Survive and advance.
That was what Iowa (5-2, 3-1 Big Ten) had to do these past two weekends after a disappointing start to the 2016 season. The Hawkeyes were able to get back on track after losses to North Dakota State and Northwestern, and though it hasn’t been easy, two wins in a row against Big Ten opponents have kept the team in a position to still make an impact in the race for the Big Ten West division crown.
Last weekend, a rivalry road win against Minnesota put some wind in the Hawkeyes’ sails. On Saturday, the Hawkeyes went to West Lafayette, Ind., and continued one of the most impressive road winning streaks in the nation, beating Purdue, 49-35. The win was Iowa’s ninth straight on the road, which is tied for the third-longest active streak in college football.
“Our guys do a good job when they get on the bus,” head coach Kirk Ferentz said after the game, according to ESPN.
“They really are focused on what we’re trying to get done. It is a business-like atmosphere when we come to different environments, but the game is still played on the field. A key is that we have had good leadership and good maturity.”
Though the final score makes the game seem like it was a close affair, the stats tell a slightly different story. The Hawkeyes were 9-for-17 on third downs and 1-for-1 on fourth down plays. Conversely, they held Purdue to 5-of-17 on third downs and the Boilermakers were 2-for-5 on fourth. Iowa won the yardage battle, 520 to 504, and crushed Purdue on the clock, winning time of possession 36:06 to 23:54. The Hawkeyes did commit 12 penalties for negative 95 yards — a stat that Ferentz would undoubtedly like to erase — but what Iowa was able to do with the rushing game far made up for any of the team’s deficiencies on the afternoon.
As a team, the Hawkeyes rushed for 365 yards on 53 attempts, averaging a robust 6.9 yards per carry.
Akrum Wadley once again led the way with 170 yards and a touchdown, while his backfield-mate Leshun Daniels Jr. put up 156 yards and two touchdowns of his own. Sophomore wide receiver Jerminic Smith also got into the mix, taking a reverse and doing the heavy lifting for 45 explosive yards.
Reverse to Jerminic Smith for a nice gain! Check out CJ's block. pic.twitter.com/W2YLu0gYjx
— Heavens! (@HeavensHawkeye) October 15, 2016
To put it lightly, it was a great game for the Hawkeyes on the ground, and Iowa’s rushing attack has been the one unit that has stepped up this season game-in and game-out. It’s been a huge bright spot for the Hawkeyes in what has otherwise been a somewhat disappointing season, and right now, it’s a phase of the game that’s keeping Iowa in the Big Ten West race.
“We had some big runs out of the shotgun, which we worked on in practice this week and then had the right calls at the right time in the game today,” Wadley said after the game. “At the beginning of the season, Daniels and I talked about having a game when we both rushed for over 100 yards. Today, that was the first game it happened.”
Wadley has now rushed for 586 yards and eight touchdowns this season. He’s put up three 100-plus yard performances and the game against Purdue was his second 100-plus outing in a row. Daniels Jr. has rushed for 595 yards and six touchdowns and quarterback C.J. Beathard — a talented dual-threat — has rushed for two scores on the ground this season. Against Purdue, Beathard was extremely efficient with his arm, though, completing 10-of-17 passes for 140 yards, two scores and no interceptions.
This was a rejuvenating performance for an Iowa offense that had scored only 14 points in two separate games this season. Iowa’s offense, as proven against Purdue, has the ability to be extremely explosive, but it has consistently been one of the bigger issues for this team in 2016.
The good news? Iowa has been consistent enough to win two Big Ten games in a row, and though the Hawkeyes are still looking up at undefeated Nebraska (6-0, 3-0 Big Ten), they do have a chance to potentially put away a Wisconsin at home next week.
The Badgers have lost two in a row — granted, to two very good teams in No. 4 Michigan and No. 2 Ohio State — and Iowa can put the proverbial nail in Wisconsin’s coffin at Kinnick.