Leistikow's Week 8 Big Ten picks: 5 numbers the Hawkeyes need to hit against Purdue
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Seeing No. 22 Iowa as a 17½-point favorite against Purdue on Saturday might lead some to believe this should be a breezy Hawkeyes win.
Of course, seasoned fans know that's rarely the case against Purdue.
In fact, Iowa has only covered the spread once in seven Kinnick Stadium attempts against Purdue in the 21-year Kirk Ferentz era. That dubious statistic includes two straight-up losses as a favorite (in 2012 and 2017) and three escapes by a combined 10 points with Ferentz’s most revered Iowa teams (in 2002, 2004 and 2008).
Even Iowa’s 40-20 win against a terrible Purdue team in 2015 (a result that clinched Iowa's Big Ten West title) was a precarious seven-point game until late in the third quarter.
So it’s no wonder that when Ferentz laid out this week’s 11 a.m. homecoming matchup against the Boilermakers (2-4, 1-2 Big Ten Conference), you would have thought he was talking about Penn State or Wisconsin.
“It's a big test for us. There's nothing easy in college football,” Ferentz said. “We've all been around the game long enough to understand and appreciate that. This team outplayed us the last two years.”
Bingo. The fact of the matter is that Purdue's Jeff Brohm also out-coached Ferentz and his staff the last two years, too (24-15 at Kinnick in 2017; 38-36 in Ross-Ade Stadium in 2018).
Brohm doesn’t disguise his brash, throw-it-up-for-grabs strategy against the Hawkeyes. It’s coming. And it’s worked to the tune of seven touchdown passes against Iowa’s secondary the past two seasons.
“When you can get a big play or two on them, it helps,” Brohm said of the Hawkeyes in July. “They’re great at not giving up big plays … So, if you can find a way to get a lead — which we did by being aggressive — it puts them in a harder position.”
On that note, how do the Hawkeyes turn back the Boilermakers' recent success?
Here are five aiming-point numbers that Iowa (4-2, 1-2) can hit to secure a Saturday victory. (Note: Of my five keys to beating Penn State last week, Iowa only accomplished one.)
1) 34 minutes time of possession: Iowa is 4-0 when it hits that mark and still ranks ninth nationally in this category (at 34 minutes, 15 seconds) despite yielding the TOP battle for the first time this season against Penn State. (Sidenote: TCU used 58 rushing attempts on the way to 40:13 possession time in a 34-13 rout of Purdue, providing the ball-hogging blueprint.)
2) Plus-2 in turnovers: Considering Purdue is minus-5 for the season, Iowa’s defense should be ready to feast on some game-changing opportunities. The Hawkeyes have created just one turnover in their past three games and one interception in their last four; that's atypical of a Phil Parker defense.
3) Under 50 snaps for A.J. Epenesa: The Hawkeyes’ best pass-rusher has been an every-down defensive end this season, and he’s going to wear down in November if he doesn’t get some rest. Epenesa was on the field for 77 grueling snaps against Penn State. If Iowa can build a comfortable lead, he can get — and he needs — a break.
4) No more than one sack of Nate Stanley: The biggest story of the week is Iowa’s offensive-line deficiencies; left tackle Alaric Jackson said Tuesday that adjustments in technique were made in practice. Iowa needs to see those changes show up in a friendly home environment against a mediocre-at-best defensive line.
5) Tyler Goodson's first career touchdown. The freshman from Georgia showed a rare-at-Iowa burst in accomplishing the run-game’s only good moment against Penn State. Getting Goodson into the end zone for the first time as a Hawkeye would go a long way in moving him past his third-quarter fumble against the Nittany Lions.
So, what to expect? Considering I picked Iowa to win the last two weeks, I’m in prove-it mode just like the Hawkeyes’ offensive line.
And, everything about Brohm and Purdue suggests that 17½ points would be easy to cover — especially given the Boilermakers’ history in Kinnick and last week’s 40-14 rout of Maryland. But if Vegas makes it seem too easy, it's usually wise to go the other way. So ...
Prediction: Iowa 41, Purdue 17
Now let's make our usual transition into the rest of the Big Ten.
No. 4 Ohio State (6-0, 3-0) at Northwestern (1-4, 0-3)
Time, TV: 7:30 p.m., BTN
Vegas line: Ohio State by 28
Prediction: The tried-and-true formula of picking Pat Fitzgerald or Mark Dantonio as a double-digit underdog isn't as effective when facing one of the most complete Big Ten teams of the last decade. The Buckeyes’ excellent defense is the biggest reason they’re a national-title contender ... and maybe a favorite. No matter how long they let the grass grow on Ryan Field, Northwestern can't keep up. Ohio State 41, Northwestern 7
No. 6 Wisconsin (6-0, 3-0) at Illinois (2-4, 0-3)
Time, TV: 11 a.m., BTN
Vegas line: Wisconsin by 31
Prediction: Just like with Ohio State, oddsmakers seemingly can’t make Wisconsin a big enough favorite. It’ll be interesting, though, to see how quickly the Badgers take their foot off the gas (and pull Jonathan Taylor) with the monumental showdown in Columbus on deck. Since the Big Ten went to geographical divisions in 2014, the Badgers are 26-5 (.839) against the Big Ten West. Make it 27-5 behind the No. 1 defense in college football. Wisconsin 42, Illinois 7
Indiana (4-2, 1-2) at Maryland (3-3, 1-2)
Time, TV: 2:30 p.m., BTN
Vegas line: Indiana by 5½
Prediction: There’s no reason for you to watch this game, unless you’re betting on it — in which case I’d fade from the Terrapins, who just lost by 26 to Purdue’s second string and have the Big Ten’s worst passing defense. Indiana 28, Maryland 17
No. 20 Minnesota (6-0, 3-0) at Rutgers (1-5, 0-4)
Time, TV: 2:30 p.m., BTN
Vegas line: Minnesota by 28½
Prediction: The Gophers’ unbeaten start is going to rekindle comparisons to a 2015 Iowa team that kept winning against a perceived soft schedule. What’s been most impressive about Minnesota is its ability to both run (186.2 yards per game) and pass (tops in the Big Ten in efficiency) with great success. P.J. Fleck will have Minnesota 8-0 entering November. Minnesota 45, Rutgers 7
No. 16 Michigan (5-1, 3-1) at No. 7 Penn State (6-0, 3-0)
Time, TV: 6:30 p.m., ABC
Vegas line: Penn State by 9
Prediction: A clash of talented defenses and Iowa’s two most recent opponents. You might be surprised to learn that Penn State only has a 5-6 record in its “White Out” game, usually reserved for its best home opponent. But my eyes say the Nittany Lions are the far superior team. Better offense, better defense, better quarterback. And a raucous home-field edge. I also like a 6-point tease with Penn State and Iowa State (a 7-point road favorite over Texas Tech). Penn State 24, Michigan 10
Last week: 2-4 against the spread (4-2 straight-up)
Season: 28-31-1 ATS (46-14 SU)
All-time: 130-119-2 ATS (183-68 SU)
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 25 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.