IOWA CITY — Iowa’s football team has accomplished a lot in recent seasons.
The Hawkeyes possess all four of the traveling trophies they play for annually, have strung together win streaks against their closest rivals and are currently in the midst of a 12-game string of victories that has vaulted Iowa to a No. 2 national ranking in the Associated Press poll.
But, the Hawkeyes have a Purdue problem.
The Boilermakers haven’t won more than seven games in a season since 2007, but heading into Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. game at Kinnick Stadium, they have won three of the last four games they have played against Iowa.
"We’ve got a lot of respect for them for obvious reasons," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "I’m well aware of that, believe me."
Ferentz said each of the Hawkeyes’ recent games against the Boilermakers has been a "different story," but added intensity and successful execution have been common denominators.
Purdue used Elijah Sindelar touchdown passes of 42 and 16 yards to Anthony Mahoungou in the third quarter to pull away to a 24-15 win at Kinnick Stadium in 2017.
David Blough threw touchdown passes of 36, 41, 82 and 3 yards in 2018 but needed a 25-yard field goal by Spencer Evans with 8 seconds remaining to let the Boilermakers escape 38-36 the following year.
Iowa won 26-20 in 2019 but not before David Bell caught 13 passes for 197 yards and one score.
Bell picked apart the Hawkeye secondary last season as well, recording 13 more receptions for 121 yards and scoring three touchdowns in Purdue’s 24-20 win at Ross-Ade Stadium in the delayed season opener for both teams.
He’ll be among potential problems for Iowa on Saturday.
Bell averages a Big Ten-best 109.75 receiving yards per game and is second in the conference with his 6.75 catches per game.
"He’s another great receiver who can do a lot of things, but it seems like we’ve seen several of those guys this year," Iowa free safety Jack Koerner said.
Koerner believes the Hawkeyes are better equipped to deal with Bell and the Boilermakers than they were a year ago, following a plan that has worked against other strong receivers Iowa has faced this season.
"Staying on top of receivers, being aggressive at the point of attack and getting the ball out, those are the big things," Koerner said.
Ferentz said the personnel surrounding Bell complicates defending him.
"The real challenge is that they have other guys, too. Their other receivers are good," Ferentz said. "They have good size, so you can’t just put two guys on (Bell) and then (6-foot-3 Milton Wright) is going to have a field day. That’s where it gets hard and tricky."
Bell has caught 27 passes in four games — he sat out a win over Illinois with an injury — but has has averaged 26 yards per reception while totaling 439 yards to top 2,000 yards for his career.
Jackson Anthrop, a 5-11 fifth-year senior, has averaged 8.9 yards on his 20 receptions while Wright has averaged 12.1 yards on his 18 catches and 6-5 tight end Payne Durham has averaged 11.6 yards on each of the 18 balls he has caught.
Complicating things even more is that Purdue has used two quarterbacks and Ferentz said Iowa will prepare to see both.
Jack Plummer has completed 69.5% of his 118 passes this season and Aidan O’Connell has connected on 66% of his 100 attempts at the controls of an offense which ranks second in the Big Ten in passing with 325.4 yards per game.
Bell’s big-play ability is only a portion of the challenges that await the Iowa defense.
"They make you defend a lot of different things. They have gadgets and trick plays on special teams and offense so it becomes a tough preparation," Ferentz said. "They have and have had good players who have hurt us with deep balls. That sounds pretty basic, but a lot of people won’t try it that way but they have done a good job with that."
Boilermakers coach Jeff Brohm said that may be easier said than accomplished against an Iowa defense which has recorded a nation-leading 16 interceptions this season.
"They’ve adapted and adjusted to a certain degree where they’re not giving up big plays over their heads," Brohm said. "The first couple of years we were able to hit a couple of those on them, but they do not give those up anymore."
He said the Hawkeyes have seemingly found a way to play opponents tight enough but yet far enough off of that teams are not trying to throw balls over the top of defenders or allow teams to attack throwing down the middle of the field.
"They do a really good job with their safeties of cheating that to a certain degree to make sure that you’re not going to get a cheap pass down the middle, which is extremely smart," Brohm said.