The motivations may differ, but Purdue and Indiana will both have plenty of it when they face off at Memorial Stadium around the Old Oaken Bucket on Saturday afternoon.
For the Boilermakers, it’s a chance to earn at least a chunk of the Big Ten West title and maybe a trip to Indianapolis if they can get help from Nebraska in his game in Iowa. For the Hoosiers, it’s an opportunity to knock Purdue off the podium while adding their own momentum to the offseason after their upset win at Michigan State last week. And of course, ownership of the bucket is at stake.
As kickoff nears, let’s take a look at 3 keys plus a prediction:
Purdue’s defensive strategy appears to be straight forward: slowing down Indiana’s running game, which exploded in last week’s win against the Spartans, and forcing the game into quarterback Dexter Williams II’s right arm.
Williams is not an accomplished passer at this point in his career, having only 2 of 7 attempts for 31 yards against MSU. And despite limited drop backs, Williams was fired three times, continuing a theme for Indiana’s dysfunctional offensive line.
It seems unlikely that Williams will be able to exploit the weakness of Purdue’s defense given the Boilermakers’ secondary struggled to contain big plays on the field, particularly in the second half of the year. The Boilermakers certainly want to force Williams to try. Last week, the Hoosiers had 257 rushing yards, including 115 and 2 scores from Shaun Shivers and 86 from Williams, with a TD. Josh Henderson added another 34 yards and a score.
Purdue has yet to see an option-style attack this season, at least one with a quarterback as capable as Williams. As such, there will likely be some strain on a Boilermakers defense, which ranks 8th in the Big Ten against run and allows 120.9 yards per game.
Defense, special teams lead IU
The Hoosiers can gain an advantage over the Boilermakers on defensive and special teams, the same formula the Hoosiers used to beat Michigan State in overtime in East Lansing on Saturday.
Freshman Jaylin Lucas’ kickoff return for a touchdown, immediately followed by a defense interception, turned the tide in the Hoosiers’ late third quarter as they recovered from a 17-point deficit. It was Lucas’ second kick return for a goal this season as the small, multi-talented running back/wide receiver/return man proved to be a great weapon. Maybe he can get another score – or a big return – that will give IU an advantage.
Indiana’s defense should be chasing turnovers. Up until last week’s win against Northwestern, Purdue quarterback Aidan O’Connell had played 7 straight games with at least 1 interception. The Boilermakers are on a minus 1 sales margin this season as they have given away the ball 18 times.
The Hoosiers will likely need an extra possession or Specials team result to equalize a limited offense.
Purdue got off to a slow start in the second half of the season, trailing 0-21 and 0-17 in back-to-back losses to Wisconsin and Iowa. It trailed Illinois 7-0 in Champaign, though the Boilermakers rallied to beat the Illini. And even in last week’s one-win win over Northwestern, the Boilermakers led 7-0, 14-3 but struggled to knock out the Wildcats.
If Indiana is either leading or within a score at halftime against Purdue, who is a 10-point favorite, then the pressure drops difficult at the boilermakers. Purdue has the most to offer with a shot at a West title share. The longer the Hoosiers stay within striking distance, the closer the Boilermakers could get, and then mistakes will be made.
This game feels different now than it did a week ago, largely because Indiana showed life in its excitement in the state of Michigan. Before that, it seemed like the Hoosiers were poised to wrap up the season.
But IU will be charged and ready to face Purdue now, knowing they can dashed the hopes of the Boilermakers’ West Division. But will that be enough? Probably not. The Boilermakers are more talented offensively, with a quarterback capable of putting points on the board quickly. It’s likely Purdue will take the lead and then force Williams to play offense. If it can, then the Boilermakers win.
Purdue 35, Indiana 21