Iowa’s time as the No. 2 team in the country is not going to last long.
A week after the Hawkeyes stormed back to beat No. 4 Penn State in front of a raucous crowd at Kinnick Stadium, they could not recreate that magic against unranked Purdue. Iowa was thoroughly outplayed at home in a 24-7 upset loss to the Boilermakers.
During its 6-0 start, Iowa has been able to overcome an underwhelming offense with strong special teams and an extremely opportunistic defense. Entering Saturday’s game, the Hawkeyes ranked No. 8 nationally in total defense and had forced a remarkable 20 turnovers, including 16 interceptions.
On Saturday, though, Iowa could not contain the combination of Aidan O’Connell and David Bell. With so many injuries at running back, Purdue rotated in three quarterbacks throughout the game. While Jack Plummer and Austin Burton were almost exclusively used as runners, O’Connell shined in the passing game.
O’Connell completed 30-of-40 passes for 375 yards and two touchdowns in the win. His favorite target was Bell, one of the best receivers in the country. The Hawkeyes, playing without senior defensive back Riley Moss (tied for the national lead with four interceptions), just had no answers for Bell.
Bell caught 11 passes for 240 yards and a score. That touchdown came in the fourth quarter and proved to be the final nail in the coffin in one of the biggest upsets of the year.
In all, the Purdue offense went for 464 yards and converted on nine of its first 13 third-down attempts.
Purdue dominated the game
Purdue was the better team from the jump.
The Boilermakers intercepted Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras on his second throw and took a 7-0 lead later in the first quarter. A touchdown throw from O’Connell to TJ Sheffield gave Purdue a 14-7 lead just before halftime.
The Boilermakers, now 4-2 on the year, never looked back.
While O’Connell torched the Iowa defense, Purdue’s defense was mighty impressive in its own right. Iowa barely mustered 200 yards of offense until late in the fourth quarter. The Hawkeyes moved the ball a bit in the first half, but couldn’t do anything when it mattered.
Iowa punted twice in the third quarter and turned it over on downs early in the fourth. On those three drives, Iowa amassed a measly 15 yards.
All the while, Purdue added to its lead. And that lead could have been even bigger had Sheffield not fumbled into the end zone when reaching for the goal line, a play that resulted in a touchback.
The score was 17-7 at that point and it looked like it may be the break Iowa needed to get back into the game. Instead, the Hawkeyes immediately went three-and-out, giving up two sacks in the process.
The O’Connell-to-Bell touchdown came on the next drive. It put the finishing touches on a huge win for Purdue, which now has nine wins as an unranked against opponents ranked in the top two of the Associated Press Top 25. That’s more than any other program.
What does this mean for Iowa?
Iowa’s weaknesses showed up in a big way on Saturday.
A week ago, Penn State moved the ball through the air pretty well until starting quarterback Sean Clifford went out with an injury. Iowa’s defense then feasted on an overmatched backup in the 23-20 come-from-behind victory.
Purdue, coming off a bye, had a strong gameplan from coach Jeff Brohm. His team executed it wonderfully. And most importantly, the Boilermakers did not turn the ball over other than the Sheffield fumble at the goal line.
When the defense isn’t providing short fields, Iowa’s offense is going to really struggle. Saturday’s game was another example of that. The Hawkeyes entered Saturday’s game ranked No. 120 in total offense and it showed.
Other than a 32-yard run, Tyler Goodson had 36 yards on 11 carries. Petras struggled as well, going 17-of-32 for 195 yards and four interceptions.
With Saturday’s result, Iowa’s College Football Playoff hopes have obviously taken a major hit. On top of that, the Big Ten West is wide open.
The Hawkeyes have a bye next week before traveling to Wisconsin on Oct. 30. From there, they close out the season with Northwestern, Minnesota, Illinois and Nebraska.