Just one week after No. 2 Iowa logged one of the biggest wins of the year with a top-10 victory at home over Penn State, the previously undefeated Hawkeyes have been taken down with their first loss of the season in decisive fashion, 24-7 to Purdue. The Boilermakers got an all-time performance from two of their superstars and future pros, holding the Hawkeyes to just a single touchdown on the afternoon.
Purdue wide receiver David Bell and defensive end George Karlaftis both showed out in the win. Bell had 11 receptions for 240 yards and a touchdown, and while Karlaftis only had one sack and two quarterback hurries on the stat sheet, he was a problem for Iowa's offensive line all afternoon.
Purdue's success forced Iowa's offense to press in ways that it has not had to do all season, and the results were not inspiring. The Hawkeyes had less than 300 yards of total offense as Purdue piled up more than 450. When things got tight with the game on the line, Iowa could not move the ball.
Only twice after halftime did Iowa even threaten to score, first after a 67-yard kickoff return early in the fourth quarter -- a drive resulted in a turnover on downs after failing to convert a fourth-and-1 -- and again in the final minutes with the result decided. Iowa starting quarterback Spencer Petras threw four interceptions without a touchdown in the game, while Purdue's Aidan O'Connell completed 30 of 40 passes for 375 yards and two touchdowns, plus another on the ground.
It didn't help Iowa's efforts that it's vaunted defense was down not just one but two All-American caliber cornerbacks for much of the game. Riley Moss suffered an injury last week against Penn State, and then Matt Hankins left Saturday's loss to Purdue with an upper body injury. Those absences were most obviously felt in the challenge of trying to limit David Bell, but the entire Purdue offense deserves credit for converting more than half of its third downs against a defense that has been considered one of the best in the country for the entire season.
Purdue playing the role of spoiler for a top-two team is nothing unusual. Coach Jeff Brohm has already done it once himself, taking down Ohio State in 2018, and the program as a whole now has 13 wins against teams ranked in the top two of the AP Top 25. That ranks fifth all-time with company that includes Notre Dame, Ohio State, USC and Oklahoma.
Three things to know about the game, and what it means moving forward:
1. Hawkeyes must regroup
A break for Iowa follows an otherwise tremendous run for a program that has been unbeaten since its third game of the season in 2020. But Saturday's loss revealed the distance between Iowa being a team that can win on its terms and one that needs a certain set of circumstances in order to dominate its opponents. The regular recipe of using great defense and special teams to set up short fields for the offense just wasn't there on Saturday against Purdue, which is a credit to the Boilermakers and also indicative of what Iowa needs to work on before returning to action on Oct. 30 against Wisconsin in Madison.
2. Bell and Brohm have Iowa's number
Brohm is now 4-1 against Iowa in his time as Purdue's coach with two of those wins coming in Iowa City. After the game, he credited all three quarterbacks for their ability to guide the offense down the field in a hostile road situation against a good defense, and the fact that the Boilermakers have had elite talent at the wide receiver position has helped their efforts to move the ball through the air against an Iowa secondary that regularly ranks among the best in the Big Ten.
That's where Bell comes in. His predicted departure to the NFL will come as welcome news to Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker after totaling 37 receptions, 558 yards and five touchdowns in three games against the Hawkeyes. Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz mentioned this week that failing to limit Bell has been an issue in the past and would be one of the spots where the game hinged; he was correct as the Purdue wide receiver delivered nearly as much offense individually as Iowa's entire team.
3. Big Ten race gets shaken up
Iowa has a quality win against Penn State, a victory against Iowa State and a path to the Big Ten Championship Game that looks favorable as long as it doesn't slip up again. Purdue does have a head-to-head advantage against Iowa in the Big Ten, and both teams have one loss now, but the Boilermakers have Michigan State and Ohio State left on the schedule, while the Hawkeyes are done with their cross-division games after beating Maryland and Penn State.
So if Iowa can get back on track and win the rest of its regular-season games (at Wisconsin, at Northwestern, Minnesota, Illinois, at Nebraska) then it could show up to the Big Ten Championship Game with a chance to win it and contend for a College Football Playoff spot. But after reaching No. 2 in the country for the first time since 1985, those playoff hopes are far more difficult to imagine following Saturday's loss.