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Analysis: Iowa offense produces yards, but not points, in agonizing loss to Purdue

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — How does a football team gain 460 yards and manage only 20 points?

It’s not easy, but Iowa found a way Saturday, falling short 24-20 against Purdue at a nearly empty Ross-Ade Stadium.

At times, the Hawkeyes' offense was as crisp as the autumn weather. Running backs found holes. New starting quarterback Spencer Petras found his confidence and eight different receivers.

The yards added up for the Hawkeyes. But consider all of the subtractions:

  • Two lost fumbles.
  • Four penalties for false starts.
  • Five consecutive failed third-down conversions to close the game.
  • And one curious case of clock management at the end of the first half that Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, in his 22nd season, later said he regretted.

“It’s discipline. Attention to detail. We kind of pride ourselves on being brilliant with the basics, and I don’t think we were that (Saturday),” Petras said after throwing for 265 yards in his debut as a Hawkeye starter.

“Self-inflicted wounds are never easy.”

Mekhi Sargent, pictured, rushed for 71 yards and Tyler Goodson added 77 on a good running day for the Hawkeyes but both had costly fumbles.

It was an ominous sign when Iowa’s first possession of the 2020 season included a false start penalty on third down, followed by a punt.

The third drive was promising, thanks to a 40-yard catch and run by sophomore tailback Tyler Goodson. But Iowa failed to score after a bizarre play in which Goodson made it to the 10-yard line, only to see teammate Cole Banwart hustling in from his right to make a block but instead knocking the football from his grasp.

Purdue recovered. It ended up being the only time in the game that the Hawkeyes were in the red zone without getting points.

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Iowa did start putting drives together after that, culminating in two short touchdown runs and a 14-all tie.

With 31 seconds left in the first half, Hawkeye cornerback Matt Hankins intercepted a pass to give his offense one final chance to take a lead into intermission. It did do that, but not without some confusion.

Petras connected with tight end Sam LaPorta for a 20-yard gain to the Purdue 10. The offense sprinted up to the line of scrimmage, and then let the clock run instead of spiking the football or calling a timeout. Brian Ferentz, the offensive coordinator and Kirk’s son, called for a Goodson run around the right side, which was stopped for no gain.

Only then did Iowa stop the clock with 4 seconds left so that Keith Duncan could convert a 27-yard field goal for a 17-14 halftime lead. A field goal instead of a touchdown is a four-point difference.

It was also the margin of defeat.

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Kirk Ferentz said he should have been more aggressive.

“I think if we had to do it over again, we’d probably take a shot at the end zone. We had time for one more throw back down in there and then go for the field goal,” Ferentz said. “We were hoping the run would pop through there, too. Sometimes that happens. But we were not playing for the field goal.”

All the same, a field goal is all the Hawkeyes got. And they added just one more in a sloppy second half of play.

Iowa was called for two false starts on its first possession, sandwiched around its final third-down conversion of the game. The Hawkeyes finished 4-for-13 on that fateful down.

A false start stalled the next drive as well.

“The penalties most definitely changed the game,” Goodson said. “We beat ourselves (Saturday).”

With Iowa ahead 20-17, senior running back Mekhi Sargent lost a fumble at the end of a 13-yard gain to the Purdue 28. The Boilermakers turned that one into the game-winning touchdown drive. The Hawkeye also generated two turnovers, both on interceptions. But Iowa got only three points out of those.

There’s that four-point difference again.

MORE:Mekhi Sargent has traveled a long way to the top of Iowa's depth chart, and he's not done

Iowa did have one final chance with 2 minutes, 8 seconds left, needing to cover the same distance of 72 yards that Purdue’s offense just had to take the lead. That drive started with a Petras 18-yard pass to LaPorta.

Four consecutive incomplete passes followed, one each to Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Tyrone Tracy Jr., Goodson and Nico Ragaini. The third-down attempt to Goodson had to be particularly frustrating to those involved, because it was a screen pass and the fleet running back had three blockers surrounding him.

But Petras had to rush his throw with defenders converging on him. It sailed high, off of Goodson’s fingertips.

“We were a little late in releasing,” Goodson said.

“The timing seemed off,” Petras concurred. “If I can get him a better ball, I’m sure he makes it easy. But I didn’t see what happened. I was on the ground.”

There will be better days for Petras and this offense, ones where its yardage total is reflected on the scoreboard. But that doesn’t make Saturday’s result easy to accept.

“The bottom line in football is points,” Ferentz said. “We came up four short.”

Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at memmert@registermedia.com or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.