Iowa football notebook | Hawkeyes preparing for Purdue passing attack, Terry Roberts unlikely to play Saturday

During his weekly press conference on Tuesday, Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz talked about Purdue’s offense and the status of cornerback Terry Roberts.


Daniel McGregor-Huyer

Iowa Head Coach Kirk Ferentz stands for the National Anthem during a football game between Northwestern and Iowa at Kinnick Stadium on Oct. 29, 2022. Iowa defeated Northwestern, 33-13.

Austin Hanson, Pregame Editor

Purdue football has been a thorn Iowa’s side since 2017. The Hawkeyes have lost four of their last five matchups with the Boilermakers.

Purdue has outscored Iowa 26-21 during that stretch. The Boilermakers have averaged  309.8 passing and 402.4 total yards in their last five games with the Hawkeyes. The lowest yardage total Purdue has posted against Iowa since 2017 is 294.

Iowa has averaged 234.2 passing and 310.4 total yards against Purdue in the last five years. Not counting 2022, the Hawkeyes have held their opponents to about 321 yards and 17.5 points per game over the past five seasons.

The Hawkeyes will travel to West Lafayette in search of their first win against the Boilermakers since 2019 on Saturday. Iowa strong safety Kaevon Merriweather attributed the Boilermakers’ recent run of dominance in the series to their game planning.

“They do a wonderful job in preparing for us,” Merriweather said. “I think they bring in wrinkles and ways to counter the type of defense we have. I think they’ve had success doing that. I think just calling plays at the right time is things that they’ve been able to do to have success against us. I don’t want to say they completely dominated us during the entire game, but it’s those five or six plays they have that create those big play moments.”

Merriweather added that wide receiver David Bell, who is now with the NFL’s Cleveland Browns, helped the Boilermakers create big plays against the Hawkeyes.

Bell accumulated 37 catches for 558 yards and five touchdowns in three career games against Iowa. In each of their last five games against the Hawkeyes, the Boilermakers have had at least one receiver total more than 125 yards.

“Just that style of offense and as much as they do pass, I don’t think it’s like any other team in the Big Ten, really,” Merriweather said. “I think it’s really going to come down to us making sure we’re sound on what we’re doing as DBs.”

Purdue’s leading receiver this season is Iowa transfer Charlie Jones. Since he left Iowa in May, Jones has hauled in 72 passes for 840 yards and nine touchdowns. Jones racked up 21 receptions for 323 yards and three touchdowns during the Hawkeyes’ 2021 campaign. He was also named Big Ten Return Specialist of the Year last season.

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said Jones improved as a wide receiver during the Hawkeyes’ spring practices, which has allowed him to flourish at Purdue.

I would argue he’s a much better player than he was. I thought he was much better at the end of spring practice as a receiver,” Ferentz said. “Upper echelon return guy. He’s been really good. Obviously, that was very evident going back to early 2020. But he’s really progressed as a receiver. Not saying he was a bad receiver then, but he’s a much better one, much better in April.”

Ferentz added Jones has helped the Boilermakers fill the void left by Bell’s departure.

But Purdue quarterback Aidan O’Connell hasn’t just been targeting Jones this season. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound senior has thrown for 2,270 yards and 15 touchdowns.

“He’s an outstanding passer, he’s experienced,” Ferentz said of O’Connell. “He’s a six-year player. He’s had great success against really good competition … I don’t want to say he’s the best passer in the conference, but he’s certainly in the top echelon.”

Merriweather said the Hawkeyes’ third and fourth-string quarterbacks, Joe Labas and Carson May, have been simulating the way O’Connell runs Purdue’s offense this week.

“Our scout team, they’re doing a wonderful job,” Merriweather said. “You know, our scout team understands completely the type of challenge we have. I think our receivers are running the routes really, really well. I think our running backs are running hard, our O-line is giving us a great look. The quarterbacks are doing a great job of sending the ball down the field.”

Roberts, Johnson unlikely to play against Purdue

Starting cornerback Terry Roberts and wide receiver Keagan Johnson were not listed on the depth chart Iowa released on Monday. 

Roberts has missed three games this season with a nagging lower body injury. Johnson has been absent in seven of the eight contests the Hawkeyes have played in this year. 

Ferentz said Johnson has dealt with a number of ailments this season, including a hamstring injury. Sophomore Arland Bruce and redshirt freshman Brody Brecht will start at wide receiver for Iowa this week. Senior Nico Ragaini and sophomore Diante Vines were listed as backups on the Hawkeyes’ Week 10 depth chart.

Sophomore Cooper DeJean has been filling in for Roberts at left corner. Before Roberts went down, DeJean was starting at cash in place of junior Jestin Jacobs — who sustained a season-ending injury during Iowa’s 27-10 win over Rutgers on Sept. 24. 

Senior Seth Benson is now listed as the Hawkeyes’ starting cash. He was Iowa’s starting Will linebacker while Roberts and Jacobs were healthy. Junior Jay Higgins has taken over Benson’s spot at Will in the Hawkeyes’ starting lineup.

Ferentz did not provide return-to-play timetables for Roberts or Johnson. Though, he did note backup offensive lineman Gennings Dunker might take the field against Purdue. Dunker hasn’t played since Iowa lost to Illinois, 9-6, on Oct. 8 in Champaign.