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Know Thy Opponent 2017: Indiana Hoosiers

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Indiana can win five straight over Purdue for the first time since the Earth cooled from a molten ball.

NCAA Football: Purdue at Indiana
This pisses me off.
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

And here we are, at the end of our summer previews with, as always, the Indiana Hoosiers. Purdue has ended all but one regular season since 1932 with Indiana, with the lone exception being Notre Dame in 2001 due to the September 11 attacks. In 1931 Purdue ended with Northwestern, but before that you have to go back to 1919 for the last time Purdue ended a regular season without playing the Hoosiers. Consequently, that is the last time Purdue and Indiana did not play at all.

So for now 98 straight seasons we have played Indiana in late November (the 1931 game was November 21st). In all that time, Indiana has had one chance to do what they can do this year: Win five straight.

Purdue is in this position because of the blight that is Darrell Hazell. The Boilers still own a commanding 72-41-6 series lead and a wealth of P’s on the Old Oaken Bucket, but Indiana has added four straight I’s. They have only done that twice, and even in the pre-Bucket portion of the series they never won as many as four in a row. A fifth straight win would be unprecedented for Indiana, as the only other time they even won four in a row was 1944-47.

If history repeats itself we can settle in for a nice, long run of success though. In 1948 Purdue beat Indiana 39-0 to win the Bucket back, ending a run where the Hoosiers won 7 in 8 years. Purdue would eventually win 10 straight, tie in 1958, then 3 more before Indiana finally won again in 1962. Purdue responded to this slight by winning 11 of the following 13 for and impressive 24-3-1 streak from 1948-76. Even then, one of the three wins, 1967, took an injury to Leroy Keyes and Indiana’s best team ever for Indiana to win 19-14 in Bloomington (possibly costing Purdue a National Championship).

National Championships are not at stake this year, but the possibility of Indiana’s longest run of dominance in the series (and an impressive 7 Buckets in 11 years) looms large for Indiana. This is easily the best run of Indiana football since Bill Mallory was on the sideline. The Hoosiers can reach a bowl game for the third straight year, something they haven’t done since 1986-88. In each of the past two years Purdue could have stopped them, but in 2015 Darrell Hazell showed little interest in doing so and last season Indiana won a tight game in Bloomington.

For Purdue, our own bowl game might be at stake if (and it is a HUGE if at this point) everything falls into place faster than we expect. Can this year’s senior class avoid becoming the first in school history to never win the Bucket in their 5 year careers?

Indiana Hoosiers

2016 Record: 6-7, 4-5 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 (0-1 in first full season at Indiana)

Last Season for the Hoosiers:

Indiana made a bowl game last season for the second straight year, something it had not done since the late 80s. It even beat a ranked team, something it hadn’t done in 10 years. That was all good. Now, the bad: three of its four conference wins were over Michigan State, Purdue, and Rutgers, three of the worst teams in the Big Ten. The ranked win was over Michigan State as they were freefalling from the top 10 to 3-9 overall. The defense, lauded as it was, gave up 27 of the 40 points Rutgers scored in its six Big Ten East games. It took everything they had to beat a crappy Purdue team under an interim coach and secure a bowl game in a pretty sloppy Bucket game with seven combined turnovers.

Still, they got it done. It is admirable that Indiana took care of business against even the worst of its opponents because hey, Purdue hasn’t even been able to do that for years. That’s why we have lost four straight to them. Indiana also had a close win at Florida International, but challenged Michigan (20-10 loss) and Penn State (45-31). This was a good team a year ago. The defense was the best it has been in ages, and the offense often did enough even if was a step back from the 2015 team.

Our friends at Crimson Quarry have been rightfully excited for this season because it projects to be the best Indiana team in decades. The defense should actually be very, very good, which sounds really strange to say, but it is true. In another reverse, it is the offense that will be a question mark.

All of it begins right away for Indiana. Four weeks from today they host a consensus top 5 Ohio State in the season opener. If Indiana is ever going to shock the world, this is their chance. With at Virginia, Florida International, and Georgia Southern to follow a win over the Buckeyes would almost certainly have Indiana as a top 25 team for the first time in 23 years when they head to Happy Valley.

This is a good Indiana team. Its hardest games (Ohio State, Michigan, and Wisconsin) are all at home. All it needs is the offense to come through and it can have a very special year. Yes, we’re talking about a possible 8 or 9 win Indiana team.

Indiana Offense

Kevin Wilson was well known for his offensive prowess. The Hoosiers have been #CHAOSTEAM around college football the last few years because they can drop 40 points on anyone, but struggled to hold opponents under 41. In 2015 they scored 475 points in 13 games, but gave up 489. In 2013 they scored 461, but gave up 466. Now they get Mike DeBord in charge of their offense. Unfortunately for Indiana fans, the reaction of other teams that have had DeBord as their offensive coordinator has been very similar to Bears fans’ reactions when Purdue hired John Shoop.

The Hoosiers do have experience at quarterback. Zander Diamont hung up his cleats for good, but Richard Lagow is back after throwing for 3,362 yards and 19 TDs against 17 interceptions. Three of those interceptions came against Purdue last season, as he was not the most efficient quarterback. He threw for only 117 yards against Purdue, but it was the running game that did the damage against us. Diamont tortured us for the past three years with his legs, so I can’t say we’ll miss him.

The ground game has some questions. Devine Redding is gone after a 1,000 yard season. There is talent in the system and a new running back coach in Mike Hart (the former Michigan great), but the one with the most experience is Tyler Natee. The 6’ 270 pounder had 237 yards and two scores last year and is a load to bring down. Even CQ doesn’t know who the starter will be among a host of names. Camion Patrick could also start after tearing his ACL last season.

There are plenty of good receivers, however. Simmie Cobbs will be back after he missed most of last season. He was one of the best receivers in the Big Ten in 2015 and he was even a Purdue commit for a short time, but Darrell Hazell wanted him to be a defensive back, so… yeah. Nick Westbrook caught 54 balls for 995 yards and 6 TDs. With Cobbs and Westbrook the Hoosiers could have two 1,000 yard receivers.

Up front is the final nail in Hazell’s coffin. Coy Cronk was a freshman All-American and will play at left tackle. Hazell did not think he was good enough to offer when he desperately needed a left tackle and Cronk was across town at Central Catholic. Instead he offered Jalen Neal, who played sparingly as a virtual turnstile and left after a year. Cronk is only part of a pretty good offensive line. Wes martin and Brandon Knight also return, giving the Hoosiers plenty of experience to rely on.

Indiana Defense

The Indiana defense is going to be the best it has been in a very long time, and the stability of Allen moving to head coach from defensive coordinator will help. It starts up front with two good defensive tackles in Ralph Green III and Nate Hoff. They can both plug the holes against the run and provide a bit of an interior pass rush. Jacob Robinson and Mike Barwick Jr. are also versatile defensive linemen that can play both spots.

The real player to watch is Tegray Scales at linebacker. This guy is simply a stud with 126 tackles, 7 sacks, and interception, and 23.5 tackles for loss. The 6’ 227 pound outside linebacker is one of the best in the Big Ten and returned for what could be an All-American type of season. Marcus Oliver also added 96 tackles, 15.5 for loss, and four sacks, but is gone. Chris Covington and T.J. Simmons should be more than good enough to help out Scales.

In the defensive backfield Indiana was really good with 77 pass breakups a year ago. Rashard Fant and A’Shon Riggins are very good corners and overall 11 players have a significant amount of playing time. Marcelino Ball, Tony Fields, and Jonathan Crawford bring in a wealth of experience at safety that can only help.

Overall this defense is going to be excellent. Here is what CQ had to say:

Last season, SBNation’s Bill Connelly began calculating “returning production” — a far better figure than returning starters for projecting success into next season. He calculates roughly the amount of continuity and production returning to the position, and then uses a statistical model to project the rough impact that continuity and returning production matter in that given facet of football. For example, continuity on defense -- specifically in the secondary — matters a ton. Continuity on offense -- specifically in the rushing game — doesn’t matter much at all. (The pass game does, we should say).

That’s extremely good news for Indiana.

Indiana Special Teams

Griffin Oakes has been hit or miss at kicker since missing the field goal in overtime against Duke in the 2015 Pinstripe Bowl. He was 16 of 26 on field goals last season with a long of 54 yards, but he is still an experienced kicker. Joseph Gideon was a decent punter at 40.28 yards per punt, while Indiana successfully blocked three punts.

In the return game Rashard Fant should be a good punt returner. Cole Gest and Devonte Williams will also handle kickoff duties.

Game Outlook

It is hard to judge Indiana this year. They are going to be good, but the offense has questions. The defense is more than legit, but they also play the four best teams in the conference in Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Penn State. Even with improvement, Indiana beating any of those four is probably an upset (three of them come to Bloomington though, so an upset is not impossible). With a road trip to Michigan State (who should be better) that could be five losses, but the other seven teams on Indiana’s schedules are really weak.

What does that mean for Purdue? Well, if the Indiana offense struggles that will help. Purdue can only get better this year and it was within two points of Indiana last season on the road. Playing at home with an improved offense will help, but Indiana’s defense also improved. Right now the S&P rankings give Indiana a 73% chance of winning in West Lafayette with a margin of 10.6 points. It will be difficult, but not impossible to pull this off.

Way-Too-Early-Prediction

I would say I am concerned about Indiana’s offense. Lagow had a tendency to throw too many picks at times last year and the running game is not settled. Given their defensive improvements we could be in for a low scoring Bucket game. I am hoping Brohm is the difference. Indiana is the better team overall. I do not deny that, but I am going to go completely homer because I don’t want to live in a world where my son turns 5 in April and he has never seen Purdue win the Bucket. Purdue 27, Indiana 24