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Indiana preview

Before getting into the Indiana preview I wanted to have a brief word on basketball again. Purdue has been very impressive, blowing out three overmatched teams at home by an average of more than 30 points per game. Like Boilerdowd, I am reserving myself a little bit because we haven’t played a team of note yet, but they have still been very dominant. Last season’s non-conference season presented some struggles against lesser opponents in Lipscomb, Indiana State, and the infamous Wofford game. This year’s Purdue team appears to be totally focused already. They are taking care of business and not giving these inferior teams even a whiff of an upset. Even fellow top 10 member UCLA has already struggled this year against Miami (OH).

I’m really impressed with JuJuan Johnson so far. He’s moving with confidence when he has the ball and seems to have the two-handed thunderdunk down pat. When JJ gets a chance to through one of those down it’s a sign everything is running smoothly. He had so many last night that we may need to reinforce the rims before Saturday’s game.

This teams appears to have exceptional balance among the top 8 in the rotation. Even Ryne Smith and Bobby Buckets can provide some additional shooting off the bench when needed. My only concern so far is still rebounding. We haven’t done well so far and from what I have seen there have been several chances where we’ve been in position, but haven’t pulled down the ball in traffic. I had hoped Chris Reid would be able to contribute here a little, but it looks like he is once again a 20/20/4 player (that is, he only plays when we’re up 20 or down 20 in the last four minutes). At least one added benefit of beginning the season with multiple blowouts is that players like Reid, Wohlford, and Riddell get some actual playing time. This will help down the line if we need them.

Two other basketball notes: First, I was approached by AOL FanHouse to do a preview on Purdue basketball. It went live today. Second, Tim Cary, who was the author of the Oregon fire-up message, is doing some Purdue basketball work over at BleacherReport. Go over and check it out if you have a chance.

Indiana preview

Saturday presents the chance to avoid the final, ultimate insult. Should the Boilers lose to an Indiana team that is bad even by IU’s dismal standards it will provide the ugliest ending possible to Tiller’s career. As it is, we’re two long touchdowns in the final two minutes of our last two victories away from being 1-10 and one of the worst teams in the country. On paper, a win Saturday gives us the Bucket back and makes us look not as bad as we probably are. It really means more though.

A loss would be absolute rock bottom in my opinion. As bad as we have been this year, we’re still better than Indiana. The Hoosiers have long been the worst team in the conference. It is a benchmark for suckitude when you finish behind them. Even in the two years we have lost to the Hoosiers under Tiller we have still finished tied with them conference-wise. Both times it took extraordinary circumstances (an absolute monsoon and a coach’s death providing motivation) for Indiana to beat us. This time the circumstances and motivation are in our favor while Indiana is back at the bottom of the conference. How can you not call a loss rock bottom in that case?

Indiana offense:

This proves how much I don’t know. I have lambasted Indiana’s perceived lack of a running game all season long. When looking at the statistics I was actually surprised to see their running game has produced nearly 1900 yards on the season. Our own is exactly 500 yards less (1,881 to 1,381). They don’t have a 1,000 yard rusher like we do in Kory Sheets, but the running game has been spread around enough that the team numbers are actually quite high. As we learned last year, it can be a productive game in the right circumstances.

Last year "the right circumstances" were "facing the Purdue defense". In Bloomington we acted like we had never seen a simple halfback draw, let alone believed it was a legal play. We turned Marcus Thigpen into Emmett Smith for a day as he kept gashing us on the simplest of running plays. He finished with 140 yards on 19 carries, which was higher than his previous five games combined. His numbers this year (578 yards, 7 TD’s) are similar to what he had before last year’s game. He didn't find the end zone against us, but he did open the field up for two Kellen Lewis TD runs. Lewis himself has 452 yards and three scores this year. His numbers are down, but he has been hampered by injuries especially since the Iowa game. He re-injured his ankle at Penn State, so he may not be very effective still. Bryan Payton has rushed for 339 yards and a pair of scores, making him a threat in the running game as well.

The Indiana passing game has been significantly less effective than our own, which is saying something because ours has been pretty bad. I’m looking at the numbers in my copy of GBI and it says we rank 47th in the nation passing at 228.7 yards per game. I’m surprised our numbers are even that high, but Indiana is much worse at 82nd and 189.4. Like us, Indiana has played musical quarterbacks this year between Lewis (97 completions, 1039 yards, 5 TD, 6 INT) and Ben Chappell (80-1001-4-3). Indiana has tried to go no huddle for most of the year, but has failed at it. We have done the same, but only because we have gone no huddle when we shouldn’t have and vice versa. Neither QB has been overly effective, and the offense itself has scored more than 21 points only once in conference play.

It is amazing to see just how much James Hardy meant to this offense. If you combine this year’s top four receivers they don’t even come close to the numbers that Hardy put up by himself (75-1,125-16) a year ago. Ray Fisher (40-359-4) and Andrew means (32-424-1) are the top two guys, but their numbers reflect support roles, not top banana stats. If we can cover these guys like we should be able to, we will force Indiana to beat us with its ground game. That’s what everyone else has done to this point, and our defense should have a field day against them If it continues to cover receivers.

Part of Indiana’s struggles come from an offensive line that has been, well, offensive. John from the Hoosier Report had a great comparison earlier this year when he called "the Seven Blocks of Limestone" (their name when they were recruited), "the Seven Bags of Mulch." They have allowed 27 sacks on the year and have not opened lanes for Lewis (when healthy) and Thigpen to run. Good offensive lines make everyone look better. Indiana has a bad one, so they look awful.

Indiana defense:

We should have our choice between running and passing against the Hoosiers. I would love nothing more than to see Kory Sheets have a record setting day given his historical performance against Indiana. The Hoosier run defense is barely better than our own, giving up 176 yards on the ground. We’re slightly skewed too, since I think Shonn Greene just had another 7 yard gain. Kory will have room to run, and a 200 yard, 3 score day would be very nice to cap his Purdue career. Just give him the ball and let him run like Montrell Lowe in 2000.

The pass defense isn’t much better. Indiana lost two of the nation’s best cornerbacks in Tracy Porter and Leslie Majors. Both are playing on Sundays now, and the Hoosier defense is giving up 240 yards per game through the air. As a team the Hoosiers only have six interceptions on the year, but they have recovered an impressive 16 fumbles. Austin Thomas leads the team with two of those interceptions, but he has only played in six games and is out for the season iwth a knee injury.

A big reason Indiana has struggled is the neutralization of All-American defensive end Greg Middleton. With just 18 tackles and four sacks Middleton will not have to worry about being on any All-American lists this year. Line-mate Jammie Kirlew has taken advantage of the extra attention Middleton has received by collecting 10.5 sacks and 69 tackles. He is second on the team in tackles behind Matt Mayberry’s 78. Mayberry also has five sacks from his linebacker position, so we must watch for him on the blitz (check this).

Most of what we do will probably come from the ground game. Indiana has given up 27 rushing scores on the year vs. 15 passing TD’s. They aren’t limiting teams to the end zone either, as opponents have kicked 18 field goals on 21 attempts. That makes for 63 drives this season in which Indiana’s opponents have been close enough to score points, or about five and a half times per game. The scoring opportunities will be there, so we have to take them. By comparison we only have 53 such drives.

Indiana Special Teams:

Since Austin Starr kicked the Bucket from West Lafayette to Bloomington he has been awful. The Hoosier Report noted that he has joined Middleton as another player that doesn’t have to worry about All-American status this season. He’s just 9 of 16 on field goals this year after being a preseason favorite for the Groza Award. He has also missed on a pair of extra point attempts, but does have 17 touchbacks on kickoffs. When teams do return kicks against the Hoosiers they are averaging 20 yards per return.

Chris Hagerup was expected to be a liability in the punting game but he has performed admirably. He is averaging a good 42.3 yards per boot and 14 of his 58 punts have pinned opponents inside the 20. He has had a punt blocked and one returned for a touchdown, but opponents aren’t breaking huge returns with regularity.

Indiana’s own return game is very dangerous because of Thigpen. He is speedy as a Big Ten 100 meter champion and has 757 yards in the kick return game. He hasn’t broken one for a score… yet. I say that because calling our kick return game bad would be a compliment. The same is true for our punt return game. We’ve given up a pair of punt returns for scores and had two blocked. Ray Fisher will be returning punts and he has a 9.6 yard return average. The Jesus Christ of the IU defense in Jerimy Finch also has four returns for a 10.2 average. He may only have six tackles as the savior of the defense, but he can be dangerous when he gets a punt. Finch has been battling an ankle injury and has only played in five games.

Final Thoughts:

Both teams finished with identical regular season records a year ago and were separated by a field goal. This year injuries, erratic quarterback play, and poor run defense have led to identical records once again. Indiana’s schedule was not as easy as it originally appeared. Central Michigan and Ball State are playing in one of the best MAC games of the season tonight. Both will be bowling this year and Purdue is lucky to have beaten the Chips as one of the Big Ten’s best non-conference wins. At least Indiana has beaten a ranked team in Northwestern, though if the Chips beat the Cardinals this week and crack the top 25 I am declaring our streak over.

This looks like a game where both teams are so bad it might be entertaining. This year has been so disappointing for both teams that we can’t even do the battle for last place in our conference right. Washington and Washington State have cornered the market on that as they have one win period between them going into Saturday’s Apple Cup. At least to this point both teams have managed a pair of non-conference wins and a conference win. The Apple Cup boasts of only a single win over 1-AA Portland State.

Last year Indiana rode the motivation of "Play 13" and a potential bowl game to a dramatic win. This year we have the emotion in our favor with it being Joe Tiller’s final game. Later this week I’ll post my full thoughts on Joe, but it is still hard to believe it is almost over. Despite everything, it is clear that this team is still playing hard. We just haven’t been good enough against better opponents. Indiana is not a better opponent, so I like our chances. As mentioned above, Tiller has only lost twice to Indiana under extraordinary circumstances each time. The Hoosiers also haven’t won in West Lafayette since Jim Colletto’s final game in 1996. This year is eerily similar to 1996 in that Colletto’s last win during a 3-win campaign came in the penultimate home game against Michigan, but we’re far better than that team.

This game is also on our seniors. There is no way they want to go down as the first team to lose consecutive Bucket games since the 1993 and 94. We have the best offensive player on the field in a healthy Kory Sheets. I think he will be motivated for a big show in his final game. Curtis Painter is getting the start too. He was much improved against Iowa, and he is well overdue for a great game this year. If those two are on and the defense can keep playing as well as it has I have a hard time seeing us lose.