Purdue 38, No. 18 Iowa 36: What we learned

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Purdue's Spencer Evans nailed a 25-yard field goal with 8 seconds remaining Saturday to give the Boilermakers a dramatic 38-36 victory over No. 18 Iowa at a sold-out Ross-Ade Stadium.

The Boilermakers (5-4, 4-2 Big Ten Conference) toyed with Iowa through three quarters, building a 35-23 lead thanks to three touchdown catches by Terry Wright. The Hawkeyes (6-3, 3-3) responded with an impassioned fourth-quarter rally, taking their first lead on Mekhi Sargent's second 1-yard scoring run of the game, 36-35 with 10:19 remaining.

Iowa tight end Noah Fant, left, is tackled by Purdue safety Navon Mosley in the first half of an NCAA college football game in West Lafayette, Ind., Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018.

It could have been a 38-35 lead, however, if the Hawkeyes hadn't opted to try for a two-point conversion after scoring a touchdown early in the third quarter that cut the lead to 28-23. That conversion failed, and so when Iowa scored its final touchdown, it went for two again to try to gain a three-point lead. That also failed, setting up Purdue with a chance to win instead of tie with a late field goal.

Purdue took over at midfield with 4:30 left in the game and moved slowly down the field, aided by a 15-yard pass interference penalty on Iowa cornerback Julius Brents. Ultimately, the drive bogged down at the 7-yard line, and Evans connected on fourth down.

It was Iowa's second consecutive loss after a 30-24 setback at Penn State a week ago and  almost certainly ends any hopes of winning the Big Ten West division.

Northwestern comes to Iowa next Saturday. A kickoff time has not been announced.

Here’s what we learned:

Offense moves ball through the air: Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley had his right thumb wrapped after injuring it last week. But his accuracy and decision-making was much better than a week ago, when the Hawkeye offense failed to score a touchdown. Stanley went 21-for-32 for 275 yards and a touchdown. As is often the case, Stanley’s best playmakers were his tight ends. Noah Fant took a short pass 65 yards to set up one touchdown. T.J. Hockenson had four catches for 39 yards and the lone passing score, a 4-yarder on a fourth-and-2 play. Stanley also had no turnovers for the first time since a Week 2 win over Iowa State.

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Defense bends but opportunistic: Iowa's defense was victimized like it hadn't been all season. But, just as they did last week against Penn State, the Hawkeyes produced a pair of second-half turnovers to give the offense extra chances. Jake Gervase intercepted a David Blough pass on the Iowa 8-yard line. But the bigger play was an Amani Hooker pick that set up the Hawkeyes on the Purdue 26 in the fourth quarter trailing 35-30. That led to a 1-yard touchdown run by Sargent that put Iowa ahead for the first time.

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Be careful who you put on Rondale Moore: Purdue’s sensational freshman wide receiver operates out of the slot, and the Boilermakers love to get him in single coverage. That’s what happened on Purdue’s second scoring drive, when Iowa middle linebacker Jack Hockaday was trying to cover Moore on a third-and-6 play from the Hawkeye 14-yard line. Moore faked outside, cut back inside and left Hockaday behind for a 10-yard catch. Iowa had better luck with cornerback Riley Moss or safety Amani Hooker tangling with Moore. But just the threat of the Big Ten’s leading receiver was also enough to open things for other Boilermakers. That’s what happened on Purdue’s first touchdown, a 36-yard pass to Isaac Zico in which the safeties converged on Moore and left cornerback Julius Brents in single coverage with no deep help. That’s what makes Purdue’s offense so dangerous, as Iowa quickly discovered.

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Special-teams plan was much better: Moore is also a dangerous kick returner, but the Hawkeyes found ways to neutralize him, with one exception. The first kickoff was short to Jess Trussell, who seemed surprised and fumbled it out of bounds for no gain.  Miguel Recinos’ next kickoff resulted in a touchback, and then he had a short kickoff that Moore raced up to field to grab and bobbled before falling on it at his own 11. Similarly, Iowa punter Colten Rastetter angled punts short and to the sidelines, where Moore could not field them. It was one way to keep the Big Ten’s leader in all-purpose yards from having an impact in two phases of the game. Moore did make Rastetter pay for a short punt in the third quarter, however, fielding a line drive 31-yarder and splitting three would-be tacklers for a 24-yard return that set up Purdue’s fifth touchdown.