Opinion | How Iowa responds to Purdue loss will mark turning point of 2021 season

The Hawkeyes’ loss to Purdue can either be a blemish on an otherwise successful season, or a loss that starts Iowa down a disappointing path.

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Jerod Ringwald

Iowa wide receiver Tyrone Tracy Jr. walks off the field after a football game between No. 2 Iowa and Purdue at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021. The Boilermakers defeated the Hawkeyes 24-7. (Jerod Ringwald/The Daily Iowan)

Robert Read, Pregame Editor


The Purdue football Twitter account tweeted, “We just beat the No. 2 out of Iowa” seconds after the Boilermakers’ 24-7 upset win over the then-No. 2 Hawkeyes on Saturday.

That’s a nice way of putting it. Another was that the Hawkeyes played like No. 2 in Week 7 — thank Twitter for that one, too. Beyond all the cute puns, Iowa dropping its first game of the season in embarrassing fashion is a pretty good indication that the Hawkeyes are far from being the second-best team in the nation right now.

And, heading into the bye week, this loss could either be a blemish on what turns out to be an otherwise successful season for the Hawkeyes, or the start of a downward trend that leads to a disappointing closing stretch to what was once a hopeful campaign.

That’s for the Hawkeyes to decide.

“When stuff like this happens, you can’t freak out,” Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum said. “There’s a reason why we have six wins.”

There’s a reason Iowa has one loss, too.

Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras threw four interceptions against Purdue. The running game — aside from a couple runs by running back Tyler Goodson for chunk yardage — was contained throughout the game. Even back-to-back quarterback sneak attempts were stuffed.

The Hawkeyes tied the game at 7-7 in the second quarter but were outscored 17-0 over the rest of the game.

And Iowa’s defense wasn’t there to rescue the offense this time around. Defensive coordinator Phil Parker still can’t seem to solve his defense’s David Bell issue. The Purdue wide receiver torched the Hawkeye secondary for a Kinnick Stadium record 240 receiving yards. The Boilermaker offense gained 462 total yards, including 378 through the air.

Special teams contributed to the loss, too. Iowa kicker Caleb Shudak missed a short field goal early in the game, and never had a chance to make up for it.

By the end of the game, Purdue players were parading around the midfield Tigerhawk logo while Iowa players looked defeated on their way back to the locker room.

“Basically, they outdid us in every category,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “[Losses] never taste good or feel good, but you have to get back on your feet and go back to work.”

This was Iowa’s first double-digit loss in its last 36 games, and its first time not winning a game in general in its last 12 contests. The Boilermakers have beaten the Hawkeyes in four of the last five games between the teams.

RELATED: Purdue wide receiver David Bell burns Iowa’s secondary for third year in a row

The Purdue loss exposed some of Iowa’s problems — particularly on offense. Offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz’s unit ranks last or near the bottom of the Big Ten in yards per play, yards per game, rushing yards per game, and third down percentage. In other words, when Iowa’s defense isn’t forcing multiple turnovers per game and giving the offense good field position to work with, the Hawkeyes are in trouble.

Even before the loss, Ferentz had discussed throughout the last seven weeks that this season was going to be split into two parts — before and after the bye week. The seven-game chunk of the season is over. Iowa sits at 6-1.

Heading into the season, I think most Iowa fans would have been alright with that record at the bye week. But after the heights the team reached just last week? This is one of the more disappointing Iowa losses in recent memory.

Iowa is at the complete opposite end of the spectrum after last week’s win over Penn State in a top-five matchup. After the surreal nature of winning perhaps the marquee game of the college football season, Iowa lost a dud at home to an inferior team as a double-digit point favorite.

It isn’t unheard of for Iowa to have a performance against this after a huge win, though.

Ferentz recalled the 1983 season during his postgame press conference. At the time, Ferentz was an assistant coach under Hayden Fry, and the Hawkeyes lost 33-0 to Illinois a week after upsetting No. 3 Ohio State. As far as a more recent example, Iowa was embarrassed in Camp Randall Stadium (losing 38-14 to Wisconsin, with both touchdowns being scored on Josh Jackson pick sixes) in a humbling loss the week after shocking No. 3 Ohio State, 55-24.

“That’s why teams don’t go undefeated too often,” Ferentz said. “That’s everybody. Alabama went down. I’m not comparing us to Alabama by any stretch, but that’s a tough thing, especially about conference football play.”

Ferentz’s point in going back several decades was meant, I think, to highlight that even good teams (Iowa finished 9-3 in 1983) have low points. This is certainly a low point for the previously top-five Hawkeyes. It’s also a turning point in the season.

Petras said after the game that all of Iowa’s goals are still attainable after the loss. Well, minus going undefeated. All things considered, Iowa is still the heavy favorite in the West. A Big Ten Championship is still a possibility. Will it stay a possibility?

Iowa will answer that question over a five-week stretch, starting on Oct. 30 against Wisconsin.

“If somebody would have told us at the beginning of the season that after seven [games] we’d be 6-1, we’d have been upset,” safety Jack Koerner said. “Obviously, with this one coming as late as it did, we have a bad taste in our mouths … At the end of the day, we’re 6-1. We’re going into the bye week and are going to fix the things that need to be fixed.

“A five-game season starts from that point on.”


Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.

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