By Sam Kienzle
A week after facing off against eventual Legends division champion Michigan State, a game in which the Hawkeyes committed three turnovers at critical moments and couldn’t stop Kirk Cousins’ wide receivers or Spartan running back Le’Veon Bell (20 rush, 112 yards, 1 touchdown), the Iowa Hawkeyes finally soothed their road rage in a 31-21 win over Purdue at Ross-Ade Stadium.
Before last Saturday’s game at Purdue, concern simmered near boiling point in Iowa City after Iowa’s loosely played 37-21 loss to the Spartans. In the Hawks first loss at home (and last home game) this season, James Vandenberg threw a rare interception, resurgent defensive back and kick returner Jordan Bernstine inexplicably fumbled on a return, and the consistently suspect Iowa defense could not do enough in the first half to control the damage of Iowa’s turnovers. Kirk Cousins took every opportunity given to him, throwing three first half touchdowns.
The second half started to look like an unlikely Hawkeye comeback, as Iowa closed the 31-7 halftime score to 34-21 on touchdowns by Marcus Coker and Marvin McNutt.
Any hopes of making the game competitive evaporated, however, when Zach Derby caught a pass inside the red zone and fumbled midway through the 4th quarter. The Spartans took the third Iowa turnover of the game and marched down the field to kick a field goal, settling the 37-21 final score.
While Iowa committed three turnovers over the course of the game, Michigan State committed none. The superior green-clad defense left Kinnick Stadium largely the same, stuffing Marcus Coker and draping over Vandenberg’s wide receivers. It was evident that day that Iowa was not in the same league as Michigan State.
Fast forward a week, and Iowa’s trip to Purdue looked daunting. While not particularly spectacular in one single area of play, the Boilermakers were playing at home and had upset Ohio State the week before, 26-23 in overtime. At 5-4, Purdue sought to take advantage of a seemingly weak road competitor in Iowa and become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2007. Questions hovered over the Hawkeye players’ willingness to turn the last two games of the season into worthwhile outings. The “team identity” questions persisted, as Iowa had lost their last game at home by the widest margin since a 38-20 loss to Indiana in 2007. Questions regarding Marvin McNutt, however, had been answered weeks before. The senior wide receiver, Iowa’s all-timer, had left the Michigan State with his fourth straight 100-yard receiving game, and seventh of the season.
By the time it was all said and done Saturday at Purdue, Iowa’s “triplets” (Vandenberg, McNutt, and Coker) had their way and the Hawkeyes got their first road win of the year. Vandenberg threw three touchdown passes, two to McNutt, and Coker blasted a short touchdown with 139 yards rushing. McNutt finished the game with 151 yards receiving on 9 catches, his fifth straight 100-yard receiving game and eighth 100-yard receiving game overall. The eight 100-yard receiving games is a decade high in the Big Ten. McNutt now has 1240 season receiving yards, 12 touchdowns, and every single-season and career record at Iowa except for all-time receptions (12 catches shy, chasing Derrell Johnson Koulianos) and single-season receptions (14 catches shy, chasing Kevin Kasper from 2000).
The Hawkeye defense played its best game of the year, forcing four turnovers and corralling Purdue’s backfield with 9 tackles for loss and 5 sacks. Defensive linemen Mike Daniels (2 sacks, 4 tackles for loss) and Broderick Binns (7 tackles, 1 sack) played like desperate seniors, eager to see Florida for the holidays.
The score could have been more in Iowa’s favor had the Hawks not turned the ball back over to Purdue after forcing a turnover on their opponents previous series. In one such instance, Tanner Miller’s interception at the two yard line certainly wiped itself of opportunity after James Vandenberg fumbled in his own end zone and Purdue recovered for a touchdown. Iowa took a 21-14 lead into the half.
Iowa plugged its turnover leak in the second half and Marvin McNutt got his second touchdown of the game, catching a bobbling, 51-yard touchdown that was without question the Hawkeyes’ offensive play of the game. And a bit of luck finally fell Iowa’s way, as well. With a 31-21 lead and the game nearing end, quarterback and Miami transfer Robert Marve (and victim of two Tanner Miller interceptions) dove for the pylon to seemingly score a touchdown. Upon review, however, the judges ruled that he fumbled onto the pylon. Iowa received the ball in exchange–along with the win–served up nicely on the touchback platter.
Iowa (7-4, 4-3) now travels to Lincoln, Nebraska to face the Cornhuskers (8-3, 4-3) in the inaugural Heroes Game. It’ll be the first time the teams have played since 2000. The Hawkeyes and ‘Huskers had a two game series in ’99 and 2000, both games dominated by Nebraska. It’s been an up and down year for Nebraska in its first year in the Big Ten. The ‘Huskers are the only team to have beaten Legends division champion Michigan State, but they are coming off a 45-17 loss at Michigan last Saturday. The praised “Blackshirt” defense of Nebraska has been at times dominant but largely inconsistent in a disappointing Big Ten debut. At best, this game represents a contest for bowl positioning. The game will be played on Friday, 11 a.m., on ABC.
Sam’s football viewing for Turkey consumers’ holiday:
Thursday: Packers at Lions, 11:30 a.m. central, Fox
…(there are other NFL games Thursday, all day, but this one is the best).
Friday: Iowa at Nebraska, 11 a.m. central, ABC
…(and other good NCAAF games).
Saturday: Penn State at Wisconsin, 2:30 p.m. central, ESPN stations.
…(Decides Leaders division champion. Winner plays Michigan State a week later for Big Ten title, and other good NCAAF games like Ohio State at Michigan).
Sunday: More NFL
4 days, likely 6,450 mg of sodium consumed.