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Leistikow's 5 thoughts off Iowa's 24-20 loss to Purdue, including zero catches for Ihmir Smith-Marsette

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — In an eight-game regular season, one loss carries heavier weight than usual. So, Iowa’s 24-20 setback Saturday at Purdue stings just a little bit more.

There are certainly a lot of things to correct and injuries/absences to address and some things to build on.

Here were five thoughts before I got booted from the Ross-Ade Stadium press box …

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.

Iowa needs to get more out of Brandon Smith and Ihmir Smith-Marsette.

The Hawkeyes have more talent at wide receiver then they’ve had in a long time, and that’s part of the reason Spencer Petras threw the ball 39 times. Eleven of those targets were to Smith and Smith-Marsette, but the two seniors combined for just three catches for 34 yards — all by Smith.

Smith-Marsette actually did more damage than good offensively; he was flagged for a 15-yard unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty and committed a key false start when Iowa had entered Purdue territory in the third quarter. Iowa’s top big-play threat had zero catches on five targets.

“They were aware of where he was on the field,” quarterback Spencer Petras said. “There were definitely a couple opportunities that we had to get him the ball that I missed.”

Petras did overshoot Smith on his third attempt, a well-designed deep ball that could have been an 86-yard touchdown. And Smith fumbled on his longest catch of the day, 16 yards, but was bailed out by teammate Sam LaPorta (five catches, 71 yards) jumping on the loose ball.

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Petras was good, but not good enough to start his career 1-0.

The 6-foot-5 sophomore completed 12 of his final 13 passes of the first half for 131 yards; that’s the stretch when Iowa’s offense racked up 17 of its 20 points. He missed some throws, most painfully an early overthrow of Shaun Beyer. But he didn't look like a first-time starter out there. I’ve already seen a few fans calling for Petras to be demoted, and that’s ridiculous.

After seeing Wisconsin’s Graham Mertz go 20-for-21 with five touchdowns in his starting debut, I get the frustration by comparison. But Petras’ offensive line needs to stop committing false starts. And if the running backs don’t fumble twice, he probably leads Iowa to victory going away and is being celebrated as you read this.

“He had good control and awareness,” head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “I thought it was a really good start for him.”

Agreed. Petras (22-for-39, 265 yards, no turnovers) had a debut that he can build on.

“I’ll have to reserve judgment until after I watch the tape,” Petras said. “Off the top of my head, I know there are plays I’d like to have back.”

Zander Horvath rumbled for 129 yards, most of them in the decisive second half.

Iowa sorely missed Austin Schulte and Jack Campbell in the middle of the defense.

Schulte provides gritty senior leadership at defensive tackle that would’ve helped as Purdue started running the ball effectively in the second half. Daviyon Nixon, by the way, was Iowa’s defensive MVP, in my opinion. But he could’ve used some rest.

Schulte will be out a few weeks, Ferentz said, without specifying the injury.

Campbell is likely out another two weeks after being diagnosed with mononucleosis. That development was a Monday surprise for Ferentz. Campbell was looking good in training camp at middle linebacker. His backup, Seth Benson, was also out. So Iowa had to cobble together what it could in three practices this week with Nick Niemann, Barrington Wade and Jestin Jacobs working together.

Injuries can’t be used as an excuse, though, in this one. Purdue was without some of its top players, including receiver Rondale Moore, and came away with the win.

What happened to the rush defense?

It seemed like the Boilermakers were content to abandon the run (nine carries, 25 yards in the first half), but they rediscovered it to their credit in the second half. Zander Horvath started reeling off big chunks and wound up with 129 yards on 21 carries by himself.

“Whether it was defeating blocks, physicality, tackling … we’ve got to watch the tape, but I’m guessing that was all a factor,” Niemann said.

Don’t fault Iowa’s effort. The Hawkeyes played hard and hit hard. But Purdue wound up with 10 minutes of possession time to Iowa’s five in the decisive fourth quarter. Not having Campbell (6-foot-5, 243 pounds) was a big deal.

Iowa prides itself on stopping the run. But it prioritized trying to slow David Bell in the second half, and Horvath got loose.

“We play better defense when we don’t let people run like that,” Ferentz said.

Let’s finish with a bit of a positive. Iowa ran for 195 yards.

And, unofficially, this was the first time we’ve seen a “Wildcat” formation in Ferentz's 22 years. Tyler Goodson (77 rush yards) took a direct snap a few times, with Petras flanked out wide. One of those runs brought Iowa to the 1-yard line to set up the season’s first touchdown.

“We’ve been talking about (“Wildcat”) since February. Just some ways to use the skill set of some of the guys," Ferentz said. "… We’ve put a lot of thought into it. We’ll see where it all goes.”

Iowa averaged 5.4 yards a carry, which is something to build on considering it’s not crossed 4.0 as a team for a season since 2016.