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Purdue Football: Indiana Preview

The Hoosiers are playing their best ball of the season heading into the Bucket game.

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Indiana Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

It’s that time again; the end of the college football season is upon us. But the Boilermakers are looking to go out with a bang against the Hoosiers. This is a throwback “pride” game that was once a staple of the rivalry before Purdue fought its way out of the basement. The good news is Purdue is visiting the basement while Indiana has a nice efficiency sectioned off in the back corner.

Indiana on Offense

First, find a quarterback; everything else is secondary until you have someone you trust behind center. It appears the Hoosiers found their man in Brendan Sorsby. The 6’3”, 230-pound redshirt freshman out of Texas has been a revelation for the Hoosiers. Since taking over as the only quarterback in the Rutgers game, he’s thrown for 10 touchdowns and 2 interceptions and run for an additional 4 touchdowns as their primary short-yardage back. He helped lead the Hoosiers to a substantial upset of Wisconsin, throwing a touchdown, running for a touchdown, and most importantly, not turning the ball over.

Sorsby brings a tough dual-threat to the Hoosiers’ offense. He’s a plus athlete capable of making plays in the running game as a primary ball carrier and making throws on the run outside the pocket. In the passing game, he has a live arm but will uncork some bad throws. I’d rather have him sit in the pocket and make throws into coverage than letting him get on the edge and use the threat of the run to open things up downfield. Purdue’s outside linebackers have to be cognizant of their rush lanes when they are responsible for containment, and the defensive ends have to get outside when they’re tasked with setting the edge. Sorsby is a tough guy to get on the ground individually. Purdue needs to collapse the pocket and crush him, as opposed to trying to bring him down with a single defender. He’s not a guy that’s going to hit the turf from a run by an arm tackle. You’ve got to wrap him up, and sometimes it takes help.

Former Indiana quarterback Donaven McCulley (one of the bigger in-state misses in the Brohm era) has blossomed as a wide receiver with Sorsby under center. The athletic 6’5”, 200-pounder is the exact type of receiver missing from the Purdue offense. He’s open even when he’s covered because he can outjump and outphysical defensive backs on the outside. His 11-catch, 137 yards, 2 touchdown performance against Illinois announced his presence to the rest of the Big 10. Let’s hope someone breaks out their checkbook and pries him out of Bloomington because he’s going to be an issue moving forward.

The Hoosiers feature a 3-headed rushing attack featuring 2 bruising backs and a jumbo quarterback. All 3 are often featured in the same backfield; Indiana’s run game is often reliant on misdirection. Purdue can’t get caught watching the ball and needs to play assignment football, similar to how you would play against the triple option. The system is built to punish an overaggressive defense. Purdue plays an aggressive defense but has been better with their discipline in the back half of the season. They’ll need to keep that up on Saturday.

Tackling will also be at a premium. Their top 2 running backs, starting quarterback, and best receiver all weigh over 200 pounds. Boilermaker defenders have a bad habit of not wrapping their arms. If they don’t squeeze and drive against these guys, they’ll bounce off and continue down the field unbothered. Indiana doesn’t have much speed, but they try to make up for it by breaking tackles. It’s not just breaking tackles, but turning 2-yard gains into 5 because the back or receiver finishes the run hard. Purdue can’t let that happen because Tom Allen will be more than happy to hold onto the ball using a punishing running attack and that with deep balls to McCulley.

Indiana on Defense

The Indiana defense is simple. They run a 4-man front with 3 down linemen and 1 stand-up end. They generally play zone and try to keep the top on their defense by utilizing a deep safety, with mixed results.

In theory, they want to make Purdue drive the ball down the field. They invite you to throw in the short zone (in front of the linebackers) and then let their linebackers rally to make the tackle. Purdue would be wise to not take the short zone bait and attack the middle zone (between the linebackers and safeties) instead. That’s where I see Hudson Card (assuming it’s Hudson) doing the most damage. If Purdue can attack the mid-zone, they’ll have a better chance going deep with a double move or a pump fake later in the game. The Boilermakers need the Indiana safeties to get antsy and start jumping routes. I’m not sure Purdue can win this game without hitting a few big plays down the field in the passing game.

Purdue needs to complete a few passes in this game, but I expect (hope actually) that they lean heavily on the run game. The Hoosiers are 71st in the nation in run defense, and Purdue’s 1-2 punch of Tracey and Mockobee should be able to control the game on the ground and help out Card by making the play action game more believable. Keeping Hudson upright is of utmost importance. Slowing down the rush with a solid running game, as well as utilizing screens and draws, should help Purdue keep Indiana off balance.

When the eventual 3rd and long does arise, Do-everything middle linebacker Aaron Casey is the man to watch. He leads Indiana in tackles, tackles for loss, and sacks. They like to fire him through the interior of the line on both run and pass blitzes. Card needs to keep a close eye on him. One of my biggest gripes with Card this season is his struggle to identify the blitz and get it picked up before the snap. He should keep a close eye on Casey if he values his well-rested ribs.

In Conclusion

Is Purdue healthy?

If so, they win this game.

If Card can’t go, they lose.

Purdue is simply not good enough to win with their backup quarterback at the moment. Assuming Card goes, he can do enough in the passing game to keep the Hoosiers honest and keep them from exclusively playing the run. Any semblance of a passing game wins this thing for the Boilermakers.

On defense, Purdue has to tackle. Indiana wants to get the ball out quickly and let their big backs and receivers make plays. Purdue can’t let Sorsby get comfortable with easy access short throws. The Hoosiers are happy to win this game 10 yards at a time with their power run game and short passing game. Purdue needs to make Sorsby hold the ball to give the pass rush time to work. If I’m Ryan Walter’s, I’d shade Dillon towards McCulley, play press coverage, and force the Indiana line to block Purdue’s front.

I don’t think they can.