With the regular season winding down, Iowa traveled to West Lafayette, Ind., on Saturday to take on Purdue with the Hawkeyes looking to rebound from a loss to Michigan State the previous week. Despite some sloppy play, Iowa (7-4, 4-3 Big Ten) was able to hold off a late Purdue (5-6, 3-4 Big Ten) rally attempt to walk away with a 31-21 victory. We will now take a look back and grade the Hawkeyes' performance.
After a rough outing in a home loss to Michigan State, James Vandenberg rebounded nicely against Purdue. He was more accurate with his passes, made few risky throws and overall looked more comfortable in the pocket than he did last week. Vandenberg was also finally able to get the monkey off his back by picking up his first road win as a starter at Iowa. His only major mistake was when he fumbled in his own end zone, which Purdue recovered for a touchdown to knot the score at 14-all. He also still tends to lock onto receivers at times instead of working through his reads, but it hasn't really cost him so far.
Overall, Vandenberg was 22 of 32 for 273 yards and three TDs. Those numbers could have been even higher were it not for several dropped passes by his receivers. Grade: B+
It was another 100 yard outing for Marcus Coker as the sophomore methodically worked over the Purdue defense. He didn't have a lot of big runs (his longest was 14 yards), but he steadily pounded away at the Boilermakers with his usual physical style, picking up a large chunk of yards after contact. Coker carried the ball 30 times for 139 yards and a TD, his sixth straight game with at least one touchdown. It was also the seventh time this season he's gone over 100 yards and the third time he's carried the ball 30 or more times. Coker has now rushed for 1,297 yards in 2011, pushing him into sixth place on the Iowa single-season list.
Weeks of speculation as to whether or not Mika'il McCall would redshirt this season came to an end as the true freshman made his way onto the field in the second quarter. Unfortunately for McCall, it was not the kind of comeback he was hoping for. With Iowa sitting inside the Purdue 10-yard line, McCall fumbled on his second run of the day and did not receive another carry. Overall, he ran twice for 4 yards.
Although he didn't make a direct impact in the stat book, Brad Rogers once again did an excellent job blocking to help open things up for Coker and the run game. Grade: B+
Wide Receiver/Tight End
We might as well just call this the Marvin McNutt category from here on out. He did drop two passes, including a potential touchdown, but that doesn't wipe out what else he was able to do against the Boilermakers. McNutt hauled in nine passes for 151 yards and two TDs, including another highlight reel grab, and added to his growing number of school records, this time taking sole possession of the single-season touchdown record (12). This is in addition to his single-season record for receiving yards (1,240) and career records for touchdowns (28) and receiving yards (2,786).
McNutt is also poised to take possession of two more records as he sits just eight receptions shy of tying Kevin Kasper for single-season receptions (82 in 2000) and 11 short of tying Derrell Johnson-Koulianos for career receptions (173).
McNutt wasn't the only one making an impression against Purdue. C.J. Fiedorowicz continues to play a bigger role in the offense and caught three passes for 31 yards, including a 5-yard TD in the first quarter. Keenan Davis finished second on the team with seven receptions for 63 yards, while Kevonte Martin-Manley caught three for 28. As a whole, the receiving corps put up some solid numbers, but they still continue to drop far too many passes as they added at least four to an already too high season total. Grade: B
The play of the offensive line was improved from last week's performance. While it certainly helps to not be facing Michigan State's massive defensive line, the Iowa O-line was able to generate a good push for much of the game and did a better job providing running lanes for Coker. Purdue was able to get to Coker for a loss of yards on several occasions, but overall the run blocking was good. Pass protection was also solid, and though Vandenberg was sacked three times, he usually had enough time to find his receivers. Grade: B+
Overall Offensive Grade: B Whether due to fumbles, dropped passes or some other miscue, Iowa let a lot of opportunities to score fall by the wayside. In the second quarter alone, Iowa had the ball at Purdue's 36, 9 and 49 and came away empty each time. That being said, the Hawkeye offense seemingly had little trouble moving the ball against the Boilermakers and was able to do enough to help push Iowa to victory.
For a group that has been much-maligned this season, the defensive line turned in quite the performance on Saturday. Iowa was able to get into the backfield early and often, stopping Purdue from generating much of a running attack as the Boilermakers finished with just 101 yards on the ground. The D-line was also able to get through to Purdue quarterbacks Robert Marve and Caleb TerBush on several occasions, causing rushed throws when they weren't able to pick up a sack.
Mike Daniels and Broderick Binns were easily the stars of the defensive line on Saturday, turning in one of their best performances of the season. Daniels led the defense with a season-high eight tackles, including four for loss, and a career-high two sacks. Binns finished second on the team with seven tackles and a sack and was constantly in the Purdue backfield. Tom Nardo finished with four tackles (1 TFL) and broke up one pass, while Lebron Daniel had two stops and Steve Bigach had one. Grade: A
The linebacker corps played well against the Boilermakers, teaming with the defensive line to hold Purdue to just over 100 yards rushing. The tackling was better, they shed their blocks well for much of the game and they were effective in pass coverage as well.
With injuries that forced James Morris and Tyler Nielsen to the sidelines for stretches, Anthony Hitchens saw significant playing time and responded with a good performance, coming up with three tackles to go along with a fumble recovery. Morris led the group with four tackles, while Nielsen and Christian Kirksey finished with three stops with Kirksey adding a pass breakup. Grade: A-
The secondary did a good job clearing up many of the issues it had last week's loss, helping to allow Purdue to complete just 50% of its passes. The coverage was tighter, the communication was better and the tackling was less passive that it was against Michigan State. The coverage was a little lax at times in the fourth quarter, but it was still a big improvement from the previous game.
Shaun Prater led the secondary with six tackles, including a sack, forced a fumble and broke up two passes. Jordan Bernstine and Micah Hyde both finished with five stops, and though Tanner Miller only had one tackle, he was able to come away with two interceptions, giving him three this season. B.J. Lowery also had just one tackle but made it count with a sack in the fourth quarter. Grade: A-
Overall Defensive Grade: A- Things got a little interesting at the end of the game, but overall, the defense turned in one of its strongest performances of the season. After struggling last week in a loss, Iowa held Purdue to 282 yards of total offense, forced three turnovers and came up with five sacks, the most for a Hawkeye defense since a 12-0 win over Minnesota in 2009.
Despite making a couple of big plays, it was a so-so performance for the special teams, though it was an improvement from last week. Senior Kyle Steinbrecher came up with a blocked punt in the second quarter, giving Iowa its first blocked punt since the season-opener in 2010. Collin Sleeper recovered the punt to give the Hawkeyes great field position. Iowa also forced a fumble on a Purdue kick return, although like the blocked punt, the offense wasn't able to take advantage of the miscue. Though the average of 33.2-yard per punt wasn't great, Eric Guthrie did a good job punting in windy conditions, placing two of his four punts inside the 20. Bernstine did a decent job handling the kick returns, though he didn't break any big runs.
Though the conditions were less than ideal for a kicker, Mike Meyer had a bit of a rough day. He drilled a 38-yard field goal attempt but also missed a 34-yarder off the upright, the third time he has missed one off the upright this season. It was also Meyer's fourth miss in his last six attempts, although one of those came on a blocked kick. He also struggled on kickoffs, averaging just 55.7 yards per kick. Hyde let a punt get by him instead of catching it and allowed it to roll downfield for an additional 10-15 yards, something he has done many times this season, and the kick coverage unit was spotty at times. Grade: C
Overall Grade: B It wasn't always pretty but Iowa came back from a tough loss last week to walk away from West Lafayette with a much needed road victory. The offense was effective, if not a bit sloppy at times, and the defense had arguably its best outing of the Big Ten season as the Hawkeyes head into a pivotal final game of the regular season that could go a long way in determining the bowl pecking order.
Stat of the Game: +3
After losing the turnover battle last week, Iowa got back into the positive side of the column by forcing five Purdue turnovers (two picks, two fumble recoveries and a recovery of a blocked punt).