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Know Thy Opponent 2016: Indiana Hoosiers

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Indiana has won three straight against Purdue for the first time in almost 70 years.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

We've reached the end of the road when it comes to our opponent previews for the 2016 season and it is a depressing road. At this point, I have Purdue at 1-10, beating only Eastern Kentucky in the season opener. I really hope I am wrong. I see very easily where I could be wrong because there is some talent there and really, can Purdue be that bad again?

Of course, 6-30 with little growth over three year says a lot. Losing three in a row to Indiana for the first time since the end of World War II says a lot. We as Purdue fans are used to dominating Indiana in football. Even after three defeats deep down it still feels like Purdue is far superior because of Joe Tiller's dominance. Also, it is not like Indiana has set the world on fire in this time, either. They barely made one bowl game and lost it, while Purdue's run of dominance under Tiller had New Year's Day Bowls and a Big Ten title.

In truth though, the fortunes have reversed. Indiana is not great. They have a terrible defense like always. They are still much better coached than Purdue and probably have more talent. They play a brand of football that may not win a ton of games, but is at least exciting and fun to watch because they have proven they can play with anyone in the country. It is rare for Purdue football to be looking up at Indiana football, but it is true. As a result, the Hoosiers can win four in a row for the first time since 1947.

2015 Record: 6-7, 2-6 Big Ten

Bowl result: Lost to Duke 44-41 (OT) in Pinstripe Bowl

Blog Representation: Crimson Quarry

Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 72-40-6

Last Purdue win: 11/24/2012 at Purdue 56-35

Last Indiana win: 11/28/2015 at Purdue 54-36

Last Season for the Hoosiers:

What a wild season. There was only one game in which Indiana really did not have a chance to win and that was a 29-7 loss at Penn State. The other 11 games were all over the place. The Hoosiers got to a bowl game by beating Maryland and Purdue, the two worst teams in the Big Ten, and by tiptoeing through the landmines of a non-conference schedule to a 4-0 start. Those games were quite harrowing:

  • Against Southern Illinois the Hoosiers stopped a game-winning two-point conversion attempt with 18 seconds left to escape their FCS game with a 48-47 win. This was after they had taken a 48-41 lead with 58 seconds left, but the defense gave up 75 yards in five plays.
  • Against Florida International the Golden Panthers were driving to tie late, but Jameel Cook Jr. had a 96-yard interception return for a TD to seal the game with 3:58 late.
  • Western Kentucky led 28-17 at halftime, but Indiana's defense shut down a powerful Hilltoppers offense in the second half to earn the win.
  • Indiana won at Wake Forest 31-24, but still survived a pair of late scores and an onside kick recovery. The Demon Deacons got to the Indiana 32 before turning it over on downs with about a minute left.

Those were just the wins. Indiana took both Michigan and Ohio State deep into the fourth quarter and had an utter meltdown in a loss to Rutgers. The offense was excellent and could drop 40 on almost anyone but the defense could give up 45 just as easily. It should be sign of just how bad John Shoop was when Purdue only scored 36 points against Indiana, but Southern Illinois and Rutgers combined for 102 points.

So Indiana enters 2016 with a bowl game under its belt and positive momentum. Kevin Wilson has established a bit of consistency and the offense is going to be really good again, too.

Indiana Offense

Indiana loses two of its best offensive players in Nate Sudfeld and Jordan Howard. In Sudfeld, he is one of their best quarterbacks of all time, leaving with 7,879 yards and 61 TDs against only 20 interceptions. Last season was even more impressive as it was a 3,573 yard season with 27 scores and seven picks. The Hoosiers will miss Sudfeld, and they have two directions to go in.

Option A is Richard Lagow, a JuCo transfer and promising passer that can take the reigns of the way the offense has been the past few years. Option B is Zander Diamont, the mobile QB that plays with a ton of confidence and is much more of a dual threat. Diamont has taken his knocks, but he has more experience in the system. He only played two games in 2015, but was running all over the place in the final six games of 2014 after Sudfeld got injured.

What will help a lot is the return of Devine Redding. Indiana had not one 1,000 yard running back last year, but two. Redding rushed for 1,012 yards and nine touchdowns and expected to handle the full load after Howard and his 1,000 plus yards went to the NFL. Redding didn't have a single fumble, either. Both he and Diamont can do a lot on the ground.

Purdue should also be frustrated when it sees Simmie Cobbs in the receiving corps. Cobbs caught 60 passes for 1,035 yards and four touchdowns. He was also originally a Purdue commitment under Darrell Hazell, but flipped to Indiana when he wanted to play offense and Hazell wanted him on defense. He is only a junior too. So yes, Purdue could have a 6'4" 1,000 yard receiver in its offense right now. Ricky Jones (54-906-5) and Mitchell Paige (57-684-6) give whoever wins the QB derby three excellent receivers to throw to.

Last season Indiana had a pair of All-Americans on its offensive line in Jason Spriggs and Dan Feeney. Spriggs is gone, but Feeney returns at right guard with 37 career starts in one of the best linemen in America. Dimitric Camiel and Jacob Bailey also have double digit starts to provide consistency, but losing Spriggs, a dominant left tackle, hurts. He had 47 starts in four years, so no matter who replaces him, it will be a step down.

Indiana Defense

If Indiana can ever get even a mediocre defense instead of a bad one it will be fine. The Bucket game last year demonstrated what they could do. The defense gave up 36 points to the Shoopfense, but actually got a handful of stops. Purdue's defense couldn't get any stops, and the result was a blowout win for Indiana. Here is what the SB Nation preview has to say about their defense:

116th, 110th, 95th, 91st, 105th. That's IU's Def. S&P+ ranking for each year Wilson has been in charge. He inherited a unit that ranked 111th the year before his arrival and has engineered only the slightest of improvement. It's why, in two seasons with a top-20 offense (2013, 2015), Indiana went only 11-14.

Don't expect the run defense to get better immediately. Robert McCray III and Ralph Green III are the likely starters up front, but the top three guys in sacks have to be replaced. They need a redshirt freshman or two to be serviceable from day 1.

Indiana does get back all three starting linebackers and all four members of the secondary back, for better or worse. Marcus Oliver had 88.5 tackles as the leading returner at linebacker. Jonathan Crawford at strong safety is a nice player to build around too with 62 tackles and 4 interceptions. The top four players in the secondary are also underclassmen and T.J. Simmons is the only senior starting among the back seven.

Again, this defense doesn't have to be great. All they have to do is consistently hold teams under 30 points. That would be enough for the Hoosiers to win nine games.

Indiana Special Teams

Indiana is looking for a new punter, but kicker Griffin Oakes is back after a good year where he was 24 of 29 on field goals. I would comment on his miss at the end of the bowl game, but I don't want to start another 900 comment argument thread with our friends at Crimson Quarry. Oakes was definitely a reliable weapon and good to have back.

In the return game Paige took two punts back for a touchdown and that makes him one of the more dangerous returners in the league. Devonte Williams should handle kickoff return duties as well.

Game Outlook

Will this be the final game for Purdue under Darrell Hazell? Will Purdue be so bad he is fired beforehand? That seems unlikely, but there are so many questions up in the air it is hard to call this game months in advance. Will Purdue have its AD situation (hopefully) figured out by game time? A confident Purdue with a competent offense can definitely go to Bloomington and finally get the Bucket back. A broken team like last year can fold and get blown out.

In the four main elements (Purdue offense and defense, Indiana offense and defense) three of them are pretty bad. Indiana is the lucky team that actually has a good unit in their offense. The only time Purdue has held them under 50 in this stretch of Indiana dominance was 2014 when Diamont was a wide-eyed freshman and Purdue was undone by a bunch of Austin Appleby interceptions and a late Indiana drive.

Right now Indiana is not a great team, but they are a good team. That is more than enough to beat Purdue.

Way-too-early-prediction

Yep, I am calling a 1-11 season because I have so little faith in Hazell. Purdue should beat eastern Kentucky to start the year. It doesn't face any definite losses, but this is mostly the same team that got blown out time and again by mediocre or worse teams at home last season. For the most part every team Purdue plays isn't great, but they are at least projected to be better than Purdue. The Boilers will probably get lucky and beat someone like Penn State if they have a Nebraska-like meltdown at Ross-Ade, but we're in a deep football wilderness here.

Celebrate that this is Morgan Burke's last football game ever and there is a good chance it is Hazell's as well. Pray their replacements get it right. Indiana winning in 2017 would establish an all-time high for Hoosiers consecutive wins in the series. Indiana 52, Purdue 31