Josh Jackson addresses DB issues vs. Purdue Matt Bain / The Register
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Jeff Brohm is a former quarterback with a reputation of designing dazzling plays as a coach.
But the adjustment he made had halftime of Saturday’s 24-15 Purdue win over Iowa couldn’t have been more basic.
The Hawkeyes had Josh Jackson playing cornerback on the left of their defense and Manny Rugamba on the right. They had been putting pressure on sophomore quarterback Elijah Sindelar throughout the first half, even sacking him for a safety while building a 9-7 lead.
The Boilermakers got the ball and the wind to start the third quarter. They also got busy toying with Rugamba. Four consecutive quick passes in the direction of senior wide receiver Anthony Mahoungou resulted in a gain of 11 yards, an eight-yard pass interference penalty on Rugamba, another gain of 14 yards and then a 42-yard touchdown strike that was the second-longest offensive touchdown Purdue has scored this year.
It was remarkable to watch the Boilermakers attack a single player with such persistence. When Rugamba wilted under the constant pressure, Iowa’s coaches grew so alarmed that they benched him.
Michael Ojemudia came on for one play on the next series. Sindelar found Mahoungou for 35 yards.
Freshman Matt Hankins was rushed onto the field to replace Ojemudia. Mahoungou found paydirt from 16 yards out.
Three minutes into the second half, six pass plays to the left sideline, and the Boilermakers had seized control.
Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker had to take the drastic step of moving Jackson, arguably the nation’s top cornerback, to the right side of his defense to belatedly stop the bleeding. Jackson had never even practiced over there, he said later. Mahoungou never caught another pass.
“We were a little bit vulnerable,” Jackson said in a carefully-worded understatement. “(Mahoungou) had a lot of momentum going, and they were getting him the ball. He was getting open. And we just have to be better in the back end of being able to shut those plays down.”
“It really wasn’t magical coaching,” said Brohm, in his first year at Purdue after going 30-10 at Western Kentucky.
“We knew one of them (Jackson) was really good and we knew where he was at, so without question we wanted to work the other way. We were able to take advantage of that at times, and it paid off for us. They moved Josh around after that, and we had to be a little more creative to find a way to pick on (Hankins).”
Brohm said he could never recall targeting a cornerback on six consecutive passes.
“I think that it was really simple play-calling. We just wanted to isolate one-on-one matchups and not read anything else. Take a shot at it. Sometimes, that’s better than trying to create a fancy play. We found a matchup that worked. We were aggressive with it, and we hit it.”
By the time Iowa got the wind in the fourth quarter, the wind was out of the Hawkeyes' sails. All the team could do was try to pick up the spirits of Rugamba, a sophomore who had suffered a very visible meltdown.
“You’ve got to have a short-term memory. You’re a cornerback. It’s going to happen,” Jackson said of his message to Rugamba.
“If they want to come at you, you’ve got to be able to stand up and make them pay.”
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said it was the two 30-plus yard passes that really hurt his team.
“At least if you make people drive the ball and sustain drives, then you have a chance to get them off track a little bit,” he said.
Iowa linebacker Ben Niemann, who had eight tackles in his final home game, was more succinct.
“If we wouldn’t have given up those deep balls, we would have won the game. Coming into the second half, if we don’t let them score, we win the game,” Niemann said.
Purdue made one other adjustment at halftime to thwart an Iowa pass rush that had four first-half sacks. Sindelar started getting his throws off earlier, not bothering to go through a progression of receivers.
“They were trying to get the ball out quicker and the offensive line cut us to try to get our hands down so we couldn’t tip the ball,” Iowa defensive tackle Nathan Bazata said.
The Hawkeyes got no sacks in the second half.
Niemann was among the Hawkeyes trying to comprehend how the game got away from them so quickly.
“They just saw something and they took some shots. I think having the wind probably gave them some confidence,” he said.
Sometimes, football really is that simple. Purdue sure made it look like a breeze.