WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Not to be too nitpicky, but this was the Iowa football team that should have showed up three weeks ago at Rutgers.
Another road game, another crummy Big Ten Conference opponent.
In Piscataway, N.J., the Hawkeyes were tailspinning through a three-game stretch that knocked their season out of kilter. The result that afternoon, in front of a barely engaged home crowd, was an uninspiring 14-7 victory.
On Saturday, at drowsy Ross-Ade Stadium, Iowa woke up and pounded out a 49-35 win. Iowa was brutally efficient on offense, converting its first seven third downs, scoring touchdowns each of the four times it reached the red zone, running for 365 yards and controlling the clock for 36:06.
It was the best showing of the season, hearkening all the way back to the opening two weeks, when the Hawkeyes also scored more than 40 points on back-to-back Saturdays.
The defense matched that with its most suffocating effort against an opposing rushing attack. Purdue gained only 46 yards on 22 carries despite the return of star tailback Markell Jones from a shoulder injury.
Iowa limited the Boilermakers to 27 total yards in four first-half possessions while the Hawkeye offense took control. The result was a 28-0 lead just 26 minutes into the game. Iowa had scored 28 points total in its two previous road games this season.
If it looks like a rout, and quacks like a rout … it’s a rout. Don’t let the final score deceive you. That was the product of three garbage-time touchdowns by a Purdue team taking advantage of Iowa substitutes and a hot-seat coach in Darrell Hazell desperately trying to avoid another lopsided loss.
Iowa (5-2, 3-1 Big Ten Conference) has won back-to-back games for the first time since those season-opening wins.
“You can’t let that change the way you look at the game,” Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard said of the final 15 minutes. “We went out and played hard and played well. In the fourth quarter, we had a lot of second-string guys in. Obviously, they’ve got to get better and play better. But I wouldn’t take anything away from what we did.”
Beathard passed for 140 yards and two touchdowns, one of them a perfectly placed 42-yarder with the wind at his back that floated into the hands of wide receiver Riley McCarron.
“I told Riley before we broke the huddle, ‘Hey, if we get a man, look here; I might give you a shot',” Beathard said.
“It was a one-on-one shot. He did a good job of catching it.”
And it made the score 21-0 Iowa. The previous touchdown came on a third-and-goal play from the Purdue 15-yard line, where Beathard briefly considered passing but instead ran to the immense amount of daylight to his left for an astoundingly easy score. It was that kind of a day for a Hawkeye team that did exactly what it wanted to — and needed to — against an overmatched opponent.
For a change.
Does this mean the Hawkeyes have rediscovered their swagger — the mojo they lost somewhere between a No. 15 preseason ranking and home losses to North Dakota State and Northwestern?
Senior defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson considered the question.
“From our first game up to now, we should have been playing like this all along. But nothing’s ever going to be perfect. We made some mistakes. Those mistakes led to two losses. But those are in the books. We’re just looking forward,” said Johnson, who had one of Iowa’s two sacks Saturday.
“If I said, 'Yeah,' I think I’d be lying to you. That swagger comes with confidence, and that comes from really good preparation.”
Junior guard Sean Welsh also shared some thoughts.
“I don’t know how you gauge that. The numbers were great. We’ll feel good about the win today,” he said.
“I think we’re really just trying to put one foot in front of the other.”
Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz kept the enthusiasm at bay as well.
“You just never know what’s going to happen week to week and what a team’s going to do — how they’re going to respond,” Ferentz said. “Every week seems to have its own set of circumstances that are interesting.”
With home games coming up against Wisconsin and Michigan, plus a trip to Penn State in between, that’s probably the best attitude for the Hawkeyes to have. They’re certainly not going to get a lot of credit nationally for dismantling a dreadful Purdue squad.
But the way the Hawkeyes did it was impressive. And it’d been five weeks since you could use that word to describe this team.