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Iowa Hawkeyes at Purdue Boilermakers: Preview, Predictions & Prognostications

When: Sat. Oct. 12, 2016; 12:00 pm ET
Where: West Lafayette, IN; Ross-Ade Stadium (57,236)
TV: ESPN2
All-Time Series: Purdue leads 46-37-3
Last Meeting: Iowa 40-20 win in 2015
Line: Iowa (-12.5)

The “Black and Gold” Bowl was a protected cross-over game (for some reason these teams were the leftovers without a natural rival) in the Legends and Leaders division era, so these now-Western division foes have played each other regularly the past few seasons. Darrell Hazell has yet to win a game in this series, which is one of the many reasons he sits fairly atop the hot seat with questions about whether he will return for a fifth season.

However, this game presents a great opportunity for Purdue to do something it has never done under Hazell: win two conference games in a row, and also win two conference games in a season, period. The Hawkeyes come into this game not playing particularly well in the last four weeks, and that could spell a recipe for an upset in Purdue’s home stadium. But can Hazell turn optimism and a thrilling overtime win at Illinois into a winning streak? That remains to be seen.

For Iowa, all of the goals regarding a Big Ten title and a return to Pasadena remain in front of them despite the recent losses to North Dakota State and to Northwestern. With two more wins heading into the bye week (Wisconsin at home next week), Iowa would be well-positioned to have the entire season come down to that home game against Nebraska on Black Friday. A loss here, though, shatters those dreams and makes 7-5 or 6-6 a real possibility.

It’s unpredictable, and likely not pretty, but let’s dive in and see who has the edge!

1 Burning Question: Is Iowa’s Offensive Line healthy enough and effective enough to coast through this game?

Purdue is not great defensively, as evidenced by their inability to slow teams like Maryland, Cincinnati, and even Illinois (with a backup QB) down. Through five games, Purdue ranks 13th in the Big Ten in rushing defense, at 244 yards per game, and 6th in passing defense. One deficiency leading to these numbers has been an inability for the Boilermakers to generate much push and pressure with the defensive line. Despite being stacked with upperclassmen and returning starters, this unit just has not gotten the job done for Hazell’s team.

As bad as Purdue’s defensive front has been, what is more shocking is the problems Iowa has had on their own offensive line, A.K.A., the Kirk Ferentz specialty. The Hawkeyes rank 13th in the conference in rushing offense, generating less than 150 yards per game on the ground despite having a crew of talented running backs led by Akrum Wadley and LeShun Daniels. These problems come from an offensive line that has needed to shift parts around thanks to a lot of injuries in the first half of the 2016 season.

If Iowa is to stand a chance against Wisconsin next week, this unit has to come together and start playing like a normal Iowa O-line, if not the 2015 version. That type of line performance would typically roll over a defensive front like Purdue and dominate the line of scrimmage and time of possession in a game of this caliber. However, until Iowa proves it is healthy and effective on the field, even against overmatched competition, it is hard to have any faith in the Hawkeyes moving forward beyond this weekend’s tilt with the Boilermakers.

2 Key Stats:

— +5 (Iowa) and -6 (Purdue).  That’s the 2016 turnover margin numbers for both teams.  There are not a multitude of statistics where Iowa and Purdue stand well-apart in contrast, but this is one with the Hawkeyes ranking 3rd in the Big Ten and Purdue well-entrenched in last place. It is perhaps more surprising that Iowa does not have a better record considering such a high positive turnover margin, but the bottom line is that the Hawkeyes know how to make big plays, while the Boilermakers give up big plays. If this trend continues to be accurate, the Hawkeyes could end up with a couple more short fields than Purdue, leading to enough “easy points” to make the difference in this road game.

— 95% (Iowa) and 62% (Purdue). That’s the red zone offensive efficiency for these teams.  Another huge distinction between these teams is what they do when entering the red zone with the ball. Iowa scores almost automatically, including an impressive 15 touchdowns in 20 total red zone trips to lead the Big Ten. Purdue struggles to finish the job, thanks in part to a couple of red zone turnovers this season. Once again, if these numbers are accurate, it is a huge edge to the Hawkeyes in a game that may feature limited opportunities, particularly if both teams play evenly. However, if Purdue is to make a run at a bowl game, it will also be evident when statistics like this turn around.

3 Key Players:

Desmond King, Iowa CB/KR: The difference in games like this often comes down to who has the better star playmakers, and Iowa likely has the best player on the field with King. The All-America defender should have opportunities when David Blough is pressured to cause one or two turnovers, but where he may have the best chance to shine is special teams. King is averaging 27.3 yards per return on 15 kickoff returns, so the Boilermakers coverage unit will need to stay disciplined with King bringing the ball out of the end zone. It’s about time King had one of those monster games, and he is due for something like a return touchdown. Purdue beware.

David Blough, Purdue QB: With some help from running back Markell Jones, Blough has led the Boilermakers to be reasonably effective on offense with nearly 430 yards per game in 2016. Plus, Blough is the player with the most effect on whether Purdue can slow down the turnover problems. Dominique Young has emerged as Blough’s favorite target, but they have only connected for one touchdown this season. Iowa generated pressure and sacked Blough a couple of times in last season’s meeting. If Iowa cannot pressure Blough again and force him to make bad decisions which open up the opportunities for guys like Desmond King, then Purdue could very well escape with a winning streak intact on Saturday afternoon.

Akrum Wadley, Iowa RB: Despite LeShun Daniels leading the team in rushing, Wadley seems to be the player who comes up with the big plays at the critical junctures to finish drives and finish off opponents. Wadley has 8 total touchdowns in the six games this season, and this is one of the worst defensive fronts statistically he has played against in 2016. The Boilermaker defense needs to avoid giving up the big plays to Wadley, and that could prove to be difficult as the team wears down in the second half.

 4 Staff Predictions:

Andy: Iowa 38-10
Dave: Iowa 24-14
Phil H.: Iowa 23-17
Philip R.: Iowa 28-21
Zach: TBD

Dave is a FWAA member and a Columnist focusing on Big Ten football for talking10. Before joining talking in 2014, he was a Featured Columnist for three years at Bleacher Report and previously wrote for seven years on SouthernCollegeSports.com. He was born in Hawkeye Country and went to college in Columbus, so there's plenty of B1G running through his blood. Dave is a patent and trademark attorney in his day job. If you have any questions in those areas or about his latest articles, please contact him on Twitter @BuckeyeFitzy.

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