Saturday, October 05, 2002

Iowa braces for homegrown passer

Associated Press Writer

        IOWA CITY, Iowa — Opposing coaches, quarterbacks and receivers have tired to exploit Iowa's secondary all season long.

        Look for that effort to continue when Purdue visits the No. 24 Hawkeyes on Saturday.

        The wrinkle this time is that a native Iowan will be the one looking to riddle a defense that ranks last in the Big Ten against the pass.

        Purdue quarterback Kyle Orton is from Altoona, played at Runnells Southeast Polk and was recruited by Iowa. But he opted for the air-oriented program at Purdue (3-2, 1-0 Big Ten), which has turned out a long line of outstanding passers.

        A lanky, drop-back passer, Orton fits perfectly in coach Joe Tiller's system. The 6-foot-4 sophomore has thrown for 1,158 yards and nine touchdowns with just two interceptions.

        Tiller said he was confident Orton's homecoming won't be a distraction for his quarterback.

        “All of us as human beings are subject to that kind of thinking,” Tiller said. “But I do think Kyle's a level-headed guy. He probably wants to do well more than anything versus trying to prove something.”

        Despite yielding an average of 324 passing yards per game, Iowa's defense has stiffened at the right time and the Hawkeyes have the Big Ten's most productive offense.

        After beating then-No. 12 Penn State in overtime last week, Iowa (4-1, 1-0) joined The AP poll for the first time since 1997.

        “A lot of guys are excited because it hasn't been like this for a while,” Iowa safety Bob Sanders said. “But we can't really concentrate on that too much. I think everyone is going to be pretty focused this weekend and have something to prove that we can compete with the top teams.”

        Iowa has lost its last two games with Purdue. Coach Kirk Ferentz said the Purdue defense caused more problems for Iowa last year than any other team.

        Purdue held Iowa to 33 yards rushing and scored on an 86-yard interception return.

        “We just could not move the football last year,” Ferentz said. “We just didn't deal with their movement and speed. That's the challenge for us now, to find a way to remove some of that scar tissue and move the ball on these guys.”

        Iowa also must find a way to stop Orton and an offense that is not as one-dimensional as past Tiller teams. The trademark three-receiver sets are less frequent, replaced by a running game featuring junior Joey Harris.

        Harris has topped 100 yards four times this season, including 106 in a 28-15 victory over Minnesota last Saturday. But the Boilermakers have been plagued by turnovers, fumbling four times in a loss to Notre Dame and five times in a home loss to Wake Forest.

        Iowa has been tough against the run, allowing just 48 yards a game. Part of that is due to opponents picking on cornerbacks Antwan Allen and D.J. Johnson.

        “I think the biggest thing is we don't know what the (run-pass) ratio will be Saturday,” Ferentz said. “I'm sure they will probably throw more against us. It seems like everybody does.”

        The difference is that the throwing will come from a homegrown talent, one Ferentz acknowledged the Hawkeyes waited too long to court.

        “We were interested in Kyle. But he got down to Purdue, they offered and he was gone,” Ferentz said. “We never even got to the dance.”


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