With Big Ten Media Days getting underway (and if you're not following Myles there you should be!) today was the best time to wrap up the summer of team previews. The season starts in a mere five weeks anyway, which will be here soon.
As always, Purdue finishes the season with the Indiana Hoosiers. As Boilermaker fans we have become accustomed to dominating our rivals to the south. Since Joe Tiller arrived Purdue is 12-3 against Indiana, losing by 6 in a monsoon and on last minute (or later) field goals the other two times. The teams diverged after the 1996 season with Purdue reaching 11 bowl games over the next 15 years and Indiana reaching only one.
As we all know, Indiana has mostly been the joke of the conference in that time, while Purdue rode a brief wave into the upper echelon from 1997 through half of 2004 before leveling off in the middle to lower tier of the conference. In that time Purdue has blown out Indiana by 20 points or more seven times.
That has led to the perception that Purdue should be superior to Indiana in football, and that any loss is the sign of a near disastrous season. Indiana's two best teams of the last 15 years (2001 and 2007) beat two of Purdue's five worst teams in that time frame. Only in 2010 did Purdue finish with a worse record than the Hoosiers.
Will 2012 be more of the same? That 2010 victory for Indiana is their lone conference win in their last 21 Big Ten outings. Since Austin Starr kicked them to the 2007 Insight Bowl Indiana is an absolutely dismal 3-29 in conference play, beating only Northwestern 21-19 in 2008, Illinois 27-14 in 2009, and Purdue 34-31 in overtime in 2010. Kevin Wilson might see improvement this year, but only because it is hard to see them get much worse.
2011 Record: 1-11, 0-8 Big Ten
Bowl result: None
Blog Representation: Crimson Quarry
Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 71-37-6
Last Purdue win: 11/26/2011 at Indiana 33-25
Last Indiana win: 11/27/2010 at Purdue 34-31 OT
Last Season for the Hoosiers
In short, it was bad even by Indiana standards. Three different quarterbacks saw significant time and it led to one victory: a 38-21 win over Division I-AA South Carolina State. The highlight was a near miss against Virginia 34-31 in which Indiana trailed, came storming back to take the lead, but gave it up in the end. Losses to Ball State and North Texas were flat out embarrassing. Their closest Big Ten game was a 16-10 loss to Penn State before the Nittany Lions went "boom".
The one bright side is that a ton of really, really young players gained experience. Tre Roberson locked down the quarterback position by the end of the season and if he can avoid the same problems as Kellen Lewis (that is, trying to snort everything short of the goal line) he should be able to be able to pass Lewis' potential on the field.
I honestly like watching players like Roberson. He saw action in nine games and threw for 937 yards and three touchdowns against six interceptions. He completed 57% of his passes, which is pretty good for a kid going from playing Indiana HS football to the Big Ten. He also rushed for 426 yards and two scores. Indiana's biggest success has come with a mobile quarterback like Randle El or Lewis. He's already a little bigger than Randle El.
The only problem with mobile quarterbacks is the possibility of injury. Should Roberson get hurt Indiana has no one behind him. The loss of Gunner Kiel in that regard hurt tremendously. Junior college transfer Cameron Coffman is currently listed as his backup and may challenge for the starting job, but in my opinion their best choice is to go with Roberson.
Another promising offensive player is running back Stephen Houston, who led the team with 802 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. Those are excellent numbers for a player in his first year out of junior college. He's a bigger back at 6' 220 pounds, but he also has some big play ability with a 67 yard score. He also caught 17 passes for 164 yards. DeAngelo Roberts (263 yards, 4 TD) and Isaiah Roundtree give Indiana some depth at the position.
Indiana had only 10 receiving touchdowns last season against 11 interceptions thrown. Kofi Hughes (35-526-3) was by far the leading receiver and he'll be back with senior Duwyce Wilson (17-217-3). Cody Latimer (12-141-2) and tight end Ted Bolser (14-165-1) all come back as Roberson's top targets. In fact, only Demarlo Belcher (25-286-1) and Dre Muhammad (26-238-0) are gone.
The offensive line needs to show drastic improvement after giving up 31 sacks in 2011. Center Will Matte and tackle Charlie Chapman provide senior leadership, but offensive guard Collin Rahrig is a troubling 263 pounds, which is miniscule for a Big Ten offensive guard. Freshmen Dimitric Camiel and Dan Feeney could come in and gain starting roles based on size alone. Bernard Taylor and Peyton Eckert are both sophomore starters at the other two spots.
While Indiana has some promising pieces on offense with young receivers, Roberson, and Houston, it does not matter what they do unless the defense gets better. By "get better' I mean "stop ANYone". Indiana was one of the worst defensive teams in the nation a year ago. They gave up 37.3 points per game, 243.7 yards rushing and 458.7 total yards per game. Akeem Hunt rushed for 100 yards against them last year in just 10 carries, most coming after Ralph Bolden tore his ACL again. At the time Hunt was a third string back, giving you an idea of how poor the run defense was. Indiana will not get better until it can at least slow down the run.
Expect some imported JuCo talent to try to help swing that trend immediately. Jacarri Alexander, David Cooper, Antonio Marshall, Tregg Waters, Ryan Thompson, and Justin Rayside are all JuCo transfers that could start immediately. They were all brought in to at least be serviceable backups.
Safety Mark Murphy might be the best returning player after he had 76 tackels and an interceptions a year ago. Adam Replogle led the team with four sacks and brings experience at defensive tackle, but he has to live with the shame that we just recruited his little brother.
Overall, the numbers were still pretty dismal. Indiana intercepted just five passes, two of them by cornerback Greg Heban. Bobby Richardson added three sacks, but only he and Replogle had three or more. The leading tackler had just 80 tackles and is gone. It is probably say that the entire defense is in flux until someone, anyone, finally produces. You don't recruit that many JuCos unless you expect some of them to start.
Indiana Special Teams:
One bonus of giving up so many points is that your kickoff team gets to have plenty of practice. Shane Wynn returned 48 kicks for 1,015 yards and a touchdown, and the speedy wideout will likely have a bigger role in the offense. Muhammad also handled kick returns, but at a modest 5.1 yards per return, so that spot is open.
Mitch Ewald, whose name is a bad word in West Lafayette after his 2010 game-winning field goal is back for his senior season after hitting on 13 of 16 field goals with a long of 49 yards. Mitchell Voss will take over punting duties from Adam Pines.
Two years ago at this time the though of Purdue ever losing to Indiana again in Ross-Ade seemed perverse. They hadn't won there since 1996 and even bad teams, like 2008, blew them out. Then 2010 happened. Purdue got a little too cozy with a lead and closed out a bad year with the perfect "fart in church" ending of losing to Indiana at home. We watched them hoist the Bucket on our first, something that hadn't happened in a generation. Last year's lackluster win in Bloomington did little to make me feel good about this year, either.
Still, this is Indiana. With Penn State and Ohio State suspended Purdue has a chance to reach the Big Ten title game if it gets a few breaks against the likes of Wisconsin and Michigan. I remember in 2000, with the Rose Bowl on the line, walking into Ross-Ade knowing there was no way in hell a similar IU team was beating us.
It is hard for Indiana to be much worse than last year. Even then, there were bright spots. That team probably should have beaten Virginia and it gave Penn State everything for three quarters. Beating Ball State, North Texas, and even Purdue weren't that far off. I don't think Indiana will be playing for a bowl game on November 24th, but the opening four games against Indiana State, UMass, Ball State, and Northwestern could allow a young team to get some confidence. Beating Navy, Illinois, or Penn State aren't long shots, either. Will Indiana win all seven of those games? Not likely. Can they win any of them? You bet.
Prediction: In all the years I have done this blog I have never, at any time, predicted a loss to Indiana. This is a game that we expect to win every season. I'm not going to start now. Until proven otherwise the strategy for any team against Indiana is to run until they stop you. So far, they haven't done that against anyone. Run the Akeems. Run Rob Henry. Run Raheem Mostert and Antavian Edison. Even Caleb TerBush rushed for 48 against them.
Indiana is a team that is probably a year away, but this is the year that will decide if 2013 really is the year they finally get out of the basement. Purdue 38, Indiana 21