Brown: Iowa wants to win Big Ten West outright

Rick Brown
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz will see center Austin Blythe and other seniors play their final home game Saturday.

Iowa and Ohio State are two of five remaining undefeated FBS teams, and a meeting in the Big Ten Championship game Dec. 5 in Indianapolis is another week closer to reality.

There is some finality to the next step in Iowa’s journey. Saturday’s game against Purdue is the final home game of the season. The Hawkeyes will be trying to put the finishing touches on a perfect Kinnick Stadium record for the first time since 2004.

It will also be the final home game for seniors like Austin Blythe, Jordan Walsh, Tevaun Smith, Jordan Canzeri, Henry Krieger Coble, Jordan Lomax, Nate Meier and Marshall Koehn.

A victory, and Iowa clinches a share of the West Division title and a trip to Indianapolis. But even if that happens, coach Kirk Ferentz won’t consider the mission accomplished.

“We want to win it outright,” said Ferentz, whose team moved up to sixth in both major polls Sunday. “That’s our goal.”

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Best foot forward

Iowa is averaging 211.7 yards per game on the ground, which ranks second in the Big Ten behind Ohio State.

It starts with an offensive line that has gone from inexperienced to effective. And depth at running back has been another plus. The top three backs — LeShun Daniels Jr., Jordan Canzeri and Akrum Wadley — have all established single-game career highs this season. Daniels went for 195 Saturday against Minnesota. Canzeri had 256 against Illinois, and Wadley had 204 against Northwestern.

Canzeri’s total ranks third on Iowa’s single-game rushing list. Wadley’s is tied for 14th and Daniels’ stands at 19th.

Injuries have played a role in who gets the carries this season. But with all four healthy, will Ferentz stick with the hot back during a game?

“Hopefully they’re all healthy and hot,” Ferentz said.

Purdue comes into Saturday’s game last in the Big Ten in rushing defense, allowing 209.6 yards a game.

A fresh face

Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard made his first career start at Purdue last season. He survived an early 39-yard pick-six by Frankie Williams to complete 17 of 37 passes for 245 yards in a 24-10 victory.

Beathard is now 11-0 as a starter heading into the rematch with the Boilermakers, who also have a new quarterback who likes to throw. So Iowa’s pass defense, torched by Minnesota’s Mitch Leidner Saturday, will face another big challenge.

David Blough, a redshirt freshman, completed 26 of 45 passes for 287 yards in a 21-14 loss at Northwestern Saturday. Purdue coach Darrell Hazell replaced Austin Appleby with Blough in the fourth game of the season. Blough has completed 166 of 288 passes this season, for 1,565 yards, 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

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Going the distance

Iowa leads the Big Ten and is sixth nationally in time of possession with a 33-minute, 33-second advantage over opponents.

Five touchdown drives of at least 90 yards this season has helped create that possession advantage. The most recent was a nine-play, 97-yard drive that resulted in Daniels’ 2-yard touchdown run with 44 seconds remaining in the first half against Minnesota. Iowa has outscored opponents 44-0 this season in the final 2 minutes of the first half.

Purdue is last in the Big Ten and 113th nationally in time of possession at 27:16.

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Diamonds under pressure?

Ferentz discounts the notion that there will be pressure on his team against Purdue with a spot in the Big Ten Championship game on the line.

“The only pressure any of us feel is to not let each other down,” Ferentz said. “So we’re all trying to work as hard as we can, be as prepared as we can, and do what we can do to help the team win. That’s all I want the players feeling, because that’s how it should be.”

This isn’t the first time pressure has been a topic of conversation around the Iowa program.

“I won’t go down that road right now,” Ferentz said.

The 17th-year coach was making reference to the scrutiny he was facing coming off an underachieving 7-6 season in 2014.

Hazell has been under fire, too. The Boilermakers are 2-8 overall this season and 1-5 in the Big Ten. Hazell is 6-28 since getting the job in 2013.

“We think Darrell Hazell is the right guy to lead this program,” Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke said last week.