distance today?

Purdue has sacked opposing quarterbacks 11 times this season, compared to 14 times from all of last year. This is another area to watch. Iowa's offensive line did not allow a sack at Pitt, but had problems in lone loss of the season.

The Boilermakers have gotten out to faster starts this season, recording 31 first quarter points, compared to 35 all of last year. Iowa got up 14-3 in the first half against Iowa State, but down 10 points at half in comeback wins over Ball State and at Pitt.

Purdue has scored 35 points off turnovers this season, compared to 31 all of last year. Iowa threw an interception last week at Pitt. The defense forced a Pitt punt.

The game of football is one of emotion, momentum and execution. How will each team come out and establish their offense, defense and play in special teams?

Prediction: Iowa 34, Purdue 20, as Hawkeyes arrive in West Lafayette and take care of Purdue in a business-like fashion. However, it is Homecoming, and Iowa's road trip was bumped by plane to a six hour plus bus ride.

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