Iowa Football Notebook: Hawkeyes Claim Critical Turnover Battle
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Bend don’t break. That’s been the way of the Iowa defense all season, and things were no different in the Hawkeyes’ 26-20 victory over Purdue on Saturday. AJ Epenesa is well aware.
“We don’t always have to start fires, we just have to put them out,” says Epenesa. “It doesn’t matter if you put us on the one yard line, we’re going to live by our mantra: Bend don’t break.”
Purdue put up the most points any team has against Iowa all year, who had previously held all opponents below the 20 point mark. But the Hawkeyes found answers when they needed to- and they did start fires, in the form of crucial turnovers.
The first turnover came on a drive that saw Purdue move the ball more effectively than Phil Parker would have liked. The Boilermakers converted on third and 13, converted again inside the Iowa redzone, and then appeared to pick up a third first down before a fumble at the nine yard line by receiver Amad Anderson. The ball was stripped by Geno Stone and recovered by Matt Hankins.
The next turnover was a Riley Moss interception during the opening series of the second half. The Boilermakers had cut the score to 9-7 before halftime, and they started the quarter with consecutive first downs before Moss took the ball away at the Iowa 28 yard line.
Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm said after the game that “without question” turnovers affected the final outcome.
“You’re not going to get the ball very much against these guys,” said Brohm. “… They control the football and work the clock and bleed it a little bit. You have to win the turnover battle if you want a chance to win.”
The Iowa offense gave up a big turnover of its own, an interception that bounced out of true freshman Tyler Goodson’s hands and eventually lead to a Boilermaker touchdown. Stanley took responsibility for the turnover after the game, saying he threw the ball too hard and not accurately enough.
Still, the turnover margin was in the Hawkeyes’ favor, and fairly directly gave Iowa the scoring cushion in needed to make sure a win was never in doubt late. Once again, much of the credit for Saturday’s win went to an Iowa defense that has bent without breaking all year long.
Signs of Life
For the first time in a few weeks, the offense competed at a level that can win Big Ten football games. Iowa’s statistics weren’t flashy, but they put up 102 rushing yards and 260 yards through the air. Most importantly, they put points on the board.
The group still struggled to capitalize at times, settling for field goals and occasionally punting from midfield. But when your defense consistently holds teams to the point totals that Iowa’s does, sometimes the key is moving the ball from the no-man’s-land between the 40 yard lines and into scoring range.
Iowa did that, and coupled with Keith Duncan’s perfect four field goals it proved to be enough. Generally, the best news was that the offensive line played a competent game. The unit has struggled mightily in recent weeks, giving up 10 sacks in two weeks. This week, it only gave up one.
The run game also felt non-existent at times in the games against Michigan and Penn State. Against Purdue, it wasn’t dominant, but it was solid. The most encouraging sequence for the rushing attack came on Iowa’s final scoring drive, a two play outing that featured back-to-back 21 and 14 yard runs by Mekhi Sargent. The blockers made big holes on both plays, and Sargent trucked his way through the second line of defenders on his score.
In all, Saturday was the bounce back Iowa’s offense needed. An understated bounce back, but a bounce back.
Injury Report: Brandon Smith
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Brandon Smith was a standout performer on Saturday, so fans were certainly concerned to see him limp off the field with significant help from his teammates. Coach Ferentz said after the game that so far all indications are “positive.”
“Sounds like maybe a bone bruise or kick or that type of thing,” said Ferentz. “We’ll keep our fingers crossed on that.”
Smith left the game with what looked like a leg injury and did not return. Prior to leaving the game, Smith was having a career day. He set highs in receptions (nine) and receiving yards (106), and would have had another deep fade route catch to his credit had it not been called back for an ineligible man downfield penalty.
Coach Ferentz also said during his press conference that Smith had “grown up” over the last two years. Last week, Smith hauled in an amazing touchdown catch over the body of a Penn State defender. The Hawkeyes need him back as soon as possible.
Bob Sanders and BJ Armstrong were in attendance on Saturday. Sanders was Iowa’s Honorary Captain for week eight, and Armstrong was the Grand Marshall of the UI Homecoming Parade.
Sanders and Armstrong are considered two of the all-time greatest Hawkeye football and basketball players, respectively.
Sanders was named to three All-Big Ten teams and was named honorable mention for the team his freshman year. The “Hit-Man” was a star of the early Ferentz-era teams, including the 2002 team that finished 11-2 and played in the Orange Bowl, and the 2003 team that finished 10-3 and won the Outback Bowl.
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In the NFL, Sanders was a two time All-Pro and Pro-Bowler. He won a Super Bowl and in 2007 was named the NFL Defensive Player of the year.
Armstrong is currently fourth on Iowa’s leader boards in assists, sixth in steals, and fourth in points. Armstrong averaged 9.8 points in his 11 year NBA career. He won three titles on Michael Jordan’s Bulls teams, and emerged as a leader of the team in 1994 following Jordan’s temporary retirement. Armstrong became an NBA All-Star that year.
Vitality of Youth
Iowa continued to see production from its young players on Saturday, patriculary on their first touchdown drive.
A 21 yard reception by redshirt freshman Tyrone Tracy setup the Hawkeyes’ first score of the second half, an athletic one yard leap over the line of scrimmage by true freshman Tyler Goodson.
Both players had productive days receiving, Goodson with 38 receiving yards and Tracy with 28. Goodson’s best highlight probably came on an 18 yard screen pass assisted by sophomore Mark Kallenberger. He also had a 20 yard gain over the middle earlier in the game.
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The term “revenge tour” feels overplayed, corny, and can easily backfire. It’s a PJ Fleck-ism. But Iowa currently sits right in the thick of one. They play Penn State, Purdue, Northwestern, and Wisconsin consecutively, and each of those teams entered the season with win streaks over Iowa.
Iowa is now 1-1 in that stretch, and they need to win the rest if they want any shot at a Big Ten West title. Just as important, breaking these streaks should be a matter of pride.
Counting this season, Iowa has now lost six consecutive games to the Nittany Lions. A loss Saturday would have meant a three game losing streak against the usually-lowly Boilermakers.
Northwestern currently holds a three game winning streak over the Hawkeyes, as does Wisconsin. It’s time for Iowa to exact revenge on rivals and bottom-dwellers alike.
Whether or not revenge acts as motivation, the Hawkeyes need it to be the outcome if they want to win the “Wild West.”
Iowa held Purdue to just 33 rushing yards. That’s the third lowest total they’ve held an opponent to in the Ferentz era
Keith Duncan is 10-11 on field goal tries from 40 yards or more
Nate Stanley passed for 260 yards, raising his career total to 7,122. He passed Chuck Hartlieb (6,934) for fourth in school history. Stanley totaled 269 yards of offense Saturday, raising his career total to 6,989 yards of total offense, fourth all-time. He passed Matt Rodgers (6,855) on Iowa’s all-time list
Ihmir Smith-Marsette caught 3 passes for 57 yards. He has 991 career receiving yards. He is nine yard shy of becoming the 42nd player in program history to reach 1,000 yards receiving
DL John Waggoner’s 7-yard sack in the second quarter was his first career tackle.
Tyler Goodson’s 1-yard touchdown rush in the third quarter was the first touchdown of his career.