IOWA CITY, Iowa — Purdue football coach and Iowa nemesis Jeff Brohm made a comment in a news conference earlier this week that he spent a lot of time in the offseason studying Iowa.
That should have been a tell — not that the Hawkeyes needed one — that the Boilermakers would have something unique in their approach Saturday.
The Boilermakers kept Iowa guessing which of three quarterbacks they would deploy, perhaps serving as a distraction that the real plan was ultimately the same as it’s been the last three years: To get the ball to the guy (David Bell) who everybody knows is going to get the ball.
Brohm’s Boilermakers once again ran circles around Kirk Ferentz’s Hawkeyes in a 24-7 victory at sold-out Kinnick Stadium that sent the nation’s second-ranked team crashing back to earth.
Brohm is now 4-1 against Ferentz during his middling tenure at Purdue and 19-26 against everyone else.
Purdue’s carousel of three quarterbacks was noticeable from the start. While Aidan O’Connell was throwing all the passes, Brohm also inserted No. 2 quarterback Jack Plummer (who had first-half rushes of 13 and six yards) and No. 3 Austin Burton (who had separate five-yard carries in the first half). During Purdue’s first touchdown drive, all three took snaps on goal-to-go situation — Burton on first down, Plummer on second and O’Connell on third for a 6-yard TD scramble.
Was it a groundbreaking strategy? No, but that’s the type of thing that can make the defense do extra pre-snap thinking. If the goal was to break up the rhythm of Iowa’s defense — which relies so much on togetherness and communication — it worked. Purdue racked up 233 first-half yards and averaged a robust 7.1 yards per play while taking a 14-7 lead to the halftime locker room. Iowa entered the game allowing 4.02 yards per play, third-lowest in FBS.
It was more of the same in the second half, as O’Connell racked up one clutch completion after another, almost always to Bell. While Iowa had successfully sidelined five of six starting quarterbacks in its rise up the national rankings, O’Connell — one of the two least heralded QBs Iowa has faced all season — was extraordinary. O’Connell completed 30 of 40 passes for 375 yards and two touchdowns. Most importantly: He threw no interceptions against an Iowa secondary that had a national-best 16 thefts coming in.
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Plummer and Burton combined for eight carries for 30 yards, enough of a wrinkle to help to keep Iowa off-balance and move the chains.
It was a deflating day for the Iowa defense and the Iowa program, one week after a stirring 23-20 victory in a top-five matchup against then-No. 4 Penn State.
The question must be asked: How is Bell so unstoppable against Iowa?
Phil Parker’s defense had been terrific against other top targets all season long: Indiana’s Ty Fryfogle, Iowa State’s Charlie Kolar, Colorado State’s Trey McBride and Penn State’s Jahan Dotson all had pedestrian days against the Hawkeye secondary.
But Bell is on another level against Iowa, which was one of his final two schools in the recruiting process. The Indianapolis product not only dealt a blow to the Hawkeyes in high school, he’s done it for three straight years in college. Iowa will be thrilled if Bell enters the 2022 NFL Draft, as he should.
The fantastic junior receiver owned anybody that guarded him Saturday for a stat line that would be stunning if he hadn’t done this before: 11 catches, 240 yards and one touchdown.
His three-year, three-game totals against Iowa: 35 receptions, 558 yards, five touchdowns.
Safe to say Iowa missed injured national interceptions leader Riley Moss, who was wearing a protective brace on his left knee Saturday. Matt Hankins, the reigning Bronko Nagurski national defensive player of the week, was burned for an early 60-yard pass and was continuously a step slow or behind in coverage.
One of the best parts of Parker’s defense is that it does what it does and it usually does it very well. One of the weaknesses is that it can’t seem to adjust.
The two most bothersome things about Iowa’s offense in the first half …
First, the inability to block Purdue defensive end George Karlaftis was glaring. The Hawkeyes tried a couple of right tackles in Nick DeJong and Jack Plumb, and neither were up to the challenging task. Karlaftis also lined up against left tackle Mason Richman, with what seemed like less success.
The 6-foot-4, 275-pound future NFL pass rusher would be a problem for anybody. But there wasn’t great execution to stop him and not really a great plan, either. It should be noted that Iowa was playing without left guard Cody Ince, out with an unspecified injury.
Second, why did Iowa take a knee with 3 seconds left from its own 44-yard line? OK, yes, I get the fear of bad things that can happen. See above. On the previous play, Karlaftis flushed Spencer Petras into a throw-away incompletion.
Florida scored on the last play of the first half against LSU with a Hail Mary pass. If you throw it up for grabs, maybe you get a pass-interference call and an untimed, long field goal attempt. Or throw a screen pass and let Tyler Goodson get as many yards as he can; you never know, a face-mask penalty could also extend the drive with an untimed play.
It felt like Ferentz just wanted to get to halftime rather than take a calculated shot. One would have to imagine Purdue gained a little confidence from that decision, too, that perhaps Iowa was playing scared.
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 27 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.
This article originally appeared on Hawk Central: Iowa football team beaten by David Bell and Purdue once again