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Know Thy Opponent 2021: Indiana Hoosiers

The Bucket has been in exile for 6 of the last 8 years after last season’s cancellation.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Joshua A. Bickel/Columbus Dispatch via Imagn Content Services, LLC

For the first time since 1919 Purdue and Indiana did not play in football last season. They tried to twice, but both attempts were wiped out with COVID issues going through each program. Given the trajectory of the programs at the time, it was probably a good thing. Indiana used a ballsy call to go for two in overtime against Penn State and the conversion by one 10,000th of an inch was the springboard into a top 15 season. Purdue was just outside the top 25 after a 2-0 start and a win over Northwestern would have meant the program’s first ranking since 2007. The Boilers lost, and that led to a four game losing streak to close the year.

Does Indiana keep the Bucket last year if the game is played? Probably. They were playing a lot better football than Purdue at the time and confidence with momentum is a huge part of football. They now enter a season ranked in the preseason top 25 for the first time in almost 30 years. They have a very tough start to the season, but expectations are as high as they have ever been in Bloomington.

2020 Record: 6-2

Bowl Result: Lost Outback Bowl 26-20 to Mississippi

Blog Representation: Crimson Quarry

Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 74-42-6

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

Last Indiana win: 44-41 (2OT) at Purdue on 11/30/2019

Head Coach: Tom Allen (24-22 in 5th season at Indiana)

How much of the last two seasons is the result of Indiana being significantly better and how much has been the result of their opponents having down years? It is probably a little of both. There is zero question that Tom Allen has made great strides in Bloomington. The phrase #9windiana had real legs in 2019 as Indiana went 8-4 in the regular season before collapsing in its bowl game against Tennessee. They lost all four games to the big four of the Big Ten East that year, but Indiana finally raised itself to the level of “beat the teams it should beat”, something that has been elusive for a very long time. It was an easier schedule with no wins over a team with more than 5 wins, but eight wins is eight wins and Purdue hasn’t done that since 2007.

Last season hinged on that Penn State dive. It was only Indiana’s second win over the Nittany Lions in 24 tries, and the #8 ranking Penn State carried at the time was a huge boost. Indiana would go on to beat Michigan State, knock off Michigan for the first time in over 30 years, get a good win at Wisconsin, and play Ohio State within a touchdown.

A closer look shows that it was still a bit of a “beat who you should beat” season. It turns out Penn State was hilariously overrated in the preseason and started 0-5. Michigan went 2-4 and was bad. Michigan State was 2-5 and bad. Rutgers and Maryland were Rutgers and Maryland (though, to be fair, Purdue certainly did not cover itself in glory against Rutgers). The best win was 14-6 at Wisconsin, but it is the only win over a team that finished with a winning record that Indiana has had the last two years. Arguably, Purdue’s best win over Iowa was better than Indiana’s best win.

That doesn’t mean the Hoosiers aren’t good. Again, they can beat the teams they should beat with regularity. Purdue can’t say that under Jeff Brohm with the trail of losses to Rutgers (twice), Eastern Michigan, Nevada, a very bad Nebraska team, and more. They will be severely tested in the first few weeks with trips to ranked Iowa and Penn State and a home game against top 10 Cincinnati, so we’ll have an idea of just how good they are early on.

Indiana Offense

Indiana’s offense last season was a little up and down, but a solid defense (and it is very odd to say “solid Indiana defense”) gave them plenty of leeway. They had excellent balance between the run and the pass and there was no real dropoff in production when Michael Penix Jr. went down with yet another injury.

The quarterback position is a definite one of strength. Penix was having a good season when he went down with 1,645 yards and 14 touchdowns against only four interceptions. He also showed his mobility with a pair of rushing TDs. He is not what I would call a running quarterback, but he can move when necessary. His injury history has been a concern, but Jack Tuttle filled in quite well with a higher completion percentage and 362 yards over 3 games.

This game should have some of the Big Ten’s best receivers showcasing their talents in ty Fryfogle and David Bell. Fryfogle was one of the best in the Big Ten last year with 37 catches for 721 yards and 7 TDs. His 19.5 yards per reception was the second best in the league. The loss of Whop Philyor is large, but tight end Peyton Hendershot (23-151-4) will help a lot. Miles Marshall (19-290-1) should also play a larger role. D.J. Matthews is a Florida State transfer who had 84 receptions last year as a slot receiver.

In the backfield the loss of Stevie Scott III is pretty big, as he rushed for 561 yards and 10 TDs while also catching 13 passes. Look for Sampson James and Tim Baldwin Jr. to get most of the carries. The offensive line did struggle in the run game, as Indiana was 12th in the Big Ten. Matthew Bedford and Michigan transfer Zach Carpenter are the top linemen.

One of the more interesting players is walk-on Charlie Spegal, who shattered the state’s all-time rushing record with 10,867 yards in his career at New Palestine. He also had a state record 175 career touchdowns and is the state’s all-time leading scorer with 1,054 points. If you want a comparison, Jackson and Danny Anthrop each had spectacular high school careers individually and scored a combined 1,286 points (Danny edged Jackson 646 to 640). Spegal may not play, but I do have a thing for monster stats like his, and he was the state’s leading rusher by more than 2700 yards. Our own Markell Jones is third all time at a measly 7,930.

Indiana Defense

While Indiana’s offense was in the upper half of the Big Ten last year, the defense has grown into a real strength. The Hoosiers have made considerable strides from the days when teams ran through them like a wet paper bag. Now the defense is pretty stout, giving up 137 yards per game on the ground.

Up front Ryder Anderson, James Head Jr., and Michael Ziemba provide a nice rotation at defensive end. Ziemba and Head were mostly reserves last year, while Anderson is a transfer from Mississippi. The Hoosiers led the conference with 25 sacks last year from 12 different players, so pressure comes from everywhere.

Micah McFadden is one of the best linebackers in the conference and a huge piece to build around. He led the team in tackles (58), tackles for loss (10.5) and sacks (6). He is an all-Big Ten caliber linebacker and Athlon sports called him the best linebacker Indiana has had in more than 30 years. Cam Jones (35 tackles, 3 sacks) is also a really good piece, while Marcelino McCrary-Ball returns from injury with 38 starts.

Indiana was a little shaky against the pass last year even with all the sacks. They were 10th in the league, giving up 241 yards per game. Considering Purdue led the league in passing at more than 300 a game, that should be a good thing. Tiawan Mullen is pretty good with 38 tackles and 3 interceptions on the season. Jaylin Williams also had four picks of his own. Devon Matthews with 40 tackles and six pass breakups is a really good safety. The experience of this unit should make them much better. Indiana had 17 interceptions in 8 games last year, which is a concern. Things were probably skewed by playing Ohio State, who dropped a ton of yards on everyone.

Indiana Special Teams

Charles Campbell was about as good as you can get at kicker last year. He hit 10 of 11 field goal attempts and all 25 PAT attempts and had a long of 53 yards. Long time punter Haydon Whitehead is gone, but Indiana is changing things up. Instead of the required Australian punter as per Big Ten rules, they are going with freshman James Evans from New Zealand.

In the return game D.J. Matthews was really good at Florida State on punt returns and even housed one against Miami in 2018.

Game Outlook

We’re going to find out a lot about Indiana in the first five games of the season. They have easy wins against Idaho and Western Kentucky in weeks 2 and 4, respectively, but opening at Iowa, hosting a top 10 Cincinnati in week 3, and going to a much improved Penn State in week 5 is pretty salty. The Hoosiers begin the year in the top 20, but a 2-3 start is very possible. If they get to 4-1 or even better a monster game at home against Ohio State on October 23rd might be their biggest home game since beating Purdue in 1967 to go to the Rose Bowl. Indiana has to go to Michigan, and they get Minnesota at home from the West

To me, there is no question that Indiana is a lot better than they have historically been. Are they “threaten to win the East” good? Well, I think a top 3 finish there is very reasonable depending on what Michigan does. That Cincinnati game is going to be a huge litmus test against probably the best Group of Five team in the country.

By the time they get to Purdue, who knows. In 2019 Purdue took their greatest team in 30+ years to double overtime with a walk-on quarterback throwing the ball all over the place and a walk-on running back running wild. The Boilers were arguably a dropped pass at the end of regulation from beating them on a field goal. I tend to think if Purdue finds answers to its questions it too can be a 7-8 win team. Indiana is a lot closer to that mark than we are though.

Way-too-early Prediction

I think it will be close, and early momentum in the season will be a huge factor late. If Purdue can start 4-1 against a much easier slate than Indiana 7-8 wins is very possible. Conversely, if Indiana starts 2-3 they still have an easier back half and should win 7-8 games. My official Purdue prediction is 7-5 for this year. In our preview series so far I have us beating Oregon State, UConn, Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa (Brohm has Ferentz’s number), and Michigan State, with narrow losses to Nebraska and Northwestern and not-so-narrow losses to Notre Dame, Ohio State, and Wisconsin.

That leaves Indiana as that potential 7th win. The Hoosiers have had the upper hand in this series since Darrell Hazell was hired, winning 5 of the last 7. I don’t think they are as good as the hype, but they are good. I also don’t think Purdue is as bad as the hype. Of course, the hype could be correct and Indiana steams in at 9-2, rolling us for a 10-win season while Purdue closes at a dismal 3-9. Their ceiling is higher than ours and our floor is deeper, but I can also easily see the teams meeting in the middle.

I think we bring the Bucket back from a two-year exile in an exciting game, because I still believe in coach Brohm. Talk to me in late November though and it could be different. Purdue 31, Indiana 30