It is rare to think of the Bucket game as a big game. I mean yes, it is a rivalry. We all want to win the Bucket and beat IU, but it has rarely meant much nationally. The only year where it decided the Big Ten title was 1967. Only twice, in 1979 and 2007, have both teams gone to a bowl game after it (although both would have gone in 1967 had there been more bowls and if the Big Ten allowed more than just the conference title winner to go). If you look at recent history Indiana has clinched bowl bids in each of the last two seasons, while Purdue did the same in 2002, 2011, and 2012.
That’s just clinching a bowl berth though. Getting to six wins is often not a huge achievement, especially with 40 bowl games. At this time 20 years ago Purdue had only been to give bowl games ever. It then went to 12 in the following 16 seasons, so the Bucket game often felt like a small stop on the way to something more.
But this year it is undoubtedly a big game for both schools. For Purdue, we’re crawling out of an abyss left by Darrell Hazell. We’re facing our longest losing streak ever to Indiana and reaching a bowl game in year one under Jeff Brohm would be a huge success. He will have taken a team that had won only 5 FBS games total in the previous four seasons and recruiting that had not finished higher than 13th in a 14 team Big Ten to instant respectability. Shoot, with a bowl victory that would be an actual winning season, something we have not had since 2011. In just 11 games Brohm has already matched Hazell’s entire FBS and Big Ten win totals.
For Indiana it would be continuing a run of modest success after decades of pretty awful football. The Hoosiers entered the season with high hopes because of a strong defense and they have had some near misses with Michigan and Michigan State. A win would secure a bowl game for a third straight season, something that has not happened in 30 years when they went to bowls after the 1986, ’87, and ’88 seasons. That kind of sustained momentum is huge for their program and would go a long way towards long-term respectability.
This is before you consider the value of the extra practice time for a team like Purdue, who is attempting to turn afterthought recruits into serviceable Big Ten football players. The stakes are incredibly high for this. As much as I regret Purdue not beating Rutgers or Nebraska to have said bowl game already clinched, something wouldn’t feel right if we went to a bowl without beating the Hoosiers.
2016 Record: 6-7, 4-5 Big Ten East
2017 Record: 5-6, 2-6 Big Ten East
Bowl Result: Los to Utah 26-24 in Foster Farms Bowl
Blog Representation: Crimson Quarry
Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 72-41-6
Last Purdue win: 56-35 at Purdue on 11/24/2012
Last Indiana win: 26-24 at Indiana on 11/26/2016
Head Coach: Tom Allen (5-7 in first full season at Indiana)
It has been a bit of a strange season for Indiana, one in which a hurricane might have kept their bowl chances alive. In week 3 they were scheduled to host Florida International, but Hurricane Irma going across Florida cancelled that game. Indiana was able to scramble and schedule Charleston Southern, an FCS team, for an uneventful 27-0 blowout. Florida International went on to a respectable 6-4 record heading into this weekend against Massachusetts. Would FIU have beaten Indiana? It seems unlikely, as their wins are over Alcorn State (FCS), Rice (1-10), Charlotte (1-10), Tulane (5-6), Marshall (7-4), and Texas-San Antonio (6-4), but they almost certainly would have given Indiana a better game.
By virtue of playing in the Big Ten East Indiana has definitely played a tougher schedule. They took Michigan to overtime and fell by just 8 to Michigan State in East Lansing. Ohio State, Penn State, and Wisconsin all blew them out, while the surprise loss at Maryland made up for a pretty good 34-17 win at Virginia. The last two weeks they handled business against Illinois and Rutgers to get here, with a 41-0 beatdown of Rutgers last week that definitely gives Purdue fans cause for concern.
Who to Watch on Offense
Simmie Cobbs Jr. – WR – A few years ago I was terrified of facing Tevin Coleman. Now I am terrified of facing Simmie Cobbs Jr. At one time Cobbs was a Purdue commit under Darrell Hazell, but Hazell wanted him to be a defensive back. He switched to Indiana and has become an all-Big Ten receivers whose size is a nightmare matchup for anyone on the outside. This season he has 65 receptions for 736 yards and 7 TDs. He missed all of last season with an injury, but in 2015 he caught 60 passes for 1,065 yards and 4 TDs. That included a 5-84-1 game in the last Bucket game in West Lafayette. Can you imagine him in a Jeff Brohm offense?
Morgan Ellison – RB – The Indiana running game has struggled a little this year, ranking 11th in the Big Ten just behind Purdue, but Ellison has come on of late. He is 10th in the conference in rushing with 688 yards and 6 touchdowns. He had a big week last week against Rutgers with 149 yards and 2 scores.
Richard Lagow – QB – Lagow has been in a quarterback battle with Peyton Ramsey for most of the season, but has emerged as the starter of late. He has 1,563 yards and 12 TDs against 7 interceptions. The Lagow-Ramsey battle has been very similar to our own Sindelar-Blough battle, right down to the more mobile QB (in this case Ramsey) battling injury. Ramsey at least could play on Saturday if needed. For us Blough is out, Jared Sparks is a question mark, and Nick Sipe would have to have a redshirt burned unless we go with walk-on Aaron Banks.
Luke Timian – WR – Timian isn’t as much of a big play threat as Cobbs, but he is a solid possession receiver with 62 receptions for 520 yards and 2 TDs.
Who to Watch on Defense
Tegray Scales – LB – Scales is simply one of the best linebackers in the Big Ten. He is the center of a strong defense that is 5th in the Big Ten in passing, giving up just 179.5 yards per game. Overall the Hoosiers give up 24.8 points per game compared to Purdue’s 18.9 points per game, but they have a pair of shutouts to their credit. In the other nine games they are giving up 30 points per game, but that is not on Scales. He has 83 tackles, 5 sacks, and two interceptions.
Robert McCray III – DL – McCray is near the top of the Big Ten with 6 sacks and leads an Indiana pass rush that is quite fearsome. Indiana is third in the Big Ten with 35 sacks, just two behind Wisconsin and one behind Michigan. Since Purdue’s makeshift offensive line had trouble with both of those teams this is an area where Indiana has a big advantage. Keeping Sindelar clean will be critical, and the pressure will come from all over as 14 different Indiana players have been in on a sack this season.
Chase Dutra – S – Dutra leads the team with 85 tackles and does a good job of cleaning things up in the middle. Indiana has only gotten five interceptions on the season, however, compared to giving up 12. The Hoosiers are dead last in the conference in turnover margin at -7, while Purdue is 4th at +3. Last year Indiana also threw four interceptions against us, and Markus Bailey got two of them.
Who to Watch on Special Teams
Griffin Oakes – K – Oakes has been mostly automatic this season, going 15 of 16 on field goals with a long of 51 yards. That means Indiana needs to only reach about the 35 yard line to get points. Purdue, between J.D. Dellinger and Spencer Evans, is 15 of 21 on field goals, but we have been reluctant at times to trust them (such as at Rutgers when we passed up a field goal attempt from the 30 down 8 in the 4th quarter).
Indiana lost a huge advantage on Special Teams last month when J’Shun Harris suffered the third torn ACL of his career. Before that he had returned 14 punts for 266 yards and 2 touchdowns. Timian has filled in for him, but Harris was a major weapon.
To be honest, I think this game is just about dead even, which makes me glad it is in West Lafayette. I am expecting a good crowd on Saturday, as more than 5,000 tickets have been sold. Purdue is hungry for this game too. The fans will be there. I think Indiana is the better overall team because they have played a tougher schedule, but playing at home should help Purdue.
You can’t really call this one either way though. Indiana has dominated this series for four years, twice winning in a blowout and two more times winning on the final possession. The teams are just about even offensively and defensively, but what they just did to Rutgers was impressive. Purdue was unable to do that to the Scarlet Knights.
Still, Purdue’s defense is playing extremely well right now. We haven’t given up 30 points since the opener against Louisville (and that 35 involved a pick-six) and the run defense has held four straight opponents under 100 yards rushing. That’s pretty impressive, especially the last couple of weeks against good running backs. Indiana is not afraid to put the game in the hands of Lagow and Cobbs, and Cobbs is legit scary.
This will probably come down to turnovers and whoever can make headway on the ground. Lagow has been known to struggle with interceptions and Purdue got him three times last year. If we can get a few of those and both Markell Jones and D.J. Knox can make headway on the ground I like our chances.
It is still going to be a close one though.