WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — For the first seven weeks of the 2022 season, the strength of Purdue’s defense was depth along the defensive front. The unit was stout against the run and held opposing teams to just over 100 yards rushing per game early in the year.
But in its last two games, at Wisconsin and while hosting Iowa on Saturday, the team was gashed on the ground. The Boilermakers have now given up a 100-yard rusher in back-to-back contests after not allowing one before their trip to Madison, Wis.
Even after taking advantage of a bye week to iron out any issues, freshman running back Kaleb Johnson mounted 200 yards rushing on 22 carries, which included a 75-yard touchdown to give the Hawkeyes a 24-3 lead on the second play of the third quarter.
That ended up being the final score of Saturday’s game at Ross-Ade Stadium, as Iowa took advantage of an early lead and controlled the pace all afternoon. Purdue’s offense was hardly threatening, which resulted in its defense being force-fed a steady dose of rushing attempts.
“They just ran their offense, they did a good job,” Purdue redshirt senior defensive end Jack Sullivan said after the game. “They came in and executed their plan, and we just have to do a better job as a defense staying in our gaps and staying gap sound, just executing our jobs.”
Against both the Badgers and the Hawkeyes, the Boilermakers fell behind early in the first half, prompting the two physical rushing offenses to turn to what they do best — hand the ball off, move the chains and take time off the clock.
Wisconsin running backs Braelon Allen and Isaac Guarendo combined 185 yards on the ground back on Oct. 22, with Allen going for 113 on 16 carries. Johnson had similar success for Iowa, averaging 9.1 yards per carry and only being tackled for a loss on three of his rushing attempts.
It’s been a far cry from when the defense gave up just 47 yards rushing to Minnesota in a 20-10 upset on the road back in Week 5. The Golden Gophers have cemented themselves as one of the conference’s top rushing offenses, ranking second with 212.2 yards per game behind only Michigan.
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And Purdue isn’t out of the water just yet, with its next game being a road matchup against Illinois at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Ill. Junior running back Chase Brown leads the Fighting Illini with 1,344 yards rushing so far in 2022, which paces the Big Ten. He’s gone for over 100 yards in every game this season.
The Boilermakers will look for a bounce-back performance in all phases to break away from its recent woes, and on defense, it starts with getting back to stopping the run.
“We just gotta get back to doing what we do as a defense,” Purdue redshirt senior defensive lineman Lawrence Johnson said. “The main thing is staying in our gaps, tackling the ball and stopping the run. We gave up 200 yards to one running back, it’s not our best performance.
“It’s kind of embarrassing because we take pride in stopping the run, and we obviously didn’t do that tonight. Next week, we play another good running back who’s capable of doing the same thing if we don’t stop that ball.”
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