The final installment of season previews is, as always, on the Indiana Hoosiers. Bill Lynch made a bit of a stir at the Big Ten Media Days last week, stating that he felt Indiana was about 12 plays away from a pretty good bowl game. One of the plays he singled out was the kickoff return by Al-Terek McBurse to begin the second half of the Purdue game. I find this laughable at best.
First off, as Boiled Sports points out, Lynch blamed the return on a breakdown. Nevermind that ATM burst through a hole created by his blockers. Second, we ended up winning the game by 17 and we were up 21 for a good portion of it. If Lynch wants to look at a few plays that were a difference he should think about Ben Chappell's lost fumble on the opening drive that set up Jaycen Taylor's touchdown. Maybe David Pender's no-talent block of a field goal had an effect too, since it set up a second touchdown. Maybe their failure to tackle Keith Smith on his clinching touchdown was a key.
Indiana was about 12 plays away from beating Purdue, but there were other games in which they were much closer. They have the easiest non-conference schedule in America. Failing to reach a bowl against said schedule should be considered a failure on any level.
2009 Season: 4-8, 1-7
Bowl result: None
Blog Representation: Crimson Quarry
Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 70-36-6
Last Purdue win: 11/21/2009 at Indiana 38-21
Last Indiana win: 11/17/2007 at Indiana 27-24
Last Season for the Hoosiers
If Indiana wants to look at how they missed a bowl game a year ago they need to look at other games. They were screwed pretty badly in a 36-33 loss at Michigan. They crapped the bed in a 42-24 loss at Iowa. They didn't bother to show up against a bad Virginia team, losing 47-7. The collapse on the road at Northwestern was also bad. The Hoosiers were unable to hold a lead in almost every big game, and sometimes they played better on the road than they did at home. While attendance was better, Indiana still has a long way to go before having a home field advantage.
There is little excuse for a non-conference loss this year. Arkansas State, at Western Kentucky, Towson, and Akron is about as easy as it gets. Assuming they get through that slate unscathed they will need just two conference wins for a bowl game. They catch a bad break by missing Minnesota, but Michigan State is a good no play. Indiana has to look at home games against Michigan and Northwestern as must-wins, as is a trip to Illinois. They missed an excellent chance to make a statement at home by selling off their game against Penn State. There is little question that Indiana's offense is good enough to be bowl-worthy, the defense, however, may prevent that.
Except for a swoon against Ohio State and Virginia, the Indiana offense was quite potent. Ben Chappell ran the new pistol offense to near perfection, throwing for 2,941 yards and 17 touchdowns, but he was hurt by 15 interceptions. If he can cut down on the interceptions by half Indiana will get much better. Three interceptions against Iowa, including a devastating 86 yard touchdown return by Tyler Sash, really hurt the Hoosiers in that game. Chappell was also a bit of a danger with his feet in running for three scores, but because of sacks he finished with -9 yards rushing.
The key to Indiana's offensive success will be its offensive line, which must replace high draft pick Rodger Saffold. Andrew McDonald will get the first shot at replacing Saffold at left tackle. James Brewer is a big, solid returning starter on the other end, while Justin Pagan at center and Will Matte at left guard also started last year. Marc Damisch and Cody Faulkner will likely battle for the other guard spot. Coach Hep made recruiting along the offensive line and it is finally paying dividends. This is a big line that gave up only 16 sacks on 440 pass attempts last year.
The line also blocked well for a promising running game thanks to Darius Willis. Willis torched Michigan for over 150 yards and finished with 607 total yards and six touchdowns. Willis gives Indiana a rare big, fast running back and he is only a sophomore. Antonio Banks and Matt Perez are expected to both contribute as true freshmen this fall. Perez was a standout in the Chicago area with 56 touchdowns over the past few seasons, and one delusional fan on the IU message board feels he can take the Hoosiers to Pasadena this year. Unless he has a ton of money for plane and game tickets I don't see that happening, but he is good enough to make a difference in the running game.
The receivers are among the best groups in the conference. Tandon Doss (77-962-5) should be an all-Big Ten first team receiver along with Keith Smith. He nearly hit 1,000 receiving yards last season and the emergence of Demarlo Belcher (61-770-5) means the Hoosiers have to solid targets on every play. Terrance Turner (46-443-1) is back for his senior year and should catch plenty of passes too. Max Dedmond (18-141-1) is a good shirt yardage tight end, but Indiana tends to bypass that position on most plays.
Indiana's defense was bad a year ago and will only get worse with sackmasters Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton gone. Middleton had a very disappointing finish to his career after being an All-American as a sophomore. Kirlew was the top pass rusher with 6.5 sacks, but he is off to Denver as a Broncos pick. Matt Mayberry (108 tackles, 5.5 sacks) has also departed.
So what's left? Darius Johnson and Kevin Bush will try to replace Kirlew and Middleton on the ends. Adam Replogle and Larry Black return as the starting tackles, but that doesn't mean much. Indiana gave up over 1,900 yards rushing last year. With 20 touchdowns on the ground. Adam Replogle had four sacks as a good interior pass rusher, but this group has got to be able to stop the run. If not, opposing offenses can keep the potent IU offense off the field.
Tyler Replogle will be the new star of the defense after finishing with 80 tackles, 2 sacks, and an interception. Leon Beckum and Chad Sherer will probably start at linebacker alongside him. Chad Sherer is the brother of former Wisconsin quarterback Dustin Sherer and a player I have seen quite a bit of during my high school coverage. He was quite a running back in high school, but had only seven tackle last year as a redshirt freshman reserve. Jeff Thomas is a JuCo transfer that may play right away.
Indiana's secondary wasn't that great last season, giving up almost 3,000 yards passing. They also lost Austin Thomas and his four interceptions. Mitchell Evans will try to replace him after converting from wide receiver. Chris Adkins is a safety that played cornerback last year, but he must now move back. There is also, of course, the immortal Jerimy Finch. Once the savior of the program, Finch has disappointed greatly since transferring from Florida. Adrian Burks and Donnell Jones will likely be the corners, but this is a secondary much like our own. Lenyatta Kiles and Andre Kates are unknowns as JuCo guys that might play as well. This unit is very up in the air as the season starts.
Indiana Special Teams
The punting game should be solid with junior Chris Hagerup, but he struggled as a sophomore after having a great freshman season. He averaged 40.5 yards per kick and Indiana gave up 7 yards per return with a touchdown. The kick return coverage was awful with a 23 yard average and one score given up.
Nick Freeland will be the incumbent at kicker after hitting on 14 of 25 attempts, but his long was a meager 38 yards. That is Berin Lacevic territory. The Hoosiers must also get by without the dynamic Ray Fisher on returns. He had a pair of kick returns for scores last season, but will likely give way to Doss in both categories. Doss returned four punts for an 11 yard average last year and was pretty good on kickoffs as well.
1996. That was the last time Indiana won in West Lafayette. Cam Cameron, Gerry DiNardo, Terry Hoeppner, and Bill Lynch are all winless at Ross-Ade Stadium. Only a very ugly 2006 game has been close in that time too. Since winning Bill Mallory's final game Indiana has lost 52-7, 41-13, 34-10, 63-24, 28-19, and 62-10. The 62-10 game wasn't even that close, as Lynch's team rolled over and died in embarrassing fashion.
Few things have been certain the last few seasons, but Purdue dominance of Indiana at home is one of them. The boilers know they have the upper hand in this rivalry. The last two games have seen the teams enter with equal records, but Purdue has won comfortably. The Old Oaken Bucket has taken up near permanent residence in West Lafayette since 1996, and we like it that way.
There are two major factors in this game: which team will answer its defensive questions first and what will each be playing for. For Purdue, our defense looks a little more solid on paper at this point. The offenses are roughly equal, so this could become a high scoring affair. On the second point, if Indiana is playing with five wins or better they will be dangerous. Purdue, on the other hand should have bowl eligibility locked up by this point. While Indiana has the weaker non-conference schedule, they have a fairly brutal conference schedule even more handicapped by the loss of the Penn State home game. Another fast start could easily give way to a tough conference season with no margin for error.
I just don't think Indiana can beat us at home. We have been too dominant for too long. They tend to quit when they come to Ross-Ade, and even with a possible bowl bid on the line in 2006 they couldn't beat us in the ugliest game I have ever seen.
Finally, this is the first time that the Bucket game has been played after Thanksgiving since 1995. In that game Mike Alstott punished the Hoosiers with almost 300 yards of total offense. It has nothing to do with this year's game, but it is nice to have post-thanksgiving football to watch at Ross-Ade for the first time since 2001. The fact that the country didn't have to be attacked for it to happen is even better.
It is our bucket until you pry it from our cold, dead hands. Indiana has the offense to score points, but their defense shouldn't be good unless a lot of unexpected things happen. Purdue 45, Indiana 31