Iowa safety Amani Hooker says his defense hasn't faced an offense as explosive as Purdue's Hawk Central
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Djimon Colbert reduced the challenges his Iowa defense faces Saturday to a pair of simple numbers.
“Recognize where they can get No. 4 the ball,” the Hawkeye linebacker said when asked about Purdue’s offense. “They have No. 1. He’s a stocky guy. He’s a pretty physical runner.”
No. 4 is freshman wide receiver Rondale Moore, who leads the Big Ten Conference in catches (68) and all-purpose yards (1,449).
No. 1 is running back D.J. Knox, who averages 6.5 yards per carry.
Moore and Knox have each scored eight touchdowns this season.
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Colbert, a redshirt freshman, may or may not know their names. But he’s about to find out how difficult they are to contain.
No. 18 Iowa (6-2, 3-2 Big Ten) has been tested before this season and responded. Iowa State’s David Montgomery ran for only 44 yards in Week 2, a 13-3 Hawkeye win. Maryland’s “jet sweep” attack never got off the ground in a 23-0 Iowa blanking two weeks ago.
But Purdue (4-4, 3-2), led by senior quarterback David Blough, is at a different level. The Boilermakers rank 12th in the nation in yards per game at 492.
The Hawkeyes have allowed only one opponent to surpass 400 yards in a game. Wisconsin piled up 415 in a 28-17 win.
So the 2:30 p.m. game at Ross-Ade Stadium (ESPN2) figures to be a classic matchup of dynamic offense vs. rugged defense. May the best men win.
“You always want the best from everybody,” Iowa safety/linebacker Amani Hooker said, anticipating the matchup. “That’s why you play sports.”
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Purdue coach Jeff Brohm threw a little mystery into the proceedings Thursday when he proclaimed Moore a “game-time decision” after the brilliant rookie suffered a lower-body injury in last Saturday’s loss at Michigan State.
The Spartans “held” Moore to 74 receiving yards in that one. It was a team effort.
Moore lines up in the slot or in the backfield and is seemingly always in motion. He pressures defenses to anticipate not where he’s going to start, but where he’s going to end up, on every play. Brohm, an offensive mastermind, likes to run “pick” plays with his receivers in order to free up the 5-foot-9 Moore.
“He’s got great speed. He’s not an easy guy to tackle, whether he’s bouncing off guys or making them miss in the open field,” Iowa safety Jake Gervase said of Moore.
Knox stands just 5-7, but packs 210 pounds worth of a punch. Like Moore, he is difficult to bring down. When they’re both in motion, pulse rates accelerate on the defensive side of the ball.
“Whenever (Moore is) on the jet sweeps, they open up the holes for Knox. He’s a great running back,” Iowa safety Geno Stone said.
“They’re kind of like Penn State, but they have heavier backs.”
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Then there’s Blough, who had a string of three consecutive 300-yard passing days snapped in that 23-13 loss to the Spartans. He broke a Purdue record by throwing for 572 yards against Missouri this season. He will be making his 33rd career start Saturday.
Kirk Ferentz was among those who heard Blough give a speech at Big Ten media days two years ago that resonated with the Iowa coach.
“You can see why he's a quarterback, and I'm guessing that the players really gravitate towards him,” Ferentz said of Blough.
“I don't mean anything against the other quarterback in contention there (junior Elijah Sindelar), but you can see why he moves the team. A.) He's a good player. But he just seems to have something to him that is what quarterbacks have. He poses some problems. And I think the biggest thing is his confidence level. It seems like it's really, really high right now.”
It was Sindelar who picked apart Iowa last season in a 24-15 victory at Kinnick Stadium. Things got so bad that the Hawkeyes benched cornerbacks Manny Rugamba and Michael Ojemudia in that one.
On Saturday, it will be true freshmen Julius Brents and Riley Moss starting again at cornerback for Iowa.
It seems obvious that Blough will go after them, with or without Moore. An Iowa defense that has been so good at limiting explosive plays all season is about to be put on display again.
“The closest thing we’ve seen to these guys is probably Indiana,” Hooker said of a team the Hawkeyes beat 42-16. “(Purdue’s) record doesn’t show how good they really are.”
No 18 IOWA (6-2, 3-2) AT PURDUE (4-4, 3-2)
When: 2:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Ross-Ade Stadium, West Lafayette, Ind.
TV: ESPN2 (Jason Benetti, Kelly Stouffer, Olivia Dekker)
Line: Boilermakers by 2 1/2
Weather: Sunny and 54 degrees; winds from south/southeast at 5 to 10 mph