Iowa puts away Purdue, secures outright Big Ten West title

Chad Leistikow

IOWA CITY, Ia. — These Hawkeyes may give you a little hope you can beat them. But, inevitably, they’ll finish you off.

Their 2015 track record on that front is now 11-for-11.

True to form Saturday, sixth-ranked Iowa rose to the occasion when it counted most, dispatching scrappy Purdue 40-20 at Kinnick Stadium to clinch the Big Ten Conference’s West Division title.

Iowa was outgained 405-387 but doubled up the 2-9 Boilermakers on the scoreboard.

“It’s funny; today we won by 20. It didn't feel like that,” coach Kirk Ferentz said after his first Big Ten crown of any kind since sharing it in the old 11-team format with Michigan in 2004. “In fact, we had to remind ourselves of that looking at the stat sheet.

“These guys keep battling. That's one thing that's been pretty consistent. They play hard and respond to whatever happens to them.”

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The 23½-point favorite Hawkeyes were far from perfect Saturday, giving the chilled announced crowd of 62,690 a scare, but they improved to 11-0 with a series of clutch plays by quarterback C.J. Beathard.

Iowa has yet to trail in the fourth quarter this season and has been behind for only 4 minutes, 55 seconds of any second half.

“We’ve been able to close out some games in the fourth quarter,” Beathard said. “That’s what we weren’t able to do last year.”

It’s no coincidence Beathard mentioned last season, which saw November end with a crushing home loss to Nebraska in overtime after the Hawkeyes led by 17 in the second half.

“Still a bad memory in our mind how it all went down,” linebacker Josey Jewell said.

It’s no coincidence that a Black Friday victory at Nebraska is all that separates Iowa from a perfect regular season.

Linebacker Cole Fisher, an Omaha native, said he’s never wanted a game more than the one in six days.

“We felt like we had the (2014) game won, and then all of a sudden momentum flipped and we just couldn’t put out the fire,” Fisher said. “It burns when it’s right there in your hands and then you let it slip away.”

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Iowa hasn’t let anything slip away this fall. That was evident when everything seemed to be going Purdue’s way — the Boilermakers had cut a 20-0 deficit to 20-13 — until Beathard led a 91-yard scoring drive late in the third quarter.

Beathard hit tight ends and cousins Henry Krieger Coble and George Kittle for back-to-back first downs on rollout bootleg passes to start the drive. And it was Beathard-to-Kittle on third-and-9 — against an all-out blitz — for a 35-yard touchdown that restored order.

“They were just putting everybody in the box,” Beathard said. “We needed to let them know, if you’re going to do this, we can do this as well. We can bootleg the ball.”

After a fourth-down defensive stop, Beathard led another touchdown drive, hitting Krieger Coble for a 22-yard score, and Iowa suddenly had regained a 20-point lead (at 33-13, with 8:40 left).

“The big thing about this team is when stuff starts hitting the fan a little bit,” Fisher said, “we don’t seem to panic.”

Everything Iowa has done in 2015 stemmed from the way 2014 ended. That’s why “finishing” has been one of the buzzwords in the Iowa Football Performance Center since January. That’s why there wasn’t a public Big Ten West trophy presentation Saturday.

There’s more to do.

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Saturday, Iowa officially punched its ticket into the Dec. 5 Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis against an East Division champion to be determined — it’ll be Michigan State if the Spartans win at home next week against Penn State.

But before that comes a short week and a game against 5-6, bye-rested Nebraska. If Iowa wins, a College Football Playoff berth remains squarely on the table.

“Being 11-0, 7-0 at home, you can't do any better than that, and 7-0 in the league,” Ferentz said. “Right now, it's as good as we can be.

“We're going to have to make up for some lost time once we get together at 12:30 (Sunday). But between now and then, as long as they're smart, I want them to feel good about what they've done. They should. They've earned that.”