Hawkeye football seeks to bounce back in Boilermaker country

If Iowa wants any shot at representing the West in the Big Ten Championship, those aspirations start with a win against Purdue.

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Hawkeye football seeks to bounce back in Boilermaker country

Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley (4) calls out the coverage during Iowa's game against Penn State at Beaver Stadium on Saturday, October 27, 2018. The Nittany Lions defeated the Hawkeyes 30-24.

Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley (4) calls out the coverage during Iowa's game against Penn State at Beaver Stadium on Saturday, October 27, 2018. The Nittany Lions defeated the Hawkeyes 30-24.

Nick Rohlman

Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley (4) calls out the coverage during Iowa's game against Penn State at Beaver Stadium on Saturday, October 27, 2018. The Nittany Lions defeated the Hawkeyes 30-24.

Nick Rohlman

Nick Rohlman

Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley (4) calls out the coverage during Iowa's game against Penn State at Beaver Stadium on Saturday, October 27, 2018. The Nittany Lions defeated the Hawkeyes 30-24.

Adam Hensley, Pregame Editor

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Iowa’s road to Indianapolis is (for now) straight-forward: The Hawkeyes must win out, and Wisconsin must lose at least once in its remaining four contests.

Even after the Hawkeyes’ 30-24 loss against Penn State, those Big Ten Championship hopes are still realistic, but the first step begins in West Lafayette, Indiana. Iowa and Purdue are deadlocked at 3-2 in conference play, and the winner of Saturday’s game would have a leg up in the race for the West.

“That’s really all we have any control over right now, and [not] to worry about anything else at this point — and it’s pretty simple,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “The more you win, no matter what happens, it’s better …  Bottom line, one thing I’ve learned is there’s no downside to winning games.”

Both the Hawkeyes and Boilermakers have been Jekyll-and-Hyde, but in the opposite way. Iowa has carved up such teams as Minnesota and Indiana with aerial proficiency but then lost to ranked opponents. Meanwhile, Purdue is 2-0 against ranked foes this season but lost to Eastern Michigan (we see you, Tyler Wiegers).

Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm’s squad is better than its record says. A .500 ballclub that, just two weeks ago, throttled Ohio State in 2017-Iowa fashion certainly wasn’t a fluke.

Boilermaker quarterback David Blough is one of the conference’s best; he might not have the national love like Dwayne Haskins or Trace McSorley, but he’s up there statistically. Blough ranks second in the conference in yards (2,350) and yards per attempt (8.4) and fourth in passing touchdowns (13).

Oh, and he’s only thrown 5 interceptions (the only Big Ten quarterback with just as many touchdowns and just 5 picks? Haskins).

He’s got one of the country’s best playmakers as one of his favorite targets, too. Rondale Moore, a freshman wideout, is Purdue’s Swiss Army knife — he’s almost impossible to tackle in open space, and he’s the Boilermakers’ catalyst.

RELATED: Nate Stanley, offense move forward from Penn State loss

“He’s a really talented guy,” Hawkeye safety Jake Gervase said. “The coaches do a really good job of putting him in a good position to make big plays for their offense. It’s going to be a big challenge for us, but it’s something we’re looking forward to.”

In the Boilermaker’s upset over the Buckeyes, Moore had 12 receptions for 170 yards and 2 touchdowns. He also ran the ball twice for 24 yards.

“For a guy who’s a senior, it would be really impressive; to consider him being just out of high school, it’s awfully impressive,” Ferentz said. “So he’s a very dynamic player, very explosive and very, very dangerous in a lot of regards.”

And while Purdue’s offense has shown flashes of potency, the same can’t be said for its passing defense.

The Boilermakers have given up just 1,065 yards on the ground this season (fewer than 4 yards per carry, which is top four in the conference), but aerial attacks have gouged the secondary.

No team in the Big Ten has given up more passing yards than Purdue. The Boilermakers have surrendered 2,393 through the air, and if Iowa wants to re-establish its passing game, now’s the chance.

That starts with quarterback Nate Stanley.

At Tuesday’s player availability, Stanley had his hands in his sweatshirt pockets the whole time. When asked if he was hiding his thumb injury from the Penn State contest, he denied, saying he was just “going with the flow.”

If Iowa wants a win on Saturday, it needs an offensive flow, plain and simple.

The Hawkeyes looked their best this season against Minnesota and Indiana. In those two games, Stanley threw for 634 yards, 10 touchdowns, and completed 62 percent of his throws.

Against Maryland and Penn State, Stanley has thrown for just 291 yards and 1 touchdown, and he has completed only 41 percent of his throws, despite attempting just one pass fewer over this two-game stretch than his performances against Minnesota and Indiana. He’s also thrown 3 interceptions.

But this isn’t the first time Stanley has faced the Purdue defense. The Boilermakers topped the Hawkeyes in Kinnick last season, and while the outcome wasn’t favorable for Iowa, the experience does provide players with an added confidence in round two.

“You get more comfortable on the field the second time you play a team,” Stanley said. “It’s definitely a big advantage.”

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