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Know thy Opponent 2018: Indiana Hoosiers

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Last year Purdue won the Bucket back for the first time since 2012. Will it stay in West Lafayette?

NCAA Football: Indiana at Maryland Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

We’re finally at the end of our preseason previews, and as always, we finish with the Indiana Hoosiers. For the last three years the winner of the Bucket game has gone to a bowl game, and they needed the Bucket to reach said bowl. Last year was the first time in history that both teams entered the game needing a win to reach the postseason. Because both programs are not that strong historically it made for quite the game. Only in 1979 and 2007 have both teams played in a bowl game in the same season, though the 1967 game remains the only one that had true national implications (and both would have been bowling under the current conference rules).

Purdue’s 31-24 win over Indiana was quite cathartic. Not only did it end an exile of 1,456 days where the Bucket had been in Bloomington, it gave us a surprise bowl bid. It also meant a lot to bring the trophy home just weeks after Joe Tiller had passed away. Fans poured onto the field to celebrate with the players not because we pulled off some monumental upset, but because we finally had something good to celebrate after years in the wilderness.

In my game wrap from last year (one of my favorite game wraps I have written here) I wrote about how it reminded me of basketball’s home win over Wisconsin in 2008. We hadn’t climbed the mountain, but it was nice just to be back at the mountain with a chance to climb it. That’s how far we had fallen under Darrell Hazell.

So what will this year’s Bucket game mean? Purdue’s inexperienced defense and tougher schedule means that the Boilers could head to Bloomington needing a win to reach the postseason once again. Indiana, because they are in the brutal East Division, might need the same. It should make for another close game.

2017 Record: 5-7, 2-7 Big Ten East

Bowl Result: None

Blog Representation: Crimson Quarry

Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 73-41-6

Last Purdue win: 31-24 at Purdue on 11/25/2017

Last Indiana win: 26-24 at Indiana on 11/26/2016

Head Coach: Tom Allen (5-8 in 2nd season at Indiana, lost head coaching debut in 2016 Foster Farms bowl)

Last Season for the Hoosiers

It was a bit of a weird season for Indiana last year. They started the season on Thursday night at home with College GameDay in town and even led Ohio State in the third quarter before getting demolished in the final 20 minutes. They had little trouble in winning their three non-conference games, which included a last minute home game against Charleston Southern after Florida International had to cancel due to a hurricane. They took Michigan to overtime and played Michigan State close.

Ultimately, the season was bowl-less due to two games: a 42-39 loss at Maryland and the loss at Purdue. Being in the East for Indiana is rarely going to be easy. The big four of Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Penn State often means four losses. Outside of those games they have to be near perfect to make a bowl. They had no favors getting Wisconsin as a crossover opponent, so any bowl game comes down to what they do in their three non-conference games and what they do against Maryland, Rutgers, and Purdue.

This year is probably no different. The Hoosiers go to Florida International to start the year before hosting Virginia and Ball State. They get Iowa, Minnesota, and Purdue from the West, so there is definite hope for a bowl game.

Indiana Offense

In the first year under Tom Allen Indiana was pretty different from the Kevin Wilson years. Wilson ran a fast-paced offense that tried to sprint down the field and simply outscore teams. Under Allen, Indiana has a really strong, experienced defense and the offense sometimes struggled.

One thing that will help is the experience of quarterback Peyton Ramsey. The freshman split time with Richard Lagow last season and might get the job full-time. He threw for 1,252 yards and 10 TDs against 5 interceptions. He also rushed for 226 yards (third on the team) and two scores. Ramsey is a definite dual-threat player. He makes the Hoosier offense much more versatile, and with top rushers Morgan Ellison (704 yards, 6 TDs) and Cole Gest (428 yards, 1 TD) back the ground game has promise.

Ramsey will have to hold off Brandon Dawkins, who is a grad transfer from Arizona that started before losing his job to Khalil Tate. Dawkins is also a good runner with 1,582 yards rushing. He is a good one-year band-aid while Ramsey gains more experience.

The passing game won’t improve with Simmie Cobbs off to the NFL. Luke Timian (68 catches, 589 yards, 2 TDs) now becomes the No. 1 option. Nick Westbrook is also back after missing all of last season with an injury. Whop Philyor (33-335-3) also brings some solid experience. Those are three good receivers to build around, but Cobbs was a special player.

Up front Indiana has three really good linemen to build around. Nick Linder comes on board as a grad transfer from Miami. Wes Martin and Coy Cronk are also solid, multi-year starters. This gives Indiana all the pieces for a pretty good offense.

Indiana Defense

Last year was the best Indiana defense in recent memory. Normally the Hoosiers are little more than a speedbump, especially against the run. Last season it finished in the top 30 in the S&P for the first time in almost 25 years. The Hoosiers held opponents to 25 points per game and less than 180 yards through the air.

Unfortunately, they lost two of their best players. Tegray Scales and Chris Covington are two of the best linebackers ever to play in Bloomington. They combined for 170+ tackles, 24.5 for loss, and 9 sacks last season. Dameon Willis Jr. is the only returning linebacker with much experience.

The Hoosiers also lost their top two defensive ends. Allen Stallings IV and Nile Sykes are both back and have experience. Defensive tackle Jacob Robinson was excellent in the middle with four sacks and seven tackles for loss last year. Indiana also should benefit from getting another graduate transfer in Syracuse’s Kayton Samuels.

Jonathan Crawford returns to lead the secondary after notching 62 tackles and an interception, but leading tackler Chase Dutra graduated. Tony Fields and Rashard Fant also bring a ton of experience at the corner positions. The downside is that Indiana only intercepted five passes last season, and two of those were by the departed Scales.

Indiana Special Teams

Hayden Whitehead gives Indiana experience at punter. He averaged nearly 41 yards per kick, so he should be fine. The Hoosiers do need to find a new kicker after Griffin Oakes graduated.

In the return game Devonte Williams had 28 kickoff returns for 523 yards. J-Shun Harris was excellent as a punt returner with a 19 yard average and 2 touchdowns over 14 attempts, but he tore his ACL for a third time against Maryland. If healthy, he is quite the dynamic player. Way back in 2014 he caught 18 passes for 168 yards and 2 scores.

Game Outlook

Indiana is actually a pretty good football team now. They have been for a few years. The record hasn’t shown it, however, because they are just 2-18 against their division’s Big Four since the east was created. They are a bit like Danny Hope’s Purdue in that they can put a scare into really good teams, but they have struggled to close those games out.

This year should be similar. Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, and Penn State certainly look like four losses, but the Hoosiers have a great shot in the remaining eight games. Last season they blasted Rutgers 41-0 and we struggled to do anything against the Scarlet Knights. If they take care of business in their three non-conference games they could have bowl eligibility locked up before playing Purdue. Playing Rutgers and Minnesota helps a ton. That leaves home games against Iowa, Maryland, and Purdue as swing games.

Way-too-Early Prediction

It should be a fun one. Indiana is probably going to be better offensively but worse defensively. By this point in the season Purdue’s defense will be experienced, so it will help. Does this game decide a bowl game again? Purdue 31, Indiana 28