Archive for November, 2012
With no bowl game to plan for and no upcoming opponent to worry about until Northern Illinois shows up at Kinnick Stadium next Aug. 31, members of the Iowa football coaching staff are on the hunt for players. The Hawkeyes have verbal commitments from 15 players as part of a 2013 recruiting class which will sign letters of intent on Feb. 6. Iowa coaches have been on the road since Sunday night and Monday morning, visiting with players who previously committed - you do have to continue the recruits you already have these days - and searching for players to fill the handful of scholarships Iowa has remaining in its 2013 recruiting class. Ferentz said today priorities for the remaining scholarships are linebackers and offensive players who have a knack for scoring touchdowns. He wasn't kidding. After watching the Iowa offense reach the end zone 22 times during the Hawkeyes' 4-8 season, coaches are shopping for playmakers. Iowa will host a number of recruits on the weekend of Dec. 7 and Ferentz believes his players will be selling the idea that Iowa isn't far away from enjoying the success it has had in past seasons. "My guess that is going to be the tenor. It's like anything. A lot of times you lose a game on Saturday and you feel like crap, but usually the best thing after a bad loss to get back on the field Tuesday, being around the players and the energy they have,'' Ferentz said. "My sense is that the recruits will do the same things. They're going to come in here because they've bought into the program for the right reasons and they're going to come in committed to putting the thinng where we want it to be.'' Ferentz said Iowa coaches are looking "anywhere'' for talent, from the high-school level to junior colleges. "We'll look at anybody, anything right now that can help us,'' he said. "But, you have to project how they're going to fit in on campus, and will they be able to have success here in all realms, not just football-wise.'' Iowa offensive coordinator Greg Davis is among Hawkeye coaches on the road this week. Ferentz, who prefers to limit the off-campus recruiting by his coordinators, said Davis is scheduled to meet with prospects on Friday and Saturday.
Mercifully, the 2012 Iowa football season came to an end today. The Hawkeyes finished a 4-8 season with a 13-7 loss to Nebraska that pretty much summed up Iowa's season in tidy 60-minute capsule. Dropped passes. One-yard gains on third-and-three plays. Penalties for having too many players on the field following a timeout. This was game 12, although it was filled with mistakes more typical of an opener. From a season-opening win over a Northern Illinois team which hasn't lost since to a stout, albeit inconsistent effort against 17th-ranked Nebraska, the Hawkeyes never felt comfortable in their new offensive shoes. First-year coordinator Greg Davis brought with him the reputation for being an offensive coach who was willing to mold his offense to the talent he had to work with. That never happened, for a combination of reasons. It's unfair to unload all of the fault on quarterback James Vandenberg, just as it would be unfair to place all of the blame on receivers incapable of making the circus catches Marvin McNutt made a year ago or on players who filled spots at running back and the offensive line where injuries diminished chances for consistent performances. That all contributed to an offense which scored 20 touchdowns in 12 games this season, hardly enough to win in today's brand of Big Ten football. We probably should have seen this coming to a degree. Davis noted Iowa's lack of speed at the receiver positions during spring drills, a situation painfully obvious throughout the season that will only be corrected through recruiting and time. Iowa worked through three starting running backs and five starting offensive line combinations in 12 games, all of which impacted cohesion. Davis' preference for a short passing attack both baffled and infuriated fans anxious for a fresh approach after years of targeting their anger at Ken O'Keefe whenever Iowa struggled. Kirk Ferentz' decision to give every opporunity to win - and every snap behind center - to Vandenberg only increased their ire. Ferentz said following the game that he is "comfortable with everything right now'' concerning his coaching staff. He expects to survey his program from top to bottom in upcoming days and weeks and undoubtedly, he'll find room for improvement as Iowa works toward 2013. "Our expectations are certainly to go to bowls every year, but we realize they're never automatic,'' Ferentz said. "This year is certainly evidence of that. That's behind us now as of about a half hour ago. Now, we go back to work and see what we can do about moving forward in a positive way.'' Ferentz said there were "a lot of things that went into being 4-8 this year and the objective now and in the weeks ahead is to figure out what we could have done better, what needs to change.'' Don't expect radical change. That's not in the Ferentz DNA and seldom does it lead to true improvement (ask Ron Zook how his rotating carousel of assistants worked out at Illinois if you need an nearby example). The blood, sweat and tears of hard work, increased success in landing playmakers on the recruiting trail and a better understanding of the offense (by the players) and the personnel (by the coordinator) are all necessary ingredients for the Hawkeyes if they want to grow in 2013. The fix won't be quick, but just as Ferentz built and rebuilt his program following struggles in 1999-2000 and 2006-07, it is possible. Before calling it a day following today's loss, Vandenberg looked toward the future of the program that he is now an alumnus of. "I have total and complete confidence in the system,'' Vandenberg said. "It will work, but it takes time. I was continuing to learn it and (Davis) was continuing to learn our team all season. There were some bumps and bruises along the way, no doubt, but that is part of learning.''
Four things Iowa can do to put itself in a position for success in Friday's game against the Cornhuskers: 1. Establish the run. The Cornhuskers' rush defense has been more successful against pro-style attacks like the one Iowa uses than it has been against spread looks, but the Hawkeyes must strive to get something going on the ground. Nebraska is allowing an average of 171.45 rushing yards per game, which ranks ninth in the Big Ten. Mark Weisman's return brought a return of more power to Iowa's ground attack, a necessity if the Hawkeyes hope to open things through the air. 2. Avoid big plays. Michigan gained 15 or more yards 11 times last week against the Hawkeye defense, continue issues which plagued Iowa in its its losses to Indiana and Purdue as well. Wide receiver Kenny Bell, who caught a career-high nine passes for 136 yards and two scores last week against Minnesota, is a deep ball threat whose capabilities are complemented by the play of tight ends Ben Cotton and Kyler Reed, who have combined for 33 catches. Nebraska has had 70 plays go for 20 or more yards this season, an average of more than six per game. Iowa must cut that number by at least 50 percent to have a chance. 3. Deal with the heat. Temperatures are supposed to be in the upper 30s Friday when Iowa and Nebraska kickoff, but the Hawkeyes must deal with the heat of a Cornhuskers defense which likes the blitz. The ability to protect James Vandenberg will be important. The Huskers' Eric Martin will be keeping an eye on him as well. He leads Nebraska with 11 quarterback hurries and is second in the Big Ten in sacks. 4. Score on defense. Iowa leads the Big Ten in turnover margin, but hasn't made the most of those takeaways this season. Christian Kirksey has returned to interceptions for touchdowns and Micah Hyde ran a fumble back for a score. The Hawkeyes are facing an opponent today which has given the ball away 27 times. Quarterback Taylor Martinez has fumbled six times himself, twice as many fumbles as the entire Hawkeye team has lost this season. Iowa will need to create some offense with its defense if it hopes for success. Four things Nebraska can do to help position itself for a win and a spot in next week's Big Ten title game against Wisconsin: 1. Run, baby, run. The Cornhuskers carried the ball 61 times for 222 yards in last season's 20-7 win over the Hawkeyes a year ago. Given the yards Iowa has surrendered on the ground recently - an average of 208.2 per game during the Hawkeyes' ongoing five-game losing streak - a repeat performance by an offense averaging 256.9 rushing yards would be a sound strategy. Sophomore Ameer Abdullah topped the 1,000-yard mark last week. 2. Defend against air strikes. Nebraska's defense has had its issues this season, but opponents have struggled to complete passes against the Cornhuskers. Foes have completed just 45.5 percent of their passes against Nebraska, by far the lowest completion percentage allowed by any defense in the NCAA's Football Bowl Subdivision. Only one other team - Florida State at 49.9 percent - has held opponents to less than 50 percent passing. Iowa QB James Vandenberg has completed just over 58 percent of his passes this season and the Hawkeyes haven't topped 200 yards through the air in their past two games. 3. Own the fourth quarter. Nebraska has dominated the final 15 minutes of games throughout the season, a primary reason the Cornhuskers have overcame double-digit deficits four times in their six Big Ten wins. The numbers are impressive. The Cornhuskers have outscored opponents 49-28 in the fourth quarter of its wins, has out-gained those teams by an average of 115-53 yards in the quarter and has possessed the ball for over nine minutes in those quarters. 4. Play for the moment. When Nebraska visits Kinnick Stadium for the first time since 1999, there should be no shortage of motivation. A win gives Nebraska no worse than a share of the division title and would assure the Cornhuskers of a trip to Indianapolis next week to face Wisconsin for the Big Ten's Rose Bowl berth. Nebraska hasn't finished 7-1 in league play since posting that mark in the Big 12 in 2001.
The addition of Rutgers to the Big Ten today brings at least a temporary end to the league's expansion, unless Jim Delany opts to wing his way to another locale before sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner. The addition of Maryland and Rutgers to the Big Ten is different than the football-driven expansions which brought Penn State and Nebraska to the league in past years. Delany described league presidents as being "giddy'' over the addition of the two, recognition in part that the Big Ten isn't always about 75,000-seat football stadiums. Maryland and Rutgers bring high-end reputations in academic circles to the league. Both are among the 62 members of the Association of American Universities, a group of the leading research institutions in North America. Eleven of the 12 existing Big Ten schools are also part of that collection of institutions. But, what does the addition of Rutgers and Maryland mean to the football programs of the Big Ten and more specifically, what does it mean to Iowa? Hawkeye coach Kirk Ferentz suspects it will take several years for that question to be answered. Iowa recruits both states already, joining other other Big Ten programs whch mine talent from the Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and New York City/New Jersey areas. Ferentz suspects somebody will benefit from the move, he's just not sure which end of the equation that benefit will be on. He thinks it could actually help the two institutions recruit their own states more effectively, keeping more players at home who might have otherwise been tempted away to Big Ten programs. "It might be better for them than us, I don't know,'' Ferentz said, adding that with a game approaching on Friday that he hasn't had a lot of time to think through the situation much. "They're not on our schedule until at least '14, so we'll see,'' he said. Ferentz said Big Ten leaders, and Delany in particular, have gotten it right more often than not when they have changed the make-up of the conference. "I think there are a lot of good reasons to do this,'' he said. Ferentz is less than enthusiastic about Delany's renewed push to add a ninth conference game to the football schedules of Big Ten teams. He dislikes the competitive imbalance which is built into a nine-game alignment, which would have teams playing five home games and four on the road on a rotating basis every other year. "I just think the math is weird,'' Ferentz said. He's not in favor of that or the far flung idea of a 13-game regular season, something that is not currently on the table. "My main concern right now isn't 13 games, it's trying to figure out how we can get 13 guys on the field against Nebraska and not get caught,'' Ferentz said. The changes will lead to an alteration of the divisions which have been in place for just two seasons. Delany said today there have been no discussions or proposals as to what those changes will lead to. He did say that geography would likely play a greater role when athletic directors sit down to discuss changes than it did when the initial divisions were set up. "Our conference now stretches from the eastern border of Colorado to the Eastern seaboard and south from the border of Canada,'' Delany said. "We encompass a large area and that will be among the topics of discussion, I'm certain.'' He anticipates that ADs will discuss the matter sometime in the months shortly after the bowl season ends. Ferentz wasn't the only Iowa official commenting today on the moves. Director of athletics Gary Barta said the addition of Maryland and Rutgers "has created an exciting new chapter to our conference future.'' "Both institutions represent a strong balance between academic and athletic excellence,'' Barta said. "In addition to sharing our values and principles, Maryland and Rutgers allow the Big Ten to accomplish the goal of expanding the conference market and reach, but in doing so with keeps our geography contiguous and our culture consistent.'' Iowa coaches Fran McCaffery and Tom Brands issued statements as well. McCaffery said the moves should help Iowa expand recruiting opportunities in those areas. "We certainly have connections there, but now that we are playing teams there, I think that will help us,'' he said. Brands called the additions "awesome.'' "They're both quality schools and we welcome the challenge,'' Brands said.
Jim Delany doesn't expect it happen overnight. But over the long haul, the commissioner of the Big Ten believes fans in the Midwestern heart of the Big Ten territory will embrace the league's announcement today that Maryland will become the 13th member of a tradition-rich conference which clings to its Big Ten moniker. He doesn't expect Iowa or Nebraska fans to be excited about the prospects of a game against Maryland any more than he expects Terrapin fans to eagerly anticipate a road trip to Iowa City or Lincoln. "We're going into new markets,'' Delany said."We'll build rivalries and create experiences so that fans want to see these games. ... It won't take 50 years to evolve, but it won't be five months, either. We'll build this.'' Delany views the addition of the Terrapins - which will likely be followed as soon as tomorrow by the addition of Rutgers as a 14th member - as an opportunity for long-term growth for the conference. It places the Big Ten brand in one of the country's most heavily-populated areas, an area rich in institutions and the national hub of business, politics and media. "Demographics are shifting, and while we do not know where TV will be 10, 15 years down the road, we do know that the Eastern seaboard will continue to be rich with people and institutions that will be there in the future,'' Delany said. So what does it mean for Iowa? Once a 14th member is added, there will be changes in the divisions that have been structured for football. Delany would only say today that athletic directors would review possible divisional set-ups over the next 3-5 months. Any changes would become reality in the fall of 2014, when Maryland officially begins competing as a member of the Big Ten. Delany said a nine-game conference football schedule remains an item under consideration. For Iowa, a divisional change could shift Illinois into the Hawkeyes' division and assure an annual meeting of the border rivals who have not met on the football field since 2008. It could also lead changes in the Hawkeyes' protected rivalry outside the division, a set-up which currently has Iowa facing Purdue annually. Delany repeated his earlier call for expanded conference competition in basketball. His preference is for a 20-22 game league schedule, an idea league coaches do not like. Delany said he continues to hope for compromise. "I've always said we love to play each other more, and not less, and that hasn't changed,'' he said. Maryland's president, Wallace D. Loh, worked as the provost at Iowa until assuming his current position in 2010. He sees Maryland as a good fit academically and culturally with the institution he formerly worked at. He isn't alone. University of Michigan president Mary Sue Coleman, who previously filled the same position at Iowa, said Maryland as an institution has a lot in common with its new Big Ten counterparts. "It is a great place and a great institution, similar in many ways to the University of Iowa with great tradition,'' Coleman said. She said administrators like the academic fit and the fact that Maryland as a state is adjacent to the existing Big Ten footprint. "It's a seamless way to expand,'' she said. "I think it will be an addition the people in Iowa will be proud of the more they look at it.''
Shortly after Michigan took a 28-10 lead over Iowa into the locker room at halftime on Saturday, Iowa sports information director informed Iowa media of the end of a decades-old tradition. The press conference after the press conference is no more. The fiesty exchange coach Kirk Ferentz had with a reporter asking about his program's connections with an Iowa athletics academic counselor who resigned recently amid sexual harrassment claims would be the last opportunity that reporters will have to chat with Ferentz on the side. That's a shame. The 5-to-10 minute sessions which follow news conferences have provided productive information over the years. It's a chance to ask about a low-interest topic - perhaps about a local player of little interest to a statewide audience - or the chance to seek answers for a feature or long-term project. Those opportunities will be lost, although the questioning that raised Ferentz' ire on Tuesday won't and shouldn't go away. They will now simply become a little more visual, part of the regular news conference when the lights are brighter and the cameras are focused on the podium. If the coach drops an accidental f-bomb now - as Ferentz did Tuesday when he questioned why the subject was being addressed - it will be now be dropped in front of everybody. Times have changed, transcripts of the on-the-side sessions are now popping up on the Internet shortly after they occur, but the sessions do have value and readers will miss some of the insight that came out of the press conferences after the press conferences over the years.
Four things the Iowa football can do to position itself for victory on Saturday at Michigan Stadium: 1. Establish the run. Mark Weisman is nearing a return from a groin pull at a time when Iowa need something good to happen on the ground. The Hawkeyes' best chance for victory against Michigan necessitates a solid, clock-chewing rushing attack. That has been easier said than done in recent weeks for Iowa, which has averaged just 2.6 yards per carry during its four-game losing streak. Michigan's rush defense has been pedestrian this season, allowing 153.7 yards per game. 2. Deny big plays. The Wolverines thrive in part because of the depth and skill of their playmakers. Michigan has had 48 plays through 10 games this season of 20 yards or more. Injured QB Denard Robinson, questionable for the Iowa game, has rushed for 11 of those big gains but Michigan has no shortage of weapons. 3. Stuff the run. Iowa's recent struggles haven't been limited to offense. Opponents have rushed for more than 200 yards against the Hawkeyes in three of Iowa's last four games and five players have topped 100 yards against the Hawkeyes over the last five weeks. The ability to slow a Michigan ground game led by Fitz Toussaint - an attack which has been slowed a bit by Robinson's injury - will be critical to Iowa's chances. 4. Score on defense. The Hawkeyes lead the Big Ten in turnover margin and defense has put points on the board in each of the Hawkeyes' last two games, Christian Kirksey collecting a pick-six at Indiana and Micah Hyde with a fumble return for a touchdown against Purdue. This is the type of game where points off of a takeaway can loom large. Four ways Michigan can help itself in its game against Iowa: 1. Turn the Hawkeyes into a one-dimensional team. If Michigan can put the clamps on a sporadic Iowa rushing attack, the Wolverines will put themselves in a pretty solid position to win. The Michigan defense has improved against the run over the course of the season and has been at its best against more traditional-style rushing attacks. Winning the battle up front, something Iowa opponents have done in recent weeks, will be important in that aspect. 2. Play the pass. Michigan's pass defense is ranked as the nation's best for a reason, allowing 149.2 yards per game through the air. No opponent has topped 200 passing yards against Michigan, in part because of the dominance of safeties Thomas Gordon and Jordan Kovacs. The Wolverines' effort is centered around denying the big play. Michigan will allow opponents to gain short chunks of yardage, but the focus is on preventing long, sustained drives. 3. Fill the air with footballs. If Denard Robinson misses a third straight start, expect the Wolverines to continue a recent trend of an expanded passing attack. Devin Gardner threw for just under 270 yards last week against Northwestern and in Iowa, he will be facing a pass defense which ranks 10th in the Big Ten, allowing 225.7 yards per game. Only Ohio State and Northwestern are giving up more yards per game through the air. 4. Ride the emotion of the moment. That shouldn't be a problem for a Michigan team that still has a chance to reach the Big Ten title game. It will be Senior Day at Michigan Stadium and the Wolverines have heard a steady diet of reminders this week that they have never beaten the Hawkeyes. Iowa's current three-game win streak in the series has been a focus of Michigan players dating to the offseason, just one more thing that will make the day more challenging for Iowa.
These are uncomfortable times in the Iowa football complex. The Hawkeyes are in the midst of a prolonged losing streak - four games is prolonged at Iowa, the norm elsewhere - and complaints seem to be coming from every direction. Albeit totally honest and dead-on accurate, the boilerplate answer that improved execution is the only thing that will dig the Hawkeyes out of their current hole is getting tiresome to fans who haven't seen Iowa lose this much at Kinnick since Kevin Kasper was catching what Scott Mullen and Kyle McCann were throwing his way in 2000. The defense has struggled, the offense has struggled and special teams have been somewhat sporadic. It's all added up to 4-6 and a coach who is a little testy these days as he works through his umpteenth cup of coffee. Ferentz talked about it all during his news conference today, but in the press conference after the press conference Ferentz clearly did not want to talk about Peter Gray. Coaches bury themselves in work at this time of year, especially when their teams are struggling, and Ferentz was caught a bit off guard when he was asked about Gray, the Iowa athletics department academic counselor who resigned last week before sexual harrassment allegations against him detailed in a university report became public. It's a safe bet that Ferentz did not know that several of his former players had taken to social media to discuss the situation. One former Hawkeye suggested on Twitter that Gray had gotten what he deserved. The reporter asked about those interactions after asking if reports were true that football players who had been assigned to work with Gray had been told to have nothing to do with him once Ferentz was made aware of the allegations. Ferentz was clearly uncomfortable. The coach attempted to distance himself from the story, saying it had been a significant period of time since any of his players had worked with Gray. During the exchange, Ferentz dropped a burst of profanity at the persistence of the questioning, quickly apologized, and then answered that his players had had nothing to do with Gray over a significant period of time. Ferentz did not discount the nature of the allegations, but certainly didn't want the topic to become a distraction to a team that needs anything but another distraction right now. Ferentz said little, but his few words and emotion spoke volumes about a situation university officials would have preferred the public to have never known.
From one Iowa defender to the next this afternoon, two words spilled out of their mouths when talking about what went wrong in the Hawkeyes' 27-24 loss to Purdue. Missed tackles. For every Boilermaker receiver or running back who bounced off a defender, twisted free for an extra yard or two, there was a Hawkeye growing more frustrated by the minute. Purdue piled up 490 yards of offense against Iowa - the fourth straight team to go for more than 430 vs. the Hawkeye defense - and more than a handful of those yards came after missed tackle attempts or second efforts by the Boilermakers to stretch for an extra yard or two. "That's a fundamental part of football,'' defensive tackle Steve Bigach said. "You're not going to win if you don't block the point of attack on offense and if you don't tackle the football on defense. It's a simple game. ... It's damn hard to win if you don't do it and we didn't do it today.'' Defensive end Dominic Alvis was even more direct. "That killed us today. I know it did. That put us away,'' he said. It is a fundamental flaw which helped Purdue average 4.8 yards per carry and 10.7 yards per completion. The Boilermakers gained an average of 6.2 yards on their 79 plays. By comparison, the Hawkeyes averaged 3.9 on their 67 snaps. Linebacker James Morris said every defensive player who took the field shared the responsibility for allowing that to happen. He said that too often, the Hawkeyes are looking to make the big hit instead of simply making the technically sound stop. "I can think of one time when I may have actually knocked the tackler off of the ballcarrier when I came in to try to finish things off. That's not smart football,'' Morris said. He said the Hawkeyes have developed a tendency to do that more than to simply concentrate on making the play. "We've got to finish and rally to the ball,'' he said. "The second guy in has to make sure the tackle is secure and not worry so much about the hit. Just make the play.'' Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz labeled his team's tackling "poor'' as Iowa fell to 4-6 on the season, dropping two games below .500 during the regular season since 2007 when Iowa opened 2-4 and found itself 3-5 two weeks later before stringing together three straight wins. "That was a big part of our problem today,'' Ferentz said. "You can't play good defense if you don't tackle well and I thought that was pretty evident today.'' Cornerback Micah Hyde labeled Iowa's attempts to bring the Boilermakers down as "careless.'' "We've got to get that fixed,'' he said. "This game is all about players making plays and as a defense, we aren't making enough of them to put ourselves in a position to win. We have to get that cleaned up if we want to turn things around.'' Things will not get any easier the next two weeks. The Hawkeyes conclude the regular season with games against the two teams currently sitting on top of the Legends Division standings, playing at Michigan on Saturday before hosting Nebraska on Nov. 23. Both teams are rushing for better than 200 yards per game and Nebraska leads the Big Ten with its offensive average of 487.3 yards. That's 107 yards more than Purdue averaged before it visited Kinnick Stadium today.
Four things the Iowa football team can do to win Saturday's home game against Purdue: 1. Establish the run. Easier said than done the past few weeks, but it's November and it's the Big Ten. The team that can run the ball more effectively will win. Iowa hasn't topped 125 rushing yards as a team in its last four games and has a 1-3 record to show for it. Running back Mark Weisman and fullback Brad Rogers will both likely be absent again this week. The Hawkeyes are expected to put the ball in the hands of sophomore Damon Bullock. 2. Win the line of scrimmage. That hasn't happened since injuries sent Brandon Scherff and Andrew Donnal to the sidelines. Iowa guards Austin Blythe on the right side and the rotating tandem of Nolan MacMillan and Jordan Walsh on the left, struggled with the aggression of Indiana's Adam Replogle and Larry Black last week. Their challenge is even bigger - literally - this week. Kawann Short at 6-foot-3, 315 pounds and Bruce Gaston at 6-2, 303 fill the defensive tackle spots for Purdue. Short has been dealing with an ankle injury the past few weeks, but continues to lead the Boilermakers with four sacks. 3. D it up. Iowa's defense has struggled mightily the past three weeks. After giving up an averageg of 317.2 yards through six games, Penn State, Northwestern and Indiana have averaged 470 against the Hawkeyes the last three weeks with their shared rapid-fire approach to offense. It's a tempo Iowa struggled with and while Purdue doesn't average a snap every 21 seconds like Indiana does, the Boilermakers have shown no-huddle looks in the past. Purdue has been a quick-starting team, scoring on its first possession in four straight games. 4. Win third down. Iowa's inability to move the chains offensively on third down and the Hawkeye defense's struggles exiting the field on third down have been a bad combination. Last week, Iowa converted on just 5-of-14 third-down plays and while Indiana moved the chains on 7-of-17 tries, two of Iowa's last three opponents have converted on more than 50 percent of their third-down opportunities. Among Big Ten teams, only Minnesota has a worse conversion rate in Big Ten games than the 44.9-percent of the time Iowa opponents have converted on third down. And on the flipside, four things Purdue can do to put itself in a position for success at Kinnick Stadium: 1. Establish the run. Forget the near-record warmth that is expected. It's November. It's the Big Ten. The teams that can run the football typically enjoy success. Working his way back from an ACL injury suffered late last season, Purdue running back Ralph Bolden has seen an expanded role in each of the last four games. The senior has only totaled 115 yards on 25 carries, but he's capable and he has a solid group around him in Akeem Shavers and Brandon Cottom. Purdue averages 153 rushing yards per game, seventh in the Big Ten. Iowa's ground game ranks 11th. 2. Have a big-play day. Robert Marve is expected to make his third start of the season at quarterback, but don't be surprised to see Caleb TerBush and Rob Henry line up behind center as well. Marve is working his way back from an ACL injury - the third of his career - which knocked him out of action during a 20-17 loss at Notre Dame on the second week of the season. That has diminished his threat as a runner in Purdue's spread attack, but he remains mobile enough to buy himself time to complete plays. The Boilermakers have rushed for more than 20 yards on eight occasions, thrown for more than 20 yards 23 times and have collected 24 returns of at least 20 yards through nine games this season. By comparison, Iowa has had 11 rushes of 20 or more yards, 18 pass plays of at least 20 yards and had 16 returns of 20 yards or more. 3. Play emotional football. Injuries and a string of lopsided losses have taken a toll on the Boilermakers, who returned nine starters on each side of the ball and were mentioned as a potential title contender in the Leaders Division before the season started. The Boilermakers have lost five straight games and as they arrive at Kinnick, the heat under the seat of head coach Danny Hope is rising. Purdue has shown ability, both in its three-point loss to currently 9-0 Notre Dame and in an overtime game which got away at Ohio State. Purdue has rarely played at that level otherwise. Their bowl hopes come down to winning their final games against opponents who all take the field this weekend with sub-.500 records. Purdue finishes at Iowa (4-5) and Illinois (2-7) before hosting Indiana (4-5). If they're going to salvage anything out of the season, that project has to begin this weekend at Kinnick. 4. Exploit an edge on special teams. Purdue ranks second in the Big Ten with its average of 23.4 yards per kickoff return. Raheem Mostert and Akeem Hunt have been the Boilermakers' most effective return men, averaging 26.6 and 22.6 yards, respectively. Iowa counters with the Big Ten's most productive return man. Jordan Cotton currently leads the league with an average of 28 yards per return.