WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) — Purdue quarterback Aidan O’Connell noticed how special sophomore receiver David Bell was from the time he came on campus.
“He’s a kid that physically is a mismatch for more players,” O’Connell said. “Even more than physically his mental makeup is extremely impressive. He knows where to be and when to be there. He’s a quarterback’s dream out there.”
Bell caught three touchdown passes from O’Connell, including the game winner, to guide the Boilermakers to a 24-20 victory over Iowa Saturday in Big Ten season opening action.
“David is a special player,” said Brian Brohm, who was acting head coach with his brother Jeff sidelined after testing positive for COVID-19. “He can play in the slot. He can play outside. He can make contested catches. He’s able to do everything from the receiver position. We are just lucky to have him. The quarterbacks love having him.”
With the Boilermakers’ top receiver Rondale Moore sideline for undisclosed reasons, Bell caught 13 passes for 121 yards.
His difference maker was a 6-yard TD from O’Connell with 2:15 remaining in the fourth quarter to give Purdue the lead. Purdue’s defense stiffened on the final drive, stopping Iowa on fourth-and-10 from its own 44.
“Aidan has been clutch in fourth quarter drives throughout his career and he was able to put together another a good one,” Brohm said
O’Connell, who was named starter just before the game, completed 31-of-50 passes for 282 yards.
“Aidan’s mental makeup is special to walk-on at Purdue when we were signing two quarterbacks in the class that he was in,” Brohm said. “He’s a resilient guy that has a great mind set about him. Nothing really bothers him. He didn’t do everything perfect but when it came time he performed. I’m proud of him for getting it done.”
Zander Horvath, who got the start at running back because King Doerur was out with a hamstring injury, led the Purdue rushing attack with 129 yards on 21 carries.
“Iowa was daring us to run the ball and for us to do it and do it effectively opened up the passing game for us and we put it in,” Brohm said.
Purdue’s game winning drive was set up by a big turnover.
With Iowa leading 20-17 and driving, the Hawkeyes’ Mekhi Sargent had the ball stripped by Dedrick Mackey and Cam Allen recovered at the Purdue 28. The Boilermakers followed with a 12 play, 72-yard drive.
Hawkeyes quarterback Spencer Petras completed 22 of 39 passes for 265 yards for Iowa.
“I thought we moved the ball well,” Petras said. “But penalties, missed plays and turnovers will kill you.”
Iowa took a 17-14 lead into halftime when Keith Duncan kicked a 27-yard field goal as time expired in the second quarter.
Purdue wasted a nice opening third quarter drive when O’Connell was intercepted by Barrington Wade at the Iowa 3-yard line on second down-and-10 from the Iowa 11.
The Hawkeyes pushed the lead to 20-14 with Duncan’s 33-yard field goal with less than two minutes elapsed in the fourth quarter. Purdue’s 14-play drive stalled, and the Boilermakers settled for J.D. Dellinger’s 29-yard field goal to trim the deficit to 20-17.
Purdue had tied it at 14-all when Bell caught an 11-yard TD pass from O’Connell. Bell opened the scoring for Purdue with a 9-yard touchdown catch in the opening quarter
After Petras tied it at 7-all for the Hawkeyes with a 1-yard quarterback sneak with 10:21 left in the second quarter, Iowa went ahead 14-7 when Sargent capped off an 11-play, 73-yard drive with a 1-yard TD run.
Purdue managed to win the game without coach Jeff Brohm’s guidance. Brohm missed the game after testing positive for COVID-19 Sunday and forced to isolate at home. His younger brother, Brian, co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, took over as acting head coach for the game. Marty Biagi, special teams coach and defensive assistant, also had to isolate,
“I”m proud of our team to get this victory and our coaches to band together in a time of crisis where a lot of adversity was hitting us and guys had to take on new jobs and roles,” Brian Brohm said.
The Boilermakers defense came up with big play when needed to shut down the Hawkeyes.
Iowa’s fourth quarter fumble probably made the difference.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said turnovers and penalties and inability to stop the run were big reasons for the loss.
Iowa committed 10 penalties for 100 yards compared to three for 21 yards for Purdue.
CREDT GOES ELSEWHERE
Purdue quarterback Aidan O’Connell didn’t want to take any credit.
“I had great teammates around me,” he said. "Can’t talk about how well the defense played, how well the receivers did and the O-line held up. We ran the ball well in the fourth quarter, so I point away from me.”
Despite his three touchdown passes, O’Connell wasn’t happy with his two interceptions.
Iowa will host Northwestern Saturday.
Purdue will play at Illinois Saturday.
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