By Craig Smith
BLOOMINGTON — After last year’s 62-10 loss to Purdue, the Indiana football team held a series of meetings.
Coming off a 3-9 season, the Hoosiers wanted to rebuild the program by considering what needed to be done to make them a competitive football team before they hit the field again. The players decided that they needed to be in the weight room everyday — summer sessions were no longer considered optional. Personal discipline extended beyond just the gridiron; they needed to go to class and stay out of trouble. They were going to police themselves in all aspects of the program rather than relying on the coaches.
Judged by the results, the progress seems ephemeral as Indiana concluded a 4-8 season (1-7 in Big Ten play) with a 38-21 loss to Purdue on Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
But to listen to Bill Lynch and the outgoing seniors, the change in the program is drastic.
“It’s character and work ethic and being better people, which I think will lead to being better football players,” senior running back Bryan Payton said. “We’re much stronger and we fight through adversity.”
Purdue (5-7, 4-4) dominated the first half. Four Joey Elliott touchdown passes, the last coming with two minutes remaining in the half, gave the Boilermakers a 21-0 lead.
Indiana scored just before halftime when Ben Chappell powered his way into the end zone on a one yard quarterback sneak.
“The difference is leadership,” outgoing tackle Rodger Saffold said. “Last year, down 14-0, we probably would have tanked it. … You didn’t have to ask for effort from anyone today. Last year, you would have had to ask for effort.”
Indiana coach Bill Lynch almost invariably credits his team for playing hard. He said he was proud of their effort this season with the exception of the Virginia game
Even if the effort hasn’t shown up in the wins column, it has produced closer games. Last year, Indiana lost to Iowa, Wisconsin, Penn State and Purdue by a combined score of 196-46. The Hoosiers lost to all four opponents this season 142-93 and the Iowa score (42-24) is misleading since IU led 24-14 at the end of the third quarter in Iowa City.
With the exception of the loss to Ohio State, Indiana could point to a play or drive in every Big Ten game this season where the chance for a victory escaped. Against Michigan, it came on a heavily disputed fourth quarter interception. Wisconsin converted a third down to be able to run out the clock. Iowa had back to back long touchdown passes (92 and 66 yards) to take the lead. Indiana failed to convert a fourth and goal at the Northwestern one yard line. Penn State had a 73-yard interception return to break a 10-10 tie.
Al-Terek McBurse took the opening kickoff of the second half back 87 yards to give the Boilermakers a 28-7 lead. Indiana battled to within 31-21 when Ben Chappell hit Damarlo Belcher for a 28-yard touchdown.
After forcing a three-and-out, Indiana had the crowd of 48,607 on their feet and the ball at the Purdue 42 with 6:45 remaining and the game didn’t feel out of reach. On second down, Chappell attempted a screen pass that landed squarely in the hands of Purdue defensive lineman Kawaan Short and Indiana never seriously threatened again.
“On the outside, all you see is what is played on Saturday and the final score and that’s obviously what we are judged on,” Lynch said.
“If you’re asking me about making progress, it’s what I see every day in the halls of this complex, in terms of work ethic and accountability and leadership. … Those are the things you build a program on. I know we are headed in the right direction.”
Lynch’s counterpart left Memorial Stadium feeling the same way. This year marked the first time since the 2001 Rose Bowl team that Purdue beat Michigan, Ohio State and Indiana in the same season, an odd accomplishment for a team that does not have enough wins for bowl eligibility.
“It was huge for us. We really didn't have any other option for us to feel like we wanted to as a football team. We wanted to come back here and make sure the Bucket was on the bus with us. We've had a heck of a year and we have done a lot of great things as a football team, but if we would have pulled out of here without a win the season would not have been the same,” Purdue coach Danny Hope said.”A win today allows us to finish in the upper half of the league and we would like to finish at the very top of the league. So this is a good sign of progress and development of our team and our program.”
NOTES: Eighteen of Indiana’s 21 graduating seniors saw playing time on Saturday. … Tandon Doss has 1,666 career all-purpose yards, ninth in school history. … Doss and Belcher had 138 catches this season, the highest total for a duo in school history. … Purdue is 8-2 in the last 10 Bucket games and leads the series 70-36-6. Indiana has not won consecutive Bucket games since 1993-94.
Purdue 38, Indiana 21
Purdue 14 7 10 7 — 38
Indiana 0 7 7 7 — 21
Pur—J.Taylor 6 pass from Elliott (Wiggs kick), 12:04 1st
Pur—Dierking 4 pass from Elliott (Wiggs kick), 5:04 2nd
Pur—Crank 13 pass from Elliott (Wiggs kick), 2:03 2nd
Ind—Chappell 1 run (Freeland kick), :22 2nd
Pur—McBurse 87 kickoff return (Wiggs kick), 14:49. 3rd
Ind—Evans 12 pass from Chappell (Freeland kick), 3:56 3rd
Pur—FG Wiggs 38, 1:30 3rd
Ind—Belcher 28 pass from Chappell (Freeland kick), 8:04 4th
Pur—K.Smith 31 pass from Elliott (Wiggs kick), 2:14 4th
First downs 15 23
Rushes-yards 33-124 36-196
Passing 205 266
Comp-Att-Int 21-29-0 23-39-2
Return Yards 41 17
Punts-Avg. 5-46.4 3-35.7
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 4-2
Penalties-Yards 5-44 4-20
Time of Possession 29:51 30:09
Rushing: Purdue, J.Taylor 20-110, Halliburton 4-13, Bolden 1-4, Team 1-(minus 1), Elliott 7-(minus 2). Indiana, Willis 19-142, Doss 3-35, Chappell 11-14, Payton 3-5.
Passing: Purdue, Elliott 21-29-0-205. Indiana, Chappell 23-39-2-266.
Receiving: Purdue, J.Taylor 7-59, K.Smith 5-85, Valentin 4-20, Crank 1-13, C.Smith 1-10, Lindsay 1-9, K.Adams 1-5, Dierking 1-4. Indiana, Evans 10-112, Belcher 4-64, Doss 4-51, T.Turner 4-30, Dedmond 1-9.