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Leistikow: Iowa lets one slip away at Purdue, but can feel good about its quarterback

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Even after 302 days without Iowa football, it didn’t take long to be reminded how tense Hawkeye games can be.

There was early head-scratching after the offense started with a thud. A surge of excitement followed after 17 second-quarter points. Frustration built over a slew of penalties (10 for 100 yards). And it was another classic, tight Big Ten Conference slugfest in the fourth quarter.

In the end, the Hawkeyes let one slip away at Ross-Ade Stadium.

Boilermakers 24, Iowa 20.

A crucial lost fumble by Mekhi Sargent — as it looked like Iowa was poised to take a two-score lead with six minutes to go — turned into a game-winning touchdown drive for Purdue.

Spencer Petras threw for 265 yards in his starting debut for the Hawkeyes but came up short.

Just as he was last year, David Bell was the best player on the football field in this Iowa-Purdue matchup. The sensational wide receiver caught 13 passes for 121 yards and three touchdowns — his game-winner with 2:15 to go coming on third down — against Phil Parker’s defense, which played and hit hard but came up short.

Purdue didn't need Rondale Moore to beat Iowa.

It’s OK to feel down about this loss. Iowa cranked out nearly 500 yards of offense (195 on the ground, 265 through the air) but only scored 20 points.

The fumbles by Sargent and Tyler Goodson (earlier in the game, when the ball was jarred loose by teammate Cole Banwart) occurred deep in Purdue territory. Sargent’s was especially costly, as he coughed up the football with Iowa leading 20-17. Sargent was plowing ahead for 13 yards but lost the ball at the Purdue 28.

Iowa had its chances.

If there was a silver lining, it was clear that Hawkeye fans could feel good about their quarterback going forward, even if he started slow.

MORE IOWA FOOTBALL COVERAGE

Spencer Petras, Iowa’s first new starter in nearly 38 months, completed just two of his first eight pass attempts. He missed Brandon Smith on a deep ball. He overcooked a short cross to Ihmir Smith-Marsette. He air-mailed Shaun Beyer for what should have been an easy 20 yards.

But given how teammates have pumped him up, you had a feeling he would settle in. And after Barrington Wade’s sack and Charlie Jones’ 20-yard punt return set up the Hawkeyes at Purdue’s 35 early in the second quarter, Petras finally got comfortable.

He zipped a 20-yarder to tight end Sam LaPorta, a crisp completion that looked as smooth as it was drawn up in the playbook. Three plays later, Petras was the first Hawkeye to score a touchdown in 2020 — plowing into the end zone behind center Tyler Linderbaum from a yard out.

Then Petras was his best in the two-minute drill; or, more accurately, the 31-second drill after Matt Hankins’ interception got Iowa the ball back at its own 36 just before halftime. Petras’ tightrope of a throw to Nico Ragaini for 28 yards pushed Iowa into scoring range, and the Hawkeyes converted with a Keith Duncan field goal to take a 17-14 halftime lead.

The fact that Iowa even tried for points showed the confidence Kirk and Brian Ferentz have in their sophomore signal-caller, something that was further revealed to start the fourth quarter on a fourth-and-4 call from Purdue’s 33. Petras coolly found Nico Ragaini for 17 yards along the right sideline.

But Petras couldn’t find a magic moment in his final drive. He got the ball back with 2:08 to play on Iowa’s 28 and quickly hit LaPorta for 16 yards. But four straight incompletions followed.

A third-and-10 screen attempt to Goodson sort of summed up the game. The fleet running back had a wall of blockers in front of him. But the ball from Petras (22-for-39) was a little off the mark and fell incomplete off Goodson’s fingertips.

"A common theme when we watch the tape is too many makeables that we didn't make," Petras said. 

"I thought we moved the ball well. ... But penalties, missed plays and turnovers will kill you."

Iowa is 0-1 and already has a West Division loss on the Big Ten books. A bounce-back against Northwestern next Saturday is a must, and it’s doable.

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 26 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.