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Know Thy Opponent 2019: Indiana Hoosiers

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A 5-6 Indiana team playing for the Bucket and a bowl bid is as constant as the tides.

NCAA Football: Purdue at Indiana Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The last two years have been historical in the long-running Indiana-Purdue football rivalry. It is the only two times where the winner was assured of a bowl while the loser was eliminated. Only twice have both teams gone bowling in the same season (1979 and 2007) while the 1967 game is the lone one that decided the Big Ten title (Indiana’s win made it a three-way tie between Purdue, Indiana, and Minnesota as opposed to an outright Purdue title). Most of the time the game has either meant very little in the national picture or, like in 2016, 2015, 2012, or 2011 the winner clinched a bowl berth over a much worse loser.

The recent series has been an exercise in reaching .500 mediocrity. After the dismal Hazell years a pair of 6-6 seasons and a bowl trip with the Bucket felt like heaven, but now coach Brohm is getting paid a lot of money to do better than 6-6. He has a young team this year where they large majority of the team has yet to play a collegiate game, so 6-6 could happen again before a big leap forward. For Indiana, a pair of 5-7 seasons have followed a pair of 6-7 seasons with bowl losses, so they have been in that mediocrity a bit longer. They are a very experienced team that is still looking for a breakthrough.

Will both teams go bowling this year? Is 9 Windiana something that can actually happen?Can Purdue get to six or more wins before a decent Indiana team comes to West Lafayette? Can Indiana actually win a bowl game for the first time since the breakup of the Soviet Union?

Indiana Hoosiers

2018 Record: 5-7, 2-7 Big Ten East

Bowl Result: None

Blog Representation: Crimson Quarry

Series with Purdue: Purdue Leads 74-41-6

Last Purdue win: 28-21 at Indiana on 11/24/2018

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

Head Coach: Tom Allen (10-15 in third year at Indiana)

Last Season for the Hoosiers

In short, it was a very Indiana-y season. The Hoosiers started strong with a win at Florida International before coming home to beat a decent Virginia team and Ball State. Then they played the Big Ten. They beat Maryland and Rutgers, but lost to everyone else. The difference makers were losses to Minnesota and Purdue in crossover games. That sent the Boilers and Golden Gophers to the postseason but kept Indiana home. The Purdue game was especially frustrating because it was at home but there were multiple questionable at best offensive decisions in a game where Purdue was okay, but far from dominant.

This year could be more of the same. Indiana plays five teams in the preseason top 25 (Ohio State, Michigan State, Northwestern, Penn State, and Michigan). The non-conference schedule is as charmin-soft as you can get without playing high school teams in Ball State, UConn, and Eastern Illinois. With Rutgers and a rebuilding Maryland that’s five wins for even a marginally competent team. That also leaves to “toss-up games” against not ranked, but not just bloody awful teams: at Nebraska and at Purdue.

Indiana Offense

The Hoosiers have one of the more interesting quarterback derbies in the conference this year. Peyton Ramsey is the incumbent starter, Michael Penix Jr. is the athletic freshman that had some dazzling moments last year before getting hurt, and Jack Tuttle is the transfer that was a top 10 projected QB in his recruiting class. Ramsey has the most experience with 2,875 yards and 19 TDs with 13 INTs last year. He also could run a bit with 354 yards and 5 TDs on the ground. One of these three guys will win the job for the opener, but by the Purdue game we may see someone else.

In the backfield the Hoosiers have a solid first option with Stevie Scott III. He had 1,137 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns a season ago and is on the Doak Walker watch list. Sampson James, a highly recruited back from Avon who flipped from Ohio State, could also have a strong debut as a freshman. Ronnie Walker also returns after rushing for 141 yards and two scores last season.

Indiana does need more production out of its receivers this year. Nick Westbrook ( 42 receptions, 590 yards, 4 TDs) and Donavan Hale (42-508-6) give them two pretty solid receivers, but the loss of Luke Timian will sting. Ty Fryfogle also returns after catching 29 passes for 381 yards and 3 TDs, so there are pieces there for a strong offense.

The offensive line should be pretty solid two with three starters back. Coy Cronk, one of the largest recruiting misses of Hazell’s tenure, will anchor the line as one of the most experienced linemen in the conference. Hunter Littlejohn is also a fifth year player and long-time starter at center.

Indiana Defense

The Indiana defense under Tom Allen, both as defensive coordinator and head coach, has been significantly better than the typical Indiana defenses of “Please God I hope we score 55 points” under Kevin Wilson. Statistically, it was better than Purdue last season. They held teams under 30 points per game and they return nine starters.

There was not a great pass rush with Jerome Johnson leading the team with just 3.5 sacks. Marcelino Ball was active at getting into the backfield as a safety. He finished the year with 59 tackles, 7.5 for loss. The return of Raheem Layne at corner will also help.

There are some other very good piece to build around. Reakwon Jones had 36 tackles last year and should be a solid linebacker as a fifth year player. Bryant Fitzgerald also led the team with three interceptions last season.

Overall, the defense really struggled against downfield passing teams. David Blough was able to hit on a pair of long TDs to Rondale Moore last season and if the Purdue offensive line can hold up we can expect the Boilers to go over the top even more.

Indiana Special Teams

Logan Justus had a really solid season at kicker, hitting 15 of 18 field goals with a long of 44 yards. Senior punter Haydon Whitehead averaged 40 yards per punt and was fine.

In the return game J-Shun Harris departed after a very successful, but injury plagued career. There wasn’t much to go on in the kickoff return game. Tiawan Mullen, and incoming freshman, could make an impact big time in the return game.

Game Outlook

Unless the season is a complete disaster the Hoosiers will be playing for that all-important sixth win (at minimum) for the fifth straight season against Purdue. Indiana has a fair amount of talent and a load of experience. The largest question is at quarterback, and their options there are not terrible. As always, how the Hoosiers handle the better teams on their schedule will decide the season.

Indiana is probably not beating Michigan or Ohio State despite both games being at home. Winning at Penn State or Nebraska is probably a tall order, so can they beat Northwestern at home or win in East Lansing? If this team is not 3-1 before hosting Ohio State something is seriously wrong.

Way-too-Early Prediction

I am not a believer in 9 Windiana. Indiana is good enough to make a bowl and if they can knock off Northwestern at home they definitely can be at six wins before coming to Purdue, but I think we see the familiar refrain of them being 5-6 with the Bucket on the line and they stay home yet again. Purdue 31, Indiana 24