Iowa

Mekhi Sargent is Iowa's leading rusher with 329 yards on 70 attempts and two touchdowns this season.

LINCOLN — On the bright side, Iowa never has to wear those bright-yellow Arena Football League uniforms again. That kind of look isn’t a lucky charm after scoring 12 points in a huge home game.

The Hawkeyes (4-2, 1-2 Big Ten) lost 17-12 last Saturday to undefeated Penn State. It was a respectable loss to a good team, the kind that still leaves Iowa in the Top 25, where it belongs based on defense alone.

Yet it was Iowa’s second straight loss to a Big Ten blue blood — Michigan prevailed 10-3 the week before — and it put a spotlight on the Hawkeye offense. There is, almost annually, a spotlight on the Hawkeye offense for one reason or another.

Iowa has run the ball 60 times in the past two weeks, gaining 71 yards — 60 for 71! The ugliness of that number can be attributed, in part, to 10 sacks for a loss of 82 yards over two weeks.

But 50 carries for 153 yards isn’t much to write home about, either. That points to an Iowa offensive line that many expected to be the league’s best. Well, they’re wrong. Ohio State’s is. But Iowa may not be top three. Perhaps not even top five. It’s un-Iowa-like.

“At some point in the season, somebody is not going to let you run it, you got to throw it, and vice versa,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said this week. “You got to be able to do both to be a successful team, unless you live off the option or throw it every snap of the game.”

Ferentz noted, too, that Iowa faced two very good defenses in those losses. He’s right. Iowa’s defense held firm, too.

Iowa plays a creamed-corn style of offense — top three in the conference in time of possession in 2018 and 2019 — that naturally helps its defense face fewer snaps. Iowa’s defense is facing 57 snaps per game; Nebraska’s is facing 72.9.

But that formula only works if Iowa runs the ball with its backs. The Hawkeyes lean on three guys — Mekhi Sargent, Toren Young and Tyler Goodson — who tend to get the ball equally. That trio averages roughly 28 carries for 150 yards — 5.34 yards per carry — per game. Every time Iowa gets that? Chalk up a win.

Now Purdue (2-4, 1-2) comes to town. The Boilermakers allow 4.63 yards per carry, are bashfully young on both sides of the ball and rely almost exclusively on their pass game for offense. They’ve also beaten Iowa two straight times.

That streak ends Saturday. Iowa is favored by 17 ½ points, which seems high. I still like the Hawkeyes to win.

My pick: No. 23 Iowa 31, Purdue 17

Other Big Ten picks

*excluding Friday night's Ohio State-Northwestern game

No. 16 Michigan (5-1, 3-1) at No. 7 Penn State (6-0, 3-0)

6:30 p.m., ABC

This is a marquee game with a pretty fat point spread. That speaks to the unevenness of Michigan’s offense against a Penn State defense that packs a big punch. PSU is also an awfully hard place to play at night. Imagine spending all day in State College.

Line: Penn State by 9

My pick: Penn State 24, Michigan 10

No. 20 Minnesota (6-0, 3-0) at Rutgers (1-5, 0-4)

2:30 p.m., BTN

Line: Minnesota by 28½

The Gophers may let down a little bit after a blowout of Nebraska, but Rutgers isn’t much of a match even against a letdown. Rutgers has scored 71 points all season.

My pick: Minnesota 35, Rutgers 7

No. 6 Wisconsin (6-0, 3-0) at Illinois (2-4, 0-3)

11 a.m., BTN

The Badgers spent a month at home — five straight games — then go on the road to play at ... Illinois. Pretty sweet life right there.

Line: Wisconsin by 31

My pick: Wisconsin 45, Illinois 7

Indiana (4-2, 1-2) at Maryland (3-3, 1-2)

2:30 p.m., BTN

Maryland is a wild card — up and down on offense, consistently poor on defense. Indiana is sort of the opposite. But Indiana has the better quarterback in Michael Penix over whomever Maryland chooses to play between Josh Jackson (high ankle sprain) and Tyrrell Pigrome.

Line: Indiana by 5½

My pick: Indiana 35, Maryland 27

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