Know thy Opponent 2009: Indiana Hoosiers

I have become an expert at NCAA Football '08. Sure, I could get the newer version, but I am a self-employed writer and the '08 version still has the actual Orange Bowl in it. The point of this rant is that I recently played the 2010 season and destroyed Indiana 84-40. My defense was terrible, but my offense generated the Lee Corso comment of , "Either lie down and lose by 50, or pick yourself up and start playing" When I jumped ahead early in the game.

That is what happened with last year's Bucket game. Both teams were terrible, making it like a mid-90's Bucket game again. Indiana chose to lie down and lose by 50 instead of playing with a little pride to keep the Bucket. Were we 52 points better than the Hoosiers last year? Probably not, but they still rolled over and died before 10 minutes were gone in last year's game. It was so bad even I was embarrassed by the lack of effort Indiana put forth. If you listen to the "experts" you can expect a similar atmosphere in this year's game in Bloomington in that the loser gets last place in the Big Ten. The optimistic fans on both sides see the Bucket game as a chance for a bowl, however, as long as each team reaches five wins before it.

2008 Record: 3-9 (1-7 Big Ten)

Bowl Result: none

Blog Representation: Crimson Quarry

Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 69-36-6 (Purdue leads Old Oaken Bucket portion 55-26-3)

Last Purdue win: 11/22/2008 at Purdue 62-10

Last Indiana win: 11/17/2007 at Indiana 27-24

Bucket_medium Rare_bucket_medium

A common sight and rare sight in the Bucket's history. You pick which is which.

So much for the momentum of a bowl game. Since Austin Starr sent his game-winning kick through the uprights in the 2007 game, Indiana has returned to its usual self on the football field. Season opening wins over provisional D-1A member Western Kentucky and Murray State gave way to a 3-9 finish in the year. Ball State and Central Michigan, two of the best teams in the MAC, rolled Indiana at home and the Hoosiers only managed an unexplained win over a ranked Northwestern team the rest of the way. I will give IU credit there. They have beaten multiple ranked teams since our last win over a ranked opponent. Things got so bad last year that John, the very good Crimson Quarry blogger, declared it Indiana's worst Big Ten season and our win the worst loss in Indiana football history. Injuries were a major factor, but "worst ever" is still stiff criticism for last year's team considering IU's football history.

CFN, in its effort to paint a rosy picture for every single team, gives a bowl game as the best case scenario of Indiana this year based on the experience returning. Other football publications have them as the only team behind us in the Big Ten with good reason. The defense was terrible last year even by Indiana standards. IU lost its one proven playmaker in Kellen Lewis. The non-conference schedule is stiff with only a home game against Eastern Kentucky as a guaranteed win. Western Michigan is a very good MAC team that can beat them, and road trips to Akron and Virginia aren't easy. The home schedule features few gimmes outside of Eastern Kentucky. Road dates in Big Ten play at Michigan, Northwestern, Iowa, and Penn State make it very hard to see an IU bowl game this year.

The audio was disabled for this, but it is still a quality video with respect for Hep as well.

Indiana offense:

This team is much worse off losing Kellen Lewis at quarterback. I have no doubt that Ben Chappell is a talented quarterback. He has more in-game experience than our own Joey Elliott and has the benefit of knowing he was going to be the starter since the ill-advised move of Lewis to wide receiver. Still, Chappell does not offer the same running element that Lewis does. Chappell saw significant action last year, yet didn't have an official rushing attempt. Lewis, meanwhile, ran for 500 yards and three scores in a down year for him. Teams like Indiana cannot beat other teams on talent alone with their current roster. They need that extra element a player like Lewis gives. If you don't have to worry about Chappell beating you with his feet it makes Indiana that much easier to defend. Chappell is a threat with his arm though. In limited action he threw for 1,001 yards and four scores. Indiana is moving to a pistol-style offense, so it will likely mean more running from Chappell.

In another strange move, coach Bill Lynch has said he wants Indiana to be more of a downhill running team. That's great, except that Indiana's top two rushers are no longer on campus. Brian Payton (350 yards, two scores) has the most experience running the football. Now that we have a defensive coordinator that recognizes a halfback draw is a legal play we are allowed to stop we might be able to play defense against Indiana. It was incredibly frustrating to see Marcus Thigpen gash us on simple draws two years ago, but he is gone. Darius Willis is a redshirt freshman who could make some noise after sitting out last season. Demetrius McCray also has experience at tailback with 224 yards and two scores.

A main reason that Indiana struggled last year was the departure of James Hardy. No one could replace his production, as Ray Fisher (42-373-5) was the best receiver. In another move I don't understand, he has moved to the defensive side of the ball at cornerback despite being the team's best receiver. Andrew Means (34-450-1) has decided to pursue a baseball career, so he is gone too. That leaves junior Terrance Turner (29-289-0) as the best returning receiver. Tandon Doss (14-186-1) showed some promise as a freshman last year, but did little outside of a 107 yard performance against Northwestern. Damario Belcher (25-337-2) at 6'5" provides and interesting size element we lack as an outside receiver.

If there was one unit that effected Indiana's season strongly last year it was injuries along the offensive line. The group gave up 28 sacks and struggled to generate a consistent running game other than having Lewis run for his life. Only Roger Saffold at left tackle with 10 starts was consistent. He returns to protect Chappell's blind side, but Pete Saxon at center may be the line's best player. Coach Hep made the offensive line a priority in his too short tenure in Bloomington. This is the year that it should bear fruit in terms of his recruiting efforts. Cody Faulkner at right guard, James Brewer at right tackle, and Justin Pagan at left guard were all Hoeppner recruits groomed for this specific season to start. I'll give coach Hep credit. He knew what he was doing in Bloomington. If this group of five can stay healthy Indiana can be much better on offense.

Indiana defense:

The best way to sum up Indiana's defense is "What defense" last year. Injuries and inconsistent play made this unit awful. All-American Greg Middleton had an incredibly disappointing year with just 14 tackles and 4 sacks. He is too good of a talent to have those low of numbers. He had 16 sacks in 2007 alone. Jammie Kirlew on the other end picked up the slack with 74 tackles and 10.5 sacks. It is rare that Indiana has multiple All-Americans, but that was the case last year with Middleton and Austin Starr. Kirlew and Middleton are probably the best two rush ends in the conference. If they can regularly get into the backfield Indiana's defense will be much better. Deonte Mack (21 tackles, 2 sacks) and Nick Sliger (redshirt freshman) must play better against the run at both tackle positions for Indiana to have marked improvement.

I think Indiana's history at linebacker can be summed up in one John Kerr. Kerr led Indiana in tackles in 2002 as a freshman, but immediately transferred to Ohio State. Once there, he hung around for a few season before going undrafted in the 2007 NFL draft. It is pretty bad that your leading player on the defense parlayed a great season into a transfer and scholarship offer at a better program only to be an also-ran there. Indiana does not have to worry about that anymore, as senior Matt Mayberry has put in his time and returns for his final year on campus after leading Indiana in tackles last year. He had 89 stops and five sacks last year, so he is a versatile linebacker that can play all over the field. Will Patterson and Tyler Replogle give Indiana experience at the linebacker position that we lack. Patterson, now a senior, has been around the IU program for years and had a 104 tackles season in 2007. This unit is very experienced and gives Indiana a solid base at the conference's most necessary defensive position.

Just as we should be afraid of relying on defensive backs to help our receiving corps, Indiana should be afraid in its secondary. A major reason IU went to a bowl game in 2007 was the fact it had two great cornerbacks. Now they must rely on Ray Fisher, a converted wideout, to evolve into a shutdown corner. He is quick, but at 5'9" He is going to be pushed around like Chris Clopton in the 2001 Rose Bowl. Chris Adkins started all 12 games last year at the other corner position and had 54 tackles but no interceptions.

At safety is the Jeremy Finch. An Indiana High School legend, Finch committed to Florida before transferring to his second choice, Indiana. Finch battled injuries last year, but the former 4-star recruit has to play up to his talent level this year in order for Indiana to achieve its full potential. The Hoosiers thought they were getting a steal with Finch last year, but he contributed just six tackles in five games after sitting out a season due to transfer rules. Still, he is IU's best option at safety. Nick Polk and Austin Thomas are solid backups, but Finch really needs to be the star of the show in the secondary.

Overall, Indiana's defense was nothing to fear last year. Even our popgun offense went off for 62 points against them. We were hardly the best offense they face either. The only drive we didn't score on in last year's game was because we didn't feel interested in scoring. That gives me a ton of confidence.

Indiana Special Teams:

Austin Starr was supposed to be the best kicker in the nation, but he struggled to hit 10 of 17 field goals. The kicking position is now up for grabs with junior Nick Ford and his one extra point experience giving him the lead for the position. Mitch Ewald is an unproven true freshman who could challenge for the job. Starr also struggled on kickoffs, as opponents averaged 24 yards per return.

The Hoosiers to have a solid punter in Chris Hagerup, whose brother we are recruiting heavily. Hagerup averaged better than 42 yards per kick last year and held teams to a 6 yard average per return. The return game will suffer with the departure of Marcus Thigpen. DeMetrius McCray is the most likely candidate to return kicks while Fisher will likely return punts.

Intangibles:

I am going to get cocky for a moment.

It's Indiana.

We know we are better than them at football. We had a terrible season last year, the worst in the 12 year history of that coach, and we still won 62-10. If we don't win we have no reason to go to a bowl. In my mind, it would take something drastic on our end for the Hoosiers to suddenly overcome a 52 point differential. We were virtually even coming to that game and the only reason the score wasn't worse is because we didn't want it to be. Many of the players on our teams are very used to kicking the living crap out of IU for the Bucket, and there are still plenty that remember the one time since 2001 IU won the Bucket.

Indiana does have a little bit more experience returning on offense though. They are playing at home too. I like the improvements to Memorial Stadium, but I don't know how much of a home field advantage it will add.

Game Outlook:

All we need to do is get to five wins before this game. I feel that if we have a chance at getting to a bowl game when we head to Bloomington we will finish the deal. There honestly is not one thing that scares me about Indiana except the duo of Middleton and Kirlew. Despite how close the records were, we still hold a decided advantage in my mind. Indiana has made a series of questionable moves to its offensive personnel, while we seemed to be adjusting well to the hand we are dealt. It will be interesting to see how well things play out as the season progresses.

Prediction:

Indiana probably is not as bad as I think they are, so it will likely be closer than expected. It is still our Bucket though. They aren't due to get it back until about 2013 or so. Purdue 38, Indiana 24

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