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Leistikow's Iowa-Purdue prediction: How Hawkeyes can conquer rain, wind and the Boilers

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. − Even before Iowa’s 2022 football season began, there was a segment of the fan base that mentally circled the game Nov. 5 at Purdue as the most important of the year to win.

The Hawkeyes’ 1-4 record vs. Jeff Brohm was an obvious starting sore spot. Then the acrimonious, late-May transfer of Charlie Jones to Iowa's Big Ten West Division rivals added to the animosity.

That bad blood also extends inside Iowa's coaching staff, as the Hawkeyes and Boilermakers have clashed on the recruiting trail for Indiana prospects. (In the Class of 2023, Purdue won four head-to-head battles and Iowa won two.) There’s extra juice among Hawkeye players for this one, too. They don’t want to be on the losing side against ex-wide receiver teammates Jones and Tyrone Tracy Jr. Saturday at Ross-Ade Stadium. Back in July, tight end Sam LaPorta acknowledged that “some of the offseason stuff will definitely play into” Iowa’s motivation to beat Purdue. This week, the Hawkeyes kept their quotes tepid, and so did the Boilers. An off-field calm before the on-field storm?

Can the Hawkeyes win at Purdue for the first time since 2016? Absolutely. But it’ll require a second straight three-phase game. Time to lean on the text-group subscribers for three questions to preview this escalated grudge match.

Would the expected rain/wind benefit Iowa and slow down Purdue's passing attack?

As of Friday, the forecast for Saturday morning in West Lafayette was a 60% chance of rain and − more importantly − southerly winds of 20-30 mph with gusts up to 50 mph.

Well, we know Iowa already has experience in crazy weather (Iowa State, heavy downpour; Nevada, rain and lightning delays). And it’s a good question, considering Purdue is known for a prolific aerial attack behind quarterback Aidan O’Connell, who averages 324.3 passing yards per game.

Last year in the rain on its Bermuda grass home field vs. Minnesota, Purdue was out of sorts in a 20-13 loss. That sounds encouraging for Iowa if there's wet weather Saturday, although Purdue did still manage to throw for 371 yards that day and outgain the Gophers, 448-294.

The bigger impact might come from the wind. And that’s where it could become advantage Purdue. The Boilermakers’ passing game is predicated on quick reads and accurate balls from O’Connell (67.8% for his career). This is not a big-play Purdue offense. In contrast, Iowa’s passing game is unreliable, and Purdue’s rush defense has actually been better than you might expect (103 yards allowed per game in Big Ten play). So, the Hawkeyes’ young offensive line won’t have an easy time leaning on the run game.

As always with the weather, it can be unpredictable. But it looks like it’ll be a factor Saturday.

More:Leistikow: Is Iowa football's offensive line as 'soft' as ESPN report suggested?

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Does Iowa play the same defense it played against Ohio State? Can Iowa rush four and get consistent QB pressure?

So, I merged two questions here but they go hand in hand with defending Purdue’s vaunted passing attack (314.3 yards per game).

Against Ohio State, the Hawkeyes used a lot of single-high safety looks, which allowed defensive backs to get involved in stopping the run and covering the Buckeyes’ array of talented wide receivers. That provided more risk in giving up big plays, but helped Iowa to curtail short/medium crossing routes, too. There’s some merit in replicating much of that game plan because defensive coordinator Phil Parker will want to bottle up Purdue running back Devin Mockabee (three 100-yard games in Big Ten play, 5.4 per carry overall). If the Hawkeyes can make Purdue one-dimensional, that could create predictable situations ... and turnover opportunities.

As for getting consistent QB pressure with four, that's unlikely. Hawkeye defensive assistant Jay Niemann said Wednesday that Purdue gets rid of the football so quickly that it’s difficult to get sacks (just 13 allowed with 357 pass attempts). Defending Purdue requires alternative approaches.

“A lot of (Purdue opponents) are rushing three guys and dropping eight into coverage,” Niemann said. “If you can’t get disruption in the passing game through the rush, then you’ve got to do it through the coverage by getting your hands on people, whether it being rolled-up coverages or press coverages or whatever."

Iowa does have a smaller, athletic defensive line, which allows Parker to consider dropping guys like Lukas Van Ness, Joe Evans or John Waggoner into passing lanes while blitzing a linebacker or even defensive back. Look for Parker to throw some wrinkles like that at Brohm, considering the past plans haven't worked.

More:How can Iowa's defense finally stifle Purdue's offense? Let's examine the matchup

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What can Iowa’s offense do well against Purdue’s defense?

This questioner made the sharp observation that Iowa’s offensive struggles last season began with the 24-7 Homecoming loss to Purdue in which Spencer Petras threw four interceptions. So, yeah, the Boilers did paralyze and expose the Hawkeyes a year ago. A lot of last year's issues had to do with Iowa’s inability to stop pass rusher George Karlaftis; thankfully for the Hawkeyes, he’s now tormenting quarterbacks in the AFC West as a member of the Kansas City Chiefs.

In its 35-24 win over Purdue two weeks ago, Wisconsin found success by rolling Graham Mertz out and exploiting a gimpy Boilermakers secondary. Arm strength is one of Petras' best attributes, so taking a few deep shots (even in the wind) might help open up the Hawkeyes’ run game (as was the case for Wisconsin). Petras’ career high in passing remains his first-ever Hawkeye start – 2020 at Purdue, when he was 22 of 39 for 265 yards. And now, Petras is coming off one of the best games of his three-year starting career (21-for-30, 220 yards vs. Northwestern).

Iowa’s best path to offensive success is through the air. Look for LaPorta and Nico Ragaini to have plenty of motivation in the home stretch of their senior seasons.

More:Leistikow's 4 Iowa-Purdue thoughts: Charlie Jones' transfer dominates pregame talk

Iowa (4-4, 2-3 Big Ten) at Purdue (5-3, 3-2)

Time, TV, Tipico Sportsbook line: 11 a.m. CT Saturday, Fox Sports 1, Purdue by 4 points

Where Iowa has the edge: Look back at the Hawkeyes' secondary struggles vs. Purdue, and a lot of them have to do with injuries or youth at cornerback. But Iowa has two healthy, outstanding corners in Riley Moss and Cooper DeJean, not to mention reliable help at safety in Quinn Schulte and Kaevon Merriweather. This will be by far the best defense Purdue has seen all season.

Where Purdue has the edge: Coming off an idle week for a second straight year vs. Iowa gives Brohm a chance to find the Hawkeyes' soft spots. This might be the most-balanced Brohm-coached offense that Iowa has faced. Purdue also has one of the best red-zone defenses in the country, and field goals from Drew Stevens might not be enough for the Hawkeyes to keep pace.

Prediction: Iowa 20, Purdue 17. The Hawkeyes create multiple Purdue turnovers, and LaPorta scores his first touchdown of the season to outduel Payne Durham in a battle of the Big Ten's top tight ends.

More:Here's what Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz said in his press conference before facing Purdue

Saturday's other Big Ten games

(All times CT, lines from Tipico Sportsbook)

Last week: 3-2 vs. the spread (Season: 34-33)

Minnesota (5-3, 2-3) at Nebraska (3-5, 2-3)

Time, TV, line: 11 a.m., ESPN2, Minnesota by 15½

Prediction: Nebraska quarterback Casey Thompson is a "game-time decision" with an arm injury; this inflated line indicates he probably won't play. Minnesota's Mohamed Ibrahim should have little problem recording his 17th straight game with 100-plus rushing yards. With the Big Ten West pipe dream over, what motivation do the Huskers find amid a rugged November schedule? Minnesota 31, Nebraska 17

No. 2 Ohio State (8-0, 5-0) at Northwestern (1-7, 1-4)

Time, TV, line: 11 a.m., ABC, Ohio State by 38

Prediction: The Buckeyes may have a natural letdown after their big road win at Penn State. Still, considering Ohio State won by 44 points facing an excellent Iowa defense, how ugly could it get against one of the worst defenses in the Big Ten? C.J. Stroud might be able to work a half-day and turn the keys over to Kyle McCord at halftime. Ohio State 59, Northwestern 14

Maryland (6-2, 3-2) at Wisconsin (4-4, 2-3)

Time, TV, line: 11 a.m., BTN, Wisconsin by 4½

Prediction: Maryland is averaging 40.3 points in true road games dating back to last Nov. 14, second-most in FBS in that span. And get this: Maryland only committed one turnover in October. Coming off an idle week, here's guessing interim Wisconsin coach Jim Leonhard has a good defensive game plan cooked up for Taulia Tagovailoa and Co. Wisconsin 27, Maryland 24

Michigan State (3-5, 1-4) at No. 13 Illinois (7-1, 4-1)

Time, TV, line: 2:30 p.m., BTN, Illinois by 17½

Prediction: On the off chance Iowa wins out and forces a three-way tie at 6-3 in the West Division with Illinois and Purdue, the Illini would win the divisional tiebreaker. So, the Hawkeyes need Illinois to lose this one or in the finale at Northwestern (in addition to Purdue and Michigan in the next two weeks) to have a shot. Considering Michigan State is in disarray after suspending eight players following a tunnel brawl at Michigan, this will be another checkmark on Illinois' march to the Big Ten title game. Illinois 34, Michigan State 7

No. 16 Penn State (6-2, 3-2) at Indiana (3-5, 1-4)

Time, TV, line: 2:30 p.m., ABC, Penn State by 14

Prediction: The Nittany Lions are banged up on their offensive line after a 60-minute fight against Ohio State, which is keeping the line within two scores. But Indiana is in disarray with five straight losses and is mulling a quarterback change. Penn State 28, Indiana 17

No. 4 Michigan (8-0, 5-0) at Rutgers (4-4, 1-4)

Time, TV, line: 6:30 p.m., BTN, Michigan by 26

Prediction: The Wolverines were forced into a three-overtime game at Rutgers two years ago. They're on a steady mission this time with an elite offensive line, running game and defense − all of which travel well. Michigan 41, Rutgers 7

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 28 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.