The final summer preview of our 12 football opponents is, as always, of the Indiana Hoosiers. After dominating the series for almost two decades, then seeing things get even, for the first time since probably 1993 you can say that Indiana has the upper hand in the Old Oaken Bucket series. The Bucket itself is being held captive in Bloomington while the Hoosiers feature a high-powered offensive attack that is legitimately scary to most everyone in the conference.
Meanwhile, there are zero expectations in West Lafayette. Almost everyone feels Purdue will finish dead last in the conference for a second straight year, something that our friends in Bloomington are certainly used to, but we're not. Up is down, black is white, and Tom Crean has become a master of attacking the zone defense.
Okay, maybe things aren't THAT absurdly out of place, but it does feel strange to enter a football season where Indiana is a legitimate contender to reach a bowl game and it would be a major surprise if Purdue did, especially since Purdue holds a 12-1 advantage in bowl seasons in the last 20 years.
2013 Record: 5-7, 3-5 Big Ten
Bowl result: None
Blog Representation: Crimson Quarry
Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 72-38-6
Last Purdue win: 11/24/2012 at Purdue 56-35
Last Indiana win: 11/30/2013 at Indiana 56-36
Last Season for the Hoosiers:
Oh, if only Indiana had a defense.
That is a familiar cry in Bloomington, as the Hoosiers have given up an average of at least 30 points per game every season since 2001. Last year it was especially true. The Hoosiers had one of the best offenses in the nation, scoring 461 points. They still only won five games because the defense was one of the worst in the country by a large margin, giving up 466 points. Only Bowling Green and Penn State failed to score at least 35 points against Indiana. Missouri, Navy, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Michigan all scored at least 40.
The Indiana offense was more than good enough for at least eight wins, but the putrid defense could not stop anyone with a pulse. The Hoosiers scored 47 at Michigan only to give up 63. Indiana had 39 against a good Minnesota defense only to give up 42. The basic equation was that if you could run the ball at all you were going to rush for at least 250 yards and score at least 35 points.
For the Hoosiers to reach just their second bowl game since the first term of the Clinton administration there needs to be at least some defense. They don't need to turn into the 1985 Chicago Bears by any means, but the offense is more than good enough that if they can just hold teams to about 30 per game Indiana should win more than its share of games.
After years of running up the score on the hapless Hoosiers Purdue got a dose of its own medicine last season. Yes, the Boilermaker offense had its best day of the season by far, but when you don't start doing anything until you're already down 49-9 it means very little. Indiana often scored at a rate last season that would make Oregon say, "Slow down!" Their no huddle passing attack had a ton of excellent weapons and there was even a real, live running back that could hurt you for the first time in ages.
It all begins at quarterback, where Nate Sudfeld is finally the full-time guy after splitting time in a Hope-eseque system with two others for awhile. The difference is that Tre Roberson at least offered a different look than any of Hope's three QBs in 2012. Roberson was the dangerous runner with 433 yards rushing and five TDs against 1,128 passing yards, 15 TDs, and only four interceptions.
Roberson decided to transfer, however, to parts unknown. That leaves Sudfeld as the only experienced QB on the roster. He is still excellent after 2,523 passing yards and 21 TDs against 9 INTs in 2013. That means IU quarterbacks averaged a total of over 300 yards and 3 TDs per game against only one interception. This is an incredibly efficient offense and Sudfeld is definitely good enough to cover Roberson's lost passing numbers.
He will have to do it with a virtually new corps of receivers, however. Only Shane Wynn returns with 46 catches for 633 yards and 11 TDs from the top five receivers. That means seniors Nick Stoner and Isaiah Roundtree have to improve their production after Cody Latimer and Kofi Hughes had brilliant 2013 seasons. One-time Purdue commit Simmie Cobbs could also be a candidate for early playing time as a promising 6'4" receiver.
While the passing game gets going Tevin Coleman will likely play a larger role. Coleman was spectacular in averaging 7.3 yards per carry last year. He finished with 958 yards rushing and 12 TDs while also catching 19 passes for another 193 yards. Coleman has speed to burn and can score any time he touches the football. D'Angelo Roberts is an experienced senior as a No. 2 option in the backfield too.
What will help Indiana's offense even more is a solid offensive line that returns all five starters. Bernard Taylor, Jason Spriggs, and Collin Rahrig provide consistency as each has been a starter for two straight years, anchoring the left side and at center. Indiana has lighter linemen than most of the Big Ten, but it works very well with Wilson's high-speed attack. There is also plenty of depth as 10 players have at least two starts on the offensive line.
Indiana's offense as a whole will once again be very good. The only things that could slow it down are the loss of Roberson and a new receiving group. Everything else is back from a unit that was incredibly efficient and explosive in 2013.
The offense was the good news for the Hoosiers. The defense is definitely the bad news. While the Hoosiers were 18th nationally in scoring and 17th in passing the defense rated 117th overall, giving up 38.8 points per game. As the Michigan game showed, scoring 47 per game means very little when you can't stop the opponent. As usual, the Hoosiers were very weak against the run even when they knew it was coming. Navy beat them by pretty much running the ball and scoring on long, clock-killing drives. For Michigan, I think Jeremy Gallon is still running uncovered through the secondary, so it is not like the pass defense was much better.
Indiana's defense does not need to get much better to reach a bowl game. It merely needs to be bad in instead of atrocious. When you give up over 500 yards and 36 points to the 2013 Purdue offense you know you're atrocious. The Hoosiers are at least trying. Brian Knorr was brought in to fix things from Wake Forest. His defenses weren't great, but they were at least decent, and that's all IU really needs.
The Hoosiers at least have a ton of experience on the defensive side of the ball, as most of the starters are now juniors and seniors who have been thrown to the wolves for the last two years. The defensive line boasts two former four-star talents up front in Darius Latham and Zack Shaw. There is almost no returning pass rush, however.
The linebacker situation in Bloomington is probably more of a mess than even in West Lafayette. For years they have not really had linebackers so much as poor fools that most offensive players run past with ease. David Cooper and Nick Mangieri each had six tackles for loss as linebackers last season, but there is not a proven star anywhere to be seen here, especially when IU is shifting to more of a 3-4 front.
In the secondary Indiana has to replace leading tackler Greg Heban who had 69 tackles and three interceptions. Cornerbacks Tim Bennett and Michael Hunter each had a pick last year, while Bennett led the country with 21 passes defensed. The SB Nation big preview sums up the rest of the secondary:
Bennett and Michael Hunter both return; again, they've at least proven aggressive, if prone to breakdowns. But for the first time, Indiana might actually have a full two-deep of players worthy of playing time in the back. Four of last year's top five return, including four-star sophomore Antonio Allen, and they are joined by four-star redshirt freshman Rashard Fant, two high-three-star redshirt freshmen, and three high-three-star true freshmen.
Youth doesn't tend to solve breakdown issues, but there is more athleticism on this defense, top to bottom, than has been the case at any point in the Wilson era. That's something.
Indiana Special Teams:
Not that Indiana needs him much, but Eric Toth is back as a junior punter who averaged a respectable 40 yards per punt last year. The Hoosiers need a new kicker, however, after the very reliable Mitch Ewald graduated. As for return duties, Wynn has a good year handling both kicks and punts, but Purdue has better options.
For a best-case Purdue scenario the Boilers enter this game at 5-6 and hoping for an unexpected bowl game. For Indiana, it really depends on what the defense does. The Hoosiers should not have any trouble beating Indiana State, North Texas, Bowling Green, and Illinois, but is there a definite fifth win there before facing Purdue? We're rated as the weakest team on their schedule aside from the Trees, but that says more about the sad state of our team. Indiana is going to be an underdog at Missouri, Iowa, Michigan, and Ohio State. They get a Penn State team at home that they beat in Bloomington last year, and a trip to Rutgers is not a bad one. Ideally, they should have bowl eligibility locked up before facing Purdue because the offense really is that good, but I can see a scenario where both teams are 5-6 and fighting for a bowl bid.
For Purdue, the defense has to find a way to slow their offense down. Last year's game got out of hand because Purdue had no defensive answers, giving up 49 points in 40 minutes. Indiana got on top early, took advantage of our own offensive issues, and coasted to the finish with a huge lead. To make the Bucket come back to West Lafayette Purdue has to take advantage of a weak run defense and milk the clock. Indiana cannot score without the football, and Purdue has the running backs to at least move the ball consistently and keep their offense safely on the sideline.
Unfortunately, we still don't know about our own offensive line and the defense is already unproven at best. As a Purdue fan it pains me to say it, but Indiana is simply a better football team right now. Both teams have awful defenses, but the Hoosiers at least have a really good offense. Purdue is a long away from being able to put up those kinds of points, and that will likely be the difference. Prediction: Indiana 45, Purdue 35