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Iowa safety Jake Gervase says team was ready for tricky Purdue offense, but execution was lacking. Mark Emmert, memmert@gannett.com

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Iowa’s defense knew what it was in for when trying to tamp down Purdue’s explosive offense Saturday.

But there was a wide gulf between knowing and doing. And there were plenty of helpless moments for a Hawkeyes unit that had been sound throughout the season, only to be exposed repeatedly before 60,716 fans at Ross-Ade Stadium and a national audience tuned in on ESPN2.

“We knew they were going to do some gadgets, some shifts and reverses and double passes. And we knew they were going to take their shots down the field, and they just executed them,” Iowa safety Jake Gervase said after his team fell 38-36 on a last-second field goal.

“I feel bad for our offensive guys, because they put up 36 points, didn’t have any turnovers and played clean. And it just sucks to say we left one out there, but we didn’t deserve to win. That’s on the defense.”

Last week’s 30-24 loss at Penn State was the result of a Hawkeye offense that couldn’t reach the end zone. Seven days later, the No. 18 Hawkeyes (6-3, 3-3 Big Ten Conference) found an opposite way to fall short in a winnable road game.

Purdue quarterback David Blough connected on a 36-yard touchdown pass to Isaac Zico on the opening drive of the game. He found tight end Brycen Hopkins for a 57-yard gain to set up the next score. Then he went at Hawkeye freshman cornerback Riley Moss for touchdown passes of 41 and 82 yards to Terry Wright.

It was big play after big play for an Iowa defense that entered the game fourth in the nation by allowing only 265 yards per game. Those four plays alone totaled 216 yards en route to 434 total for the Boilermakers. It was the most points and the most yards the Hawkeyes have yielded this season.

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“We knew the whole skill group was really good. We weren’t sleeping on them at all. We wanted to give up no deep routes, and that’s what really hurt us. We gave up five or six of those,” Iowa linebacker Amani Hooker said.

“If you cancel out two of those big plays, that’s two touchdowns right there, and we win the game.”

 

Purdue freshman wide receiver Rondale Moore entered play leading the Big Ten in catches with 68 and in all-purpose yards with 181 per game. He got much of Iowa’s attention and finished with six catches for 31 yards. But his mark on this game was much deeper than those numbers suggest.

“You cheat a little bit there,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said of covering Moore, “and, you know, you can only cheat so many players.”

Last season, Purdue (5-4, 4-2) won 24-15 at Kinnick Stadium after blistering a pair of Hawkeye cornerbacks with deep sideline passes. Manny Rugamba and Michael Ojemudia were benched in the third quarter then.

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On Saturday, Moss eventually went to the sideline as Ojemudia came on in the fourth quarter. The Blough 82-yard touchdown pass to Wright came on Purdue’s first offensive play of the second half and provided a 28-17 lead for the hosts.

“That was one of the more disappointing plays was right at the start of the second half. It was kind of déjà vu,” Ferentz said.

“I thought Riley competed out there. I thought Julius (Brents, another freshman cornerback) did the same thing. Those guys are great in practice. They work hard. They’re totally focused. They both have really good futures. Right now, we think they’re the best guys to play for us.”

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Compounding problems for Iowa was a pass rush that had trouble rattling Blough, a senior. There was only one sack, a 1-yarder by Hawkeye sophomore A.J. Epenesa. On an earlier occasion, Epenesa appeared chased Blough from behind for a possible strip-sack, but the quarterback felt the pressure and unloaded the football with a half-second to spare.

Blough completed 23 of 32 passes for 333 yards and four touchdowns.

Epenesa wasn’t conceding that Iowa’s pass rush was slowed, however.

“They couldn’t block us up front. I think we dominated the line of scrimmage all day long. There’s only so much you can do when they catch the ball and lob it up there,” he said.

“I beat (his blocker) like a drum, and we’re not even close (to Blough) still. It gets pretty frustrating, but that was part of their game plan.”

Purdue’s offensive game plan, as it has most of the season, worked to perfection. Iowa rallied for its only lead in the fourth quarter after Hooker made a great read on a pass intended for Hopkins and snared it to set up a short touchdown drive. The Boilermakers, 12th in the nation in total offense at 492 yards per game entering play, got one final drive from midfield and polished off Iowa with a 25-yard Spencer Evans field goal with 8 seconds left.

“Whenever you’re in the fire pit, it’s hard to come back out,” Hooker said of a defense that found some success too late.

“We put pressure on ourselves. Whenever the offense is doing their job, they expect us to do our job. … Today wasn’t our best game as a defense.”

 

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