What better way to spoil your rivals’ bid for bowl eligibility than to beat them on their own football field?
That’s the scenario Indiana University (4-7, 2-5 Big Ten) finds itself in for today’s annual Old Oaken Bucket game with Purdue. Kickoff is set for noon.
Last week’s loss at Penn State ensured a fifth straight bowl-less season for the Hoosiers, while the Boilermakers (5-6, 2-5) need a victory today to go bowling for a second straight year.
But the Hoosiers aren’t necessarily focused on what they can do to Purdue, but what a season-ending win can do for them.
“My objective is not whether they go to a bowl game or not,” IU coach Kevin Wilson said. “My deal is we need to win the game.
“It has nothing to do with what it does for them; it’s about what it does for us. Winning is good for us. Winning builds us. Winning takes care of our seniors that we have a lot of respect for. Winning gives us momentum in recruiting. Winning gives us an opportunity to build in the offseason. I’ve never looked at it as, ‘This is what it does for them.’”
Expectations weren’t high for the Hoosiers entering the season, not after a 1-11 record in Wilson’s first campaign. That lone win came against FCS opponent South Carolina State.
But the Hoosiers eked out victories in their first two games, and even with a five-game losing streak, were in position to get to the Big Ten championship game.
Wisconsin brought IU back to reality, though, rushing for 564 yards in a 62-14 rout that clinched a spot in the conference title game for the Badgers. And last week, despite 454 yards passing from Cam Coffman, the Hoosiers lost at Penn State to fall to 0-16 all-time against the Nittany Lions and fall out of bowl eligibility as well.
The Boilermakers had their own struggles. Expected to contend for a Leaders Division title before the season, Purdue also lost five in a row. But the Boilermakers can become bowl-eligible with a win today and make it to consecutive bowl games for the first time since the 2006 and ’07 seasons.
Purdue coach Danny Hope thinks his team was playing too tight during the losing streak.
“When the competition was at its highest and the stakes were the highest, I thought our team played tight some,” Hope said. “So our approach the last two or three weeks is to be loose and be wide open and have a lot of fun, so that will be the approach that we take going into this ballgame.”
Leading the way for the Boilermakers will be sixth-year senior QB Robert Marve, who’s completed 65.8 percent of his passes for 1,174 yards, nine touchdowns and two interceptions. His counterpart across the field, Coffman, has thrown for 2,386 yards, 14 TDs and eight interceptions while completing 61 percent of his passes.
As steady as the quarterbacks have been, the running game could be the deciding factor in which team wins today. The Hoosiers have allowed opponents 235.5 yards per game on the ground; Purdue averages 163.2 yards rushing.
“I think we manufactured a little more run-right-at-‘em, north-and-south run game, starting with the Ohio State game, and that allowed us to move the sticks and get first downs and compete against an outstanding defensive football team and allowed us to still be two-dimensional from an offensive standpoint,” Hope said. “That hurt us some early in the season when we couldn’t establish the run early and we couldn’t stop them defensively, and the next thing you know we’re behind by three scores and we haven’t been out there very much.”
“Sometimes we’re just not getting off blocks,” Wilson said of IU’s defensive struggles. “Sometimes we’re misaligning and not executing right. And sometimes we have to keep looking and put guys in right places. Schematically, are we doing the right things?”
The Hoosiers will be looking for a rare second straight win in West Lafayette, after finishing the 2010 season — and Bill Lynch’s tenure as head coach — with a 34-31 overtime victory. IU hasn’t won two straight at Purdue since victories in 1994 and ’96.