WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) — Coach Darrell Hazell may have found another piece to Purdue’s puzzle.
Now that he has settled on a quarterback, he’s developing the rest of Boilermakers’ backfield — just in time to host defending Big Ten West Division champion Iowa on Saturday. The results look promising.
“We got a heck of a job from our running game,” quarterback David Blough said, referring to the performance in last week’s overtime victory at Illinois. “It was running back by committee, but they moved the ball well for us. Because we were able to run the ball, it opened up some things in the passing game.”
This week, the committee could expand a bit if Markell Jones returns as expected.
Before spring practice, the Boilermakers (3-2, 1-1) thought they had it all figured out. Blough, the incumbent, would keep his job and the carries were to be split between Jones and running back D.J. Knox. Instead, Knox tore his ACL in the spring game, Blough started slowly and Jones injured his shoulder in Week 2.
After trying to play through the pain for two more games, Hazell finally took Jones out last week, giving Brian Lankford-Johnson and Richie Worship a chance to demonstrate what they could do. Lankford-Johnson ran for 127 yards against the Illini while the 245-pound Worship bowled over defenders.
“It gave us an assurance that we can use those other guys and not feel like you’re going to lose too much in the running game,” Hazell said.
The Boilermakers are hoping it could be a winning combination against the Hawkeyes (4-2, 2-1) , who have not played up to their usual standards.
Quarterback C.J. Beathard is throwing for 181.5 yards per game, Iowa is second-to-last in the conference in yards rushing (149.2) and the run defense is No. 8 after allowing almost 170 yards per game. So if the Hawkeyes plan to stay in the division chase, coach Kirk Ferentz knows things must get fixed — and soon.
“Obviously the clock is running right now,” Ferentz said. “We’re running a really tight race here. We’ve only got six weeks left, so we’re pushing as fast and as hard as we can.”
Here are some other things to watch Saturday:
Iowa has won eight straight road games, tying a school record that was set from 1920-23. It also is tied for the third-longest active streak in the nation behind only No. 2 Ohio State (19) and No. 1 Alabama (nine), and seven of those eight wins are against Big Ten foes — yet another school record. And to extend those marks, all they have to do now is win their fourth straight at Ross-Ade Stadium.
Hazell still has not won back-to-back games in West Lafayette and after 3 1/2 seasons, anxious fans figure it’s about time. As Hazell promised, things have changed this season. The Boilermakers are 2-1 at home and last weekend celebrated a game-winning field goal for the first time in Hazell’s tenure. Now comes the next test: Winning consecutive games for the first time in 42 tries.
Despite having only one kickoff return and one punt return this season, Iowa’s Riley McCarron leads the Big Ten in both (38.0 yards on punts and 54.0 on kickoffs). The regular returner — CB Desmond King — also is having a big year. He’s ranked seventh in the conference in kickoff returns (28.6) and just outside the top 10 on punt returns (10.2). King, last year’s Jim Thorpe Award winner as the nation’s top defensive back, also has allowed 10 catches for 70 yards in six games.
While Jones and Lankford-Johnson (sprained shoulder) are expected to play, the injury news on Purdue’s other fronts isn’t so good. On Wednesday, Hazell said receiver Domonique Young will miss the rest of the season with ligament damage in his right knee. Cornerback Myles Norwood will sit out with multiple injuries, and linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley (sprained right ankle) is listed as doubtful.