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Leistikow's 5 thoughts off Iowa's 24-3 win at Purdue: Revenge tastes sweet

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. − Not long ago, ESPN's Bill Connelly came out with analytics that suggested the Iowa offense would have been better off punting on first down than trying to advance the ball in a blowout loss at Ohio State.

Two weeks later, put a steady 21 mph wind into the Hawkeyes' face ... and watch them light up the scoreboard. (Well, at least by Iowa standards.)

Iowa uncorked a big-play offense and scored in bunches to overwhelm Purdue, 24-3, on a wind-whipped Saturday at Ross-Ade Stadium.

For the second straight week, the much-maligned Hawkeye offense looked good. And give credit to the Hawkeye defense, which bottled up a high-powered Purdue passing attack with a mix of pass-rush excellence and interceptions by Kaevon Merriweather and Seth Benson.

Iowa scored all 24 of its points while going into the wind, including 17 during a stretch of about eight minutes to start the second quarter. Spencer Petras connected with Sam LaPorta on a 16-yard touchdown pass to open the scoring, and then hit a 29-yard touchdown to Nico Ragaini just 90 seconds later for a 14-0 lead with 12:53 left in the second quarter.

For an offense that had seven offensive TDs in the season's first seven games, that felt like an offensive explosion.

“Offensively, I would not have predicted all our points would happen going into (the wind),” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “But I’m glad they did. I think some of that’s mental toughness. Our guys just didn’t let that bother them.”

More important, the Hawkeyes got the Purdue problem off their backs, at least for one year. Jeff Brohm's Boilermakers came into Kinnick Stadium a year ago and spoiled the second-ranked Hawkeyes' 6-0 start to the season with a 24-7 victory, his fourth win in five tries against Ferentz. In this one, Iowa came in as a 4-point underdog and made sure it left its mark in Ross-Ade Stadium.

Iowa gained 360 yards through the first three quarters when this game was in question and finished with 376, letting its defense salt this away as Purdue tried to go into the wind in the fourth quarter. Freshman running back Kaleb Johnson ran 22 times for 200 yards, including a 75-yard run on the second play of the third quarter to give Iowa a 24-3 lead. He's the first Iowa back since Akrum Wadley in 2015 to reach the 200 mark in a game.

In the process, Iowa improved to 5-4 overall and 3-3 in Big Ten Conference play. Three straight trophy games remain, and anybody who watched this performance Saturday would have a hard time saying the Hawkeyes won't have a chance in all three matchups vs. Wisconsin (home), Minnesota (road) and Nebraska (home).

“No offense to anyone in here, you guys had us dead two weeks ago, as did the whole outside world, it felt like," said Petras, who finished 13-for-23 for 190 yards with two touchdowns and no turnovers. "But that’s not what football is. It’s a week-to-week game. You keep working, and if you do things right, work hard, good results happen. The last two weeks I think are proof of that, but obviously there’s still three games left. Our mission is to continue to improve, keep it rolling and keep the momentum going.”

Purdue, meanwhile, owns an identical record (5-4, 3-3) as Iowa with a trip to West Division leader Illinois next. The Boilermakers sold out their stadium Saturday with hopes of proving they were division-title contenders. They may regroup, but Iowa on this day showed that it has the better team and now heads into the home stretch with some well-earned momentum.

“I don’t know if we really worry all too much about the outside opinion, but we feel like it’s kind of a snowball effect," LaPorta said. "We’ve got some momentum rolling. I can’t wait to see what we do ahead. I think our best football is in front of us.”

Riley Moss will be 'friends for life' with Purdue's Charlie Jones
Jones caught 11 passes for 106 yards on 19 targets but the Hawkeyes held Purdue to three points.
Chad Leistikow, Hawk Central

Charlie Jones got his stats for Purdue, but Iowa got the last laugh.

To see how Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker was going to defend Jones, a three-year Iowa receiver who transferred to Purdue in late May, was going to be interesting. And as the day unfolded, it was clear that it was going to be a team effort – in part by Purdue’s design. Jeff Brohm lined up Jones on the outside, inside, right and left. It was up to all the Hawkeyes to slow him down. And Parker trusted his guys with more man-to-man coverage than his usual zone-heavy scheme.

"What hurt us in the past was when we get in three-deep zone and they just hit little dinks and dunks around the field," cornerback Riley Moss said. "We played a lot ... tighter coverage, and the D-line was able to get to work today, too. I think our game plan was the best it’s been against them.”

On Purdue’s second play of the game, Jones burned Seth Benson for 6 easy yards on a quick out from the slot position. Iowa didn’t allow much more linebacker coverage on Jones after that. On that same drive, Iowa brought in freshman T.J. Hall, and Jones was targeted on that third-down play that went incomplete.

On Purdue’s second drive, Jones drew a defensive holding flag on Moss. (For some reason that was never explained, officials marked off 15 yards against Iowa instead of 10.)

“Anything they tried to do," Merriweather said, "we had a great plan to stop it.”

Jones connected on his first big play of the day, a 41-yarder over the middle to beat the coverage of Cooper DeJean. Iowa had cheated up its safeties with Purdue backed up at its own 4-yard line, and quarterback Aidan O’Connell recognized the opportunity and threw a nice deep ball into the wind. Jones, who has expressed no animosity toward Iowa, was subdued in his celebrations on Saturday − probably out of respect for his former teammates.

Jones was certainly a factor, finishing with 11 catches for 104 yards on an incredible 19 targets. Six of those catches for 78 yards came in the first half, when Iowa bolted to a 17-3 lead.

Moss crunched Jones on a perfect form tackle early in the third quarter to stop him for a gain of 3 yards. Moss claims there was no trash talk after that hit.

“I looked at him," Moss said. "But my dad says, ‘Act like you’ve been there before.’ So, I acted like I’ve been there before.”

Later in that series, on a third-and-long, Moss was lined up one-on-one, with Merriweather over the top on that side of the field to offer safety help. O’Connell tried to throw to Jones anyway, but the ball was harmlessly incomplete and Purdue punted.

Someone plugged in with Purdue told me before the game that this Boilermakers offense would’ve fallen apart without Jones. That person was pretty much spot-on. When Jones wasn’t involved, Purdue had a tough time getting any traction Saturday. O'Connell repeatedly looked for Jones, and he didn't have much help. Iowa's defensive line, led by Lukas Van Ness and Deontae Craig, took advantage. O'Connell finished 20-for-43 for 168 yards, threw two picks and was sacked three times.

Incidentally, the other Iowa transfer – Tyrone Tracy Jr. – finished with no catches and one rushing attempt for five yards. Tracy suffered a clean, hard hit from Sebastian Castro on a third-down pass in the third quarter, causing the throw to fall incomplete. Tracy looked shaken up as he left the field.

Merriweather said he was able to talk to Jones and Tracy after the game.

"I didn't say nothing," Merriweather said, laughing and knowing he didn't have to. The scoreboard said everything they needed to know.

Purdue came into Saturday having scored at least 20 points in 14 straight games. Against the Hawkeyes, it managed just three.

Sam LaPorta sees 'snowball effect' of Iowa offense as winds howl
Iowa tight end Sam LaPorta had three catches for 71 yards and a touchdown in a 24-3 win at Purdue.
Chad Leistikow, Hawk Central

Sam LaPorta made a case for first-team all-Big Ten on Saturday.

LaPorta and Purdue’s Payne Durham came into the day 1-2 in the conference in catches for tight ends, but LaPorta had zero touchdown grabs to Durham’s four.

That changed early in the second quarter, as LaPorta snagged his first TD reception of the season − though it wasn’t his first of 2022. This was the senior tight end’s first score since rumbling for a long touchdown on a designed screen pass in Iowa’s 20-17 Citrus Bowl loss to Kentucky on Jan. 1.

On Saturday, LaPorta made a game-turning catch for the Hawkeyes. In a 0-0 score after Iowa’s defense had forced three Purdue punts, the Hawkeyes took over at their own 9-yard line late in the first quarter. On a second-and-7, Petras threw a perfectly placed deep ball to LaPorta for 41 yards that flipped the field and momentum. LaPorta would catch 30 more yards of passes on that scoring drive – the first a 14-yard grab on a third-and-8 conversion, then on a 16-yard crossing route for a touchdown on the very next play.

That ball was one of Petras’ best balls of the day, perfectly placing the pass between three Purdue defenders. LaPorta caught the ball inside the 5 and easily got into the end zone for a 7-0 Iowa lead.

"We kind of caught them checking into a different defense," Petras said. "They must have busted coverage-wise, because no one was near Sam. That was easy. Just don’t miss him, and get into the end zone."

LaPorta this season already surpassed Marv Cook as the program’s all-time leader in tight-end receptions (139). LaPorta (1,587 yards) has a decent shot to chase down Cook’s 1,825 yards amassed in the late 1980s before his Hawkeye career is done. Ferentz, of course, coached as an assistant during Cook's time at Iowa and said LaPorta is in good company.

“He competes as hard as anybody on the field," Ferentz said. "And it’s been that way since he’s been here."

Spencer Petras outlines why Iowa's offense had success at Purdue
Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras completed 13 of 23 passes for 192 yards with two touchdowns in a 24-3 win vs. Purdue.
Chad Leistikow, Hawk Central

More growth from the quarterback and offensive line.

Last week's 33-13 win against Northwestern was an offensive breakthrough of sorts, with a season-high 398 yards. Iowa would've easily eclipsed that Saturday but got conservative with a big lead and was held to 16 total yards on 10 fourth-quarter snaps. Anybody complaining about the fourth-quarter offense needs to realize the only way Iowa was going to lose this game was to implode with a mistake on offense. Sometimes Iowa's greatness on defense does minimize what the offense needs to do, and that tamps down yardage.

But there's no question Iowa continued to build on momentum at the quarterback position and on the offensive line.

Who would have guessed that Petras was the better quarterback vs. O'Connell coming into Saturday's game? Petras was 6-for-7 for 119 yards in the second quarter alone, including a nice read on the Ragaini touchdown.

"They blitzed too many for us to protect, so it’s just a hot route," Petras said. "Able to hit him in stride and let him run, which is good. Obviously, he did the rest.”

On an injury note, Brody Brecht did not make the trip with an unspecified injury, and Arland Bruce IV left the game with a right-shoulder injury but did return. Ferentz was optimistic both players would be available next week vs. Wisconsin.

Up front, the Hawkeyes exhibited balance for the second straight week: 184 yards rushing, 192 passing.

“Once we get the running game going, it opens everything up," Petras said. "Then it’s just up to myself, receivers, tight ends to make plays. Felt good today.”

The offensive-line switch with Connor Colby at left guard and Jack Plumb at right tackle stayed intact for a second straight week, while Mason Richman stayed at left tackle, Logan Jones at center and Beau Stephens/Nick DeJong rotating at right guard. Ferentz saw progress for that unit yet again.

Wisconsin's 3-4 defense always gives Iowa fits. That'll be the next challenge for this offensive line.

“We’re not out of the woods. I’ll go on record saying that," Ferentz said. "But we keep looking at things, talking about things and we’re doing it all week long. You try this, you try that. We’re not there yet, but at least we settled things.

"It’s a day at a time. ... You can only move it so fast.”

Everything Kirk Ferentz said after Iowa's 24-3 win at Purdue
Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz applauded all three phases in a complete Hawkeye road win.
Chad Leistikow, Hawk Central

On a windy day, credit Tory Taylor for making a difference.

Purdue’s first punt of the day traveled 21 yards into a wind that was listed at 21 mph at kickoff.

Taylor’s first punt (with the wind) flew for 67. The Hawkeyes’ junior punter later boomed a 55-yarder over Jones’ head that checked up and was downed by DeJean at Purdue’s 4. Not to be outdone, he sent a bullet into the wind for 66 yards near the end of the first half.

Considering Jones’ ability as a punt returner, Taylor’s performance was going to be important Saturday. On his first punt of the second half into the wind, Taylor kicked a low line drive away from Jones, and it rolled dead for 38 yards.

For the game, Taylor averaged 51.8 yards on eight punts, and Jones had zero return yards.

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.