The Journal Gazette
Friday, October 15, 2021 1:00 am

Boilers face tough task at No. 2 Iowa

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

Purdue has had success against Iowa during coach Jeff Brohm's tenure.

The Boilermakers beat Iowa to keep their bowl hopes alive in 2017, defeated the then-No. 19 Hawkeyes on a last-second field goal in 2018 and ran Brohm's record to 3-1 against Purdue's Big Ten West rival when they handed Iowa one of its two losses in 2020.

Getting to 4-1 will be a much more formidable task. The Hawkeyes enter Saturday's matchup at Kinnick Stadium undefeated, coming off a win over Penn State that catapulted them to the No. 2 ranking in the country, their highest perch since 1985. 

Iowa (6-0, 3-0 Big Ten) has built its unblemished mark on the strength of a defense that does one thing better than anyone: take the ball away. The Hawkeyes have forced 20 turnovers, the most in the country. Sixteen of those takeaways have been interceptions, another nation-leading figure. 

“Our first year (2017), we went down there and threw a couple balls over their head. Well, they don't allow that anymore,” Brohm said. “And they're very good against the run, even with a limited box. They're going to line up to stop the pass and still be able to play the run. 

“When you go to throw the ball, if anything gets out of whack or you have to get rid of it faster than you want, their eyes are glued on the quarterback and they make picks.”

Iowa's secondary might be marginally less formidable this week because cornerback Riley Moss, who is tied for the national lead with four interceptions, is dealing with a knee injury and isn't listed on the team's depth chart.

Still, Purdue quarterback Aidan O'Connell will need to play a disciplined game to avoid costly turnovers. The former walk-on quarterback usurped the starting job from Jack Plummer two weeks ago and threw for 371 yards on 7.1 yards per attempt in a 20-13 loss to Minnesota on Oct. 2.

“(Playing Iowa) is not a time where you try a bunch of things you haven't tried before,” said O'Connell, who threw three touchdowns, all to wide receiver David Bell, and two interceptions in a 21-20 win over Iowa last season. “It's a time to revert back to your fundamentals and stay within yourself. ... So taking care of the ball, but also being aggressive and taking chances. That's the whole point of playing quarterback, you have to find the sweet spot.”

Purdue (3-2, 1-1) had a bye last week after the Golden Gophers, a game that saw the Boilermakers pick up 28 first downs to 12 for Minnesota and outgain the Gophers by nearly 150 yards. 

What hurt Purdue against Minnesota was its red-zone offense. The Boilermakers settled for field goals three times in four trips inside the 20. The Boilers rank 90th in the country in red zone scoring percentage and seven of their 17 scores have been field goals.

Taking advantage of red-zone chances was a central focus of the bye week.

“It's cost us,” Brohm said of the red-zone issues this season. “It's cost us a great deal.”

Notes: Top cornerback Cory Trice will miss the rest of the season with a knee injury, Brohm announced Thursday. Trice has missed the last three games with an ankle injury, but was trending toward playing Saturday before getting hurt again. ... Purdue will be short-handed at receiver after Brohm announced that redshirt sophomore Mershawn Rice (six catches, 69 yards, one touchdown) and redshirt freshman Abdur-Rahmaan Yaseen (five catches, 93 yards, all in the last two games) are out for the season with injuries. ... Brohm said tight end Payne Durham (18 catches, 209 yards, three TDs) “should be ready to play” after missing the Minnesota game in concussion protocol. ... The Boilers are “not optimistic” starting running back Zander Horvath (leg) will be able to play this week.

Purdue at No. 2 Iowa

When: 3:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Kinnick Stadium, Iowa City, Iowa

Records: Purdue (3-2, 1-1 Big Ten), No. 2 Iowa (6-0, 3-0)


Radio: 1380 AM, 100.9 FM

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