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Harty: Many reasons to be concerned about Purdue

[ 8 ] November 13, 2011 |

Iowa’s game Saturday at Purdue looked like trouble before the Boilermakers defeated Ohio State this week and before Iowa had a tendency to look mediocre.

For one thing, it’s a trap game for Iowa, squeezed between the final home game of the season against Michigan State, which Iowa lost 37-21 Saturday, and the final game of the regular season at Nebraska on Nov. 25.

It’s also on the road, where Iowa is 0-3 this season and just 2-6 since the start of last season.

And now Purdue, despite being rocked by injuries, is a better team than most expected under third-year coach Danny Hope, whereas Iowa at 6-4 is struggling to meet preseason expectations, which weren’t that high to begin with.

The Boilermakers are 5-5 overall with two games left in the regular against Iowa at home and at lowly Indiana.

It doesn’t take a wild imagination to see Purdue winning its last two games, considering how Iowa plays on the road and how Indiana (1-9) plays everywhere.

A victory Saturday would make Purdue the ninth Big Ten team to become bowl eligible with at least six victories.

Northwestern also would become bowl eligible with a victory over Minnesota at home Saturday.

That would make 10 of the 12 Big Ten teams bowl eligible; with Minnesota and Indiana the only exceptions.

The Big Ten has eight bowl tie-ins starting with the Rose Bowl and ending with the Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl, formerly known as the Motor City Bowl, which is Dec. 27 in Detroit.

Nothing against Detroit, but it’s hardly the place where any Big Ten fan wants to spend his or her bowl experience.

There is a perception that Iowa will always avoid being shipped to Detroit for a bowl game because the Iowa fans travel too well to allow it to happen.

Maybe that’s true, but if you look at the other seven Big Ten teams that are bowl eligible, Illinois is the only one with a fan base that pales in comparison to Iowa when it comes to attending bowl games.

So perhaps Illinois would be sent to Detroit and Iowa would head south to play in the TicketCity Bowl in Dallas.

If the Big Ten has 10 teams that are bowl eligible, it’s likely that all 10 would find a spot in one of the 35 bowl games that take place from Dec. 17 until the BCS national championship game Jan. 9.

The situation is really too fluid at this stage to even speculate about Iowa’s bowl chances other to say the Hawkeyes will be headed to some bowl game for the 10th time in the last 11 seasons under coach Kirk Ferentz.

But will it be as a team with an 8-4 record, a 7-5 record or a 6-6 mark?

The latter seems most likely considering how poorly Iowa has played on the road this season. Winning at Purdue will be hard enough, but winning at Nebraska on Nov. 25 will be a daunting task, especially if the Cornhuskers are playing for a Legends Division title.

“We still have two games left to get this taste out of your mouth,” said senior receiver Marvin McNutt, who on Saturday became Iowa’s all-time leader in career receiving yards with 2,635 on 153 receptions. “It’s an opportunity for us to come out this week and practice well, and come next Saturday, hopefully, be ready to play.”

Iowa supposedly wasn’t ready to play against Michigan State, said Ferentz and about every player who was interviewed after the game. That might explain why Iowa trailed 14-0 before the first quarter was even half over and 31-7 at halftime.

But saying we weren’t ready to play also is a slight to Michigan State because it suggests that the Spartans prevailed over a team that wasn’t on top of its game.

That’s a bunch of hooey because Michigan State had a lot to do with Iowa not being at the top of its game.

Michigan State won the battle in the trenches on both offense and defense, making it so Iowa couldn’t run the ball or stop the run, which is a recipe for defeat.

The Spartans did have a number of players succumb to injuries in the second half, causing some to wonder if they were faking to slow down Iowa’s offense after it began to click.

It’s hard to say whether all the injuries were legitimate, but Iowa only has itself to blame for having to play catch up.

Iowa sort of made a game of it in the second half, causing reporters to ask afterward what the difference was between the two halves.

“I just think it was all mental,” sophomore free safety Tanner Miller said. “We knew what we were supposed to do. We were in position to make plays.

“And we had a choice to make at halftime whether we would fold or continue to fight. And I think we did a decent job of continuing to fight in the second half. That’s a positive, I guess, that we can take from this and build for next week.”

Miller’s description of what went wrong actually sounded more physical than mental. It probably was a little of both, which is another reason to be concerned about facing Purdue.

Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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