Published November 20, 2014
Purdue is trying to win for its embattled coach.
Iowa is vying to curb a tailspin that's threatening to keep it out of a bowl game.
Neither the Boilermakers nor the Hawkeyes figured there would be so much at stake for a game that means so little in the Big Ten standings.
Purdue (3-6, 0-5) and Iowa (4-5, 2-3) have combined to lose eight straight league games heading into Saturday's showdown in Iowa City. The Boilers have fallen apart after a 3-1 start that included a narrow loss at national title contender Notre Dame.
The Hawkeyes have dropped their last three games, including a 24-21 defeat at Indiana that gave the Hoosiers their first back-to-back league victories in five years.
"We've had some ugly losses, and that's tough as far as your momentum goes for your team and your season," said Purdue coach Danny Hope, whose job status has been questioned in the wake of a disappointing season. "There's been some struggles, and they have been a result of injuries and not performing as well and losing some confidence."
Both teams can likely kiss bowl hopes goodbye with a loss on Saturday.
Though neither team looks like a solid pick to even reach six wins, the Hawkeyes appear to be in shape to at least make a respectable run at it.
Iowa's struggles on offense have been well documented. Quarterback James Vandenberg is having a miserable senior year with just four TD passes, and emerging running back Mark Weisman has essentially been shelved with injuries for three weeks after a stellar four-game stretch.
The Hawkeyes are near the bottom of the league in nearly every offensive statistic and they haven't topped 21 points in more than a month.
"We've got to get in better synch. We've got to execute better in the critical situations, especially. But it's a team thing. We win as a team typically and lose as a team," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "We're not quite there."
Luckily for the Hawkeyes, Purdue isn't quite anywhere on defense.
The Boilermakers haven't been able to stop anyone, save for a decent performance in an overtime loss at Ohio State three weeks ago.
Purdue is allowing a staggering 264 yards rushing a game and is second-worst behind Illinois with 37.8 points allowed per game in the Big Ten.
As one might expect, losing has taken its toll on the Boilermakers — a team that even Ferentz thought could emerge as a sleeper in 2012.
"We are pressed to win. We're hungry to win, and the expectations are high, and sometimes you can be too pressed to win. There's a real difference between ... intense and tense," Hope said. "But again, I don't apologize for trying to be the best. I think it would be beneath us if we did."
Iowa's defense has also taken a step back in the past three weeks.
The Hawkeyes have allowed 38, 28 and 24 points during their current losing streak. Though those aren't necessarily terrible numbers, they've been too much for Iowa's woeful offense to overcome.
"We've got to stick together as a group. We're going through some adversity now," Vandenberg said. "It's just different thins breaking down at different times."
Perhaps this is the week the Hawkeyes put it all together for the first time since pounding Minnesota in their Big Ten opener. It's also seems just as likely that Purdue can take advantage of a stumbling Iowa team and gain back some of the confidence the Boilermakers have lost over the past five weeks.
Both teams are certainly capable of living up to their preseason expectations for at least one afternoon — especially with so much desperation in play on both sides.
"There are a lot of dynamics that happen during the course of the season internally and all that type of thing. But all you have to do is go back to that Ohio State tape," Ferentz said. "They've got a lot of guys that can make plays and hurt you."