Iowa secondary burned by Purdue WR David Bell for second year in a row

The sophomore wide receiver has 26 receptions for 318 yards and four touchdowns in two career games against the Hawkeyes.

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West Lafayette, Indiana, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes defensive back Matt Hankins (8) intercepts the ball in front of Purdue Boilermakers wide receiver Amad Anderson Jr. (10) in the second quarter at Ross-Ade Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. (Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY).

Robert Read, Pregame Editor


WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Purdue was without its head coach on Saturday, and the team’s best player wasn’t active. But in the final minutes of the opening game of the season, that didn’t seem to faze the Boilermakers.

Facing a third-and-5 at the Iowa six-yard line with two minutes and 19 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, the Boilermakers trailed the Hawkeyes by three. Purdue quarterback Aidan O’Connell took the shotgun snap, surveyed the field, then fired a pass to a wide-open David Bell in the back of the end zone. It was the third time the duo connected on a scoring strike in the game.

For Iowa, it was one too many. Bell’s reception proved to be the game-winner, as Iowa couldn’t respond with a go-ahead score of its own and lost 24-20 in West Lafayette.

“Bell’s just an outstanding player,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “In my opinion he’s one of the best receivers we’ve faced in 21-plus years. He gave us a hard time last year and the same thing happened. He’s really tough to cover — a good receiver who knows how to get open. But he can run really well with the ball too. He’s a strong, physical guy. It’s really tough to keep him under wraps.”

Ferentz said a miscommunication between members of Iowa’s defense allowed Bell to maneuver his way to the back of the end zone and find open space.

Bell lined up in the slot to the right on the play. Iowa linebacker Barrington Wade — who finished the game with five tackles, a sack, and an interception — was lined up over him. Wade attempted to jam Bell off the line of scrimmage, but then let the sophomore roam free behind him.

“I’m not sure we had the right matchups coverage-wise,” Ferentz said. “I think [Wade] in coverage thought he had a little bit of help inside. So for whatever reason there was some miscommunication there.”

After tallying 13 receptions for 197 yards and a score against Iowa as a freshman last season, Bell caught 13 more passes for 121 yards and three touchdowns against the Hawkeyes on Saturday.

Bell isn’t even Purdue’s top receiver. All-American Rondale Moore was ruled out for the game Friday for an undisclosed reason. The team’s head coach, Jeff Brohm, also wasn’t with the team Saturday after testing positive for COVID-19 last week.

Overall, Purdue threw for 282 passing yards against Iowa. The Boilermakers had success running the ball in the second half as well, which took some pressure off of Purdue’s air attack.

“We weren’t real focused on the defensive side,” cornerback Matt Hankins said. “Could have played better, had better communication.”

Iowa linebackers Jack Campbell, the team’s starting “Mike” and Seth Benson both missed Saturday’s game. Ferentz said postgame that Campbell has mononucleosis. An explanation wasn’t given for Benson’s absence or for defensive tackle Austin Schulte’s.

The loss of starters from the lineup combined with the short preseason training period may have contributed to some of Iowa’s defensive errors.

“It might be unfortunate if you don’t have a lot of time to get certain combinations of guys in the game, but it doesn’t really matter,” linebacker Nick Niemann said. “Whatever we’re asked to do, we have to go out and do it. And myself and whoever else is in there, it falls on all of us. It wasn’t good enough.”

This is Iowa’s first loss to open a season since 2013. The Hawkeyes closed in on 500 yards of total offense, but penalties (10 of them), turnovers (two), and a seemingly-endless number of big plays to Bell prevented the team from starting the season with a victory.

“[Bell] is a good player, obviously one of the best wide receivers in the Big Ten,” Niemann said. “You know he’s going to go out there and make plays. I don’t think it’s really anyone’s fault that they threw the ball like they did. It comes down to physicality, communication, fundamentals. I think there’s a lot of things that we need to get better at, obviously.”

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