A look at most of the statistical categories in the Big Ten reveals that statistically speaking, the Purdue Boilermakers are the worst team in the conference. The Iowa Hawkeyes sit at 5-4 overall on the season, needing one more win to get to bowl eligibility. It seems like the Hawkeyes are set up to return to postseason play.
However, to win even this game, Iowa must do what they’ve been unable to do consistently this season — score touchdowns and put together 6o minutes of winning football. The Hawkeyes are dead last in the Big Ten — yes, behind even the Boilermakers — in red zone touchdown conversions, getting six on only 42 percent of their possessions inside the opponents’ 20-yard line. The red zone inefficiency has been just a part of larger consistency issues.
Iowa has been outscored 71-27 in the fourth quarters of their first nine games of this season, including 33-0 in the last four games. Unless the Hawkeyes can build a double-digit lead through the first three quarters, their play in the final 15 minutes will have to improve to get that sixth win. The situation gets more desperate when the rest of Iowa’s schedule is considered.
The Hawkeyes’ final two games of the 2013 regular season are a home game against Michigan and a road game at Nebraska. It’s hard to overstate how much more difficult winning either of those two games would be in comparison to beating Purdue. If Iowa can’t find the end zone and play a solid fourth quarter in West Lafayette, expecting them to do so against the Wolverines or in Lincoln would be a tall order.
Losing at Purdue would also be mentally and emotionally deflating. No matter how much the Hawkeyes try to not underestimate the Boilermakers, everyone in the program knows this is Iowa’s best shot at a sixth W. To fail would invite gloomy clouds to follow the Hawkeyes through their last two games and possibly lead to a 5-7 season.
Winning Saturday’s game, however, would create a sense of relief and an attitude of optimism about possibly getting to a seventh or maybe an eighth win. The day after tomorrow, all Hawkeye fans will see whether this is a team worthy of postseason consideration. If Iowa can’t go into Purdue and get a win, they don’t deserve to play in a bowl game. My prediction is that the Hawkeyes will take care of business, winning 27-17.