Iowa’s offense takes step backward

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — With less than a month left in the 2013 regular season, Iowa’s offense is starting to look more and more like the 2012 version.

That’s not a good thing for the Hawkeyes.

Iowa (5-4, 2-3 Big Ten) has taken a big step backward of late. The Hawkeyes have scored just 19 points — with one touchdown and four field goals — over their last two games in regulation. They’re now tied for 11th in the Big Ten at 25.3 points per game heading into Saturday’s game at Purdue (1-7, 0-4).

The rushing game, which was among the nation’s best in September, is now averaging a pedestrian 4.3 yards per carry. The passing game isn’t much better, with just 205 yards per game and 12 TDs against 10 interceptions.

Iowa remains just a game shy of returning to bowl eligibility after winning just four games and scoring less than 20 points a game last season.

Still, the regression of the offense in the face of tougher competition is a troubling trend.

“We just need to finish in the red zone. We can’t settle just for three points. We have to go get touchdowns,” Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock said. “We need to have that not take no for an answer and understand that, hey, we need to get in the end zone.”

The passing game hasn’t done enough to make opponents back off from stopping the Hawkeyes’ running backs. Rudock has had his moments, most notably when he threw for three touchdowns in a close loss at No. 4 Ohio State. But he’s also averaging an interception a game.

Rudock sprained his knee in the second half of last week’s 28-9 loss to Wisconsin, but he’s expected to start against the Boilermakers.

“In a perfect world, we like to be balanced, and sometimes you’ve got to throw it better to get the running game going. They work both ways,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said.

Last month, the Hawkeyes also appeared to have one of the league’s better rushing tandems in Mark Weisman and Damon Bullock.

But after rushing for 147 yards in a win at Minnesota, Weisman hasn’t cracked 60 in the past four games. Though Bullock was able to make up for some of that against Ohio State and in an OT win over Northwestern, he’s got just 370 yards and one touchdown with three games left.

“Safeties are coming down a little harder, filling in a little harder than they typically do when we watch film against other teams. But that’s expected against the way we had been running the ball,” Weisman said. “You have to break those tackles.”

Iowa’s struggles on offense were never more evident than in last week’s loss to Wisconsin.

The Hawkeyes settled for three fields from less than 30 yards out, while the Badgers converted two Iowa interceptions into touchdowns that put the game out of reach. Iowa will almost certainly find yards easier to come by against the Boilermakers, who are allowing 37.1 points a game. But Michigan and Nebraska loom on the other side of a bye.

Though those games against the Wolverines and Huskers are winnable in theory, the Hawkeyes know they can’t continue to struggle on offense and expect their standout defense to carry them to victory.

“I’m not overly thrilled with what we’re doing right now. We need to amp it up,” Ferentz said.