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Purdue vs. Indiana | Matchups to Watch

What are the key matchups to watch in the battle for the Old Oaken Bucket

Syndication: Journal-Courier Nikos Frazier / Journal & Courier / USA TODAY NETWORK

Although this season’s Bucket game lacks a bit of luster with the Indiana Hoosiers playing poorly following a 3-0 start the featured a win against Illinois in the first game, there is always something to play for in this yearly in-state rivalry game. The Purdue Boilermakers look to go for a second start season of 8 regular season wins which hasn’t happened since Joe Tiller’s first and second years in 1997 and 1998 along with possibly playing for a chance at the B1G West Division title and facing either the Michigan Wolverines or the Ohio State Buckeyes. Indiana will look to salvage their regular season that started with lots of promise and led to seven consecutive losses in games that largely had not been competitive outside of a 38-33 loss to Maryland. The win against Michigan State should get Purdue’s attention that the Hoosiers are capable of beating someone when their opponent does not come prepared to play hard.

Let’s take a look at some of the important matchups heading into the Bucket Game:

1 | Indiana QB Dexter Williams vs. Purdue LB/S Jalen Graham

Williams made his first career start last week versus the Michigan State Spartans and for the first time in weeks the Indiana offense appeared to show some explosiveness. Williams isn’t a polished passer and is much more of a run-first QB but has shown an ability to break long runs as a runner. It will be very important for Purdue to key in on Williams and prevent him from making Indiana multi-dimensional on offense. The player Purdue will use to key in on Williams as a spy on most downs will be LB/S Jalen Graham.

NCAA Football: Penn State at Purdue Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Graham, at 6’3 and 220 pounds, is as athletic a player on the defensive side of the ball as anyone in the country. This athleticism allows Graham to be squarely placed across from a team’s best player to limit their impact. During the game against Northwestern, Graham frequently bottled up Cole Freeman from making an impact in the running game limiting him to 18 yards on 9 rushes. Graham’s ability to get involved in the read-option and QB run game will determine Purdue’s success in limiting Indiana’s offensive effectiveness. Indiana also does not have a tight end like Iowa’s Sam LaPorta that would require him to cover one on one down the field so Graham’s full focus will mostly stay on containing the Indiana QB.

2 | Purdue Offense vs. Indiana Defense on 3rd Down

Indiana is not very good on defense ranking and will be the worst statistical defense Purdue will face all season ranking 123rd out of 131 total division 1 programs. Indiana’s struggles can be boiled down to a couple of different factors: 3rd Down Conversion Rate, Passing Yards Allowed, Team Passing Efficiency Defense, and Team Sacks. These factors that Indiana struggles in are aspects that will favor Purdue heavily in what they do well.

Purdue, when they have been able to stay on schedule as an offense and get themselves into manageable third down situations, have been an incredibly hard offense to stop. Unfortunately for the Hoosiers, they rank 110th in this category giving up 43.4% of third downs. That is the lowest percentage in the B1G and the 10th worst in any major conference. Simply put, IU can’t get off the field on third down but how else can this be explained against Purdue?

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Purdue Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

Purdue has shown more confidence in their run game with the emergence of Devin Mockobee but because he is in the concussion protocol, his availability is currently unknown. This may have an impact on what Purdue wants to do on 3rd down in a multitude of situations and how Purdue gets themselves into 3rd and manageable situations. With these factors, Purdue may lean more heavily on the passing game against an IU defense that has struggled to effectively slow down opponents passing games.

Indiana ranks 115th in passing defense giving up an average of 272.7 yards, 120th in team passing efficiency defense 151.16 (5th worst among P5), and 114th in team sacks with just 1.50 sacks per game. This means that Indiana isn’t likely to get pressure onto Aidan O’Connell which allows Jeff Brohm’s passing concepts and schemes to work receivers open. Look for the running backs coming out of the backfield to be featured more on those third downs.

3 | Purdue WR’s vs. Indiana Defensive Backs

As explained in the previous matchup, Indiana just doesn’t get a lot of pressure on opposing team’s quarterbacks generating just 16.5 total sacks on the season (as a comparison Purdue has 25) and they can’t get off the field on nearly half of third downs this season. Those issues, when combined with the factors that make Purdue a good passing team, does not bode well for the Hoosiers.

NCAA Football: Purdue at Illinois Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Aidan O’Connell is at his best when he is able to make his way through his progressions and find an open receiver in space to make a play but the Hoosiers lack a defense that has the ability to generate any consistent type of pressure. What makes this even more difficult for the Hoosiers is that Jeff Brohm’s schemes some times call for extended time for the QB in the pocket to wait for receivers to break open. If Purdue can give their receivers time against a set of Hoosier defensive backs who aren’t good enough to defend receivers without pressure will mean Purdue’s passing game will burn the Hoosier defense in large chunks that Purdue hasn’t seen in the last few weeks.