Game 12: Indiana Hoosiers at Purdue Boilermakers (Old Oaken Bucket game preview).

Purdue Boilermakers

2010 record:  4-7 (2-5)

2009 record:  5-7

2010 Sagarin:  86 (IU is #105)

2009 Sagarin: 75

Coach: Danny Hope (second year, 9-14)

Series: Purdue leads 70-36-6

TV: noon Saturday, Big Ten Network

Blogs: Hammer and Rails, Boiled Sports

 

Indiana and Purdue end disappointing seasons on Saturday when they meet at Ross-Ade Stadium in the battle for the Old Oaken Bucket.  This is the fourteenth time in 16 years that IU has entered the Bucket game with no bowl prospects.  In 2006, IU was 5-6, but missed out on bowl eligibility because of a hard-fought but strange 28-19 loss in what turned out to be Terry Hoeppner's last game as IU's coach.  The next year, in 2007, IU won 27-24 to advance to the Insight Bowl.  In all other years, bowl games have been off the table, and most of the time, IU has played like it.  As for Purdue, the Boilers' late 1990s and early 2000s success has flagged a bit.  This is the fourth time in six years that Purdue has entered the Bucket game with no bowl prospects.  Unfortunately for the Hoosiers, Purdue has won all three of those games (2005, 2008, and 2009) comfortably. 

An interesting side story in this game will be the attendance.  This is the first time since 2001 that the Bucket game has been played after Thanksgiving.  Before that, the last time was in 1995, when IU and Purdue played in Bloomington on the day after Thanksgiving.  As I noted earlier in the year, since the "new" Memorial Stadium opened in 1960, IU has failed to draw at least 40,000 to a Bucket game in Bloomington only four times: 1961, the first Bucket game in the stadium; 1963, for a game that was postponed a week because of the assassination of President Kennedy; 1995; and 2001.   All four of those games were played after Thanksgiving.  The most recent post-Thanksgiving Bucket game at Ross-Ade was in 1990.  The attendance at that game was 51,393.  From the time that Ross-Ade was expanded to seat over 60,000 in 1964, the only other Bucket game in which attendance was below 58,000 was in 1996, when only 50,750 showed up to watch the Lame Duck Bowl between Bill Mallory and Jim Colletto.   I have the distinct feeling that this one will be below 50,000 for the first time since Ross-Ade's mid-1960s expansion, although I certainly hope I am wrong.

That's not to say that playing after Thanksgiving is a guarantee of bad attendance: games at IU in 1967 (duh), 1973, and 1989 were well-attended, as were games at Ross-Ade in 1972 and 1978.  Still, all four of IU's worst attended Bucket games since 1960 were played after Thanksgiving, as was Purdue's second worst Bucket game attendance.  For years, some fans have been suggesting that the Bucket game should be played in Indianapolis.  I always have resisted that idea.  If the game remains on Thanksgiving weekend, that idea becomes more appealing.  On the other hand, while it may be more appealing, it's probably less feasible because Lucas Oil Stadium is occupied by the IHSAA state football finals on Friday and Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend. 

As for the game itself, Purdue is something of a mirror image of IU.  The Hoosiers have a reasonably strong (if inconsistent) offense and a really weak defense.  Purdue, on the other hand, has been fairly strong defensively, but the injury-riddled offense has struggled.  Purdue is #102 of 120 I-A teams in total offense, and is #109 in scoring offense, averaging only 18 points per game.  In the spring, Purdue expected its starting quarterback to be Robert Marve, its starting running back to be Ralph Bolden, and its top receiver to be Keith Smith.  Bolden has missed the entire season, and Smith and Marve suffered season-ending injuries before Purdue played its first Big Ten game.  In Marve's absence, redshirt freshman Rob Henry and true freshman Sean Robinson (and even Justin Siller, a former QB) have shared time at quarterback.  Siller hasn't thrown a pass all season, and Henry and Robinson have struggled as passers.  Henry is completing 53 percent of his passes and had 5 TDs to 6 interceptions, while Robinson has completed 48 percent of his passes and has 2 TDs to 6 interceptions.

The Boilers' run defense has been fairly stout, allowing less than 4 yards per carry, and teams have had more success throwing the ball against them.  Defensive players to watch are Ricardo Allen, who has returned interceptions for touchdowns in Purdue's last two games, and Ryan Kerrigan, an incredibly good defensive end who has 12 sacks and 25 tackles for loss this season.

Looking at the numbers, it's not difficult to see why Vegas suggests that this is essentially an even matchup.  The most recent spread I saw was 3 points, which is generally the advantage given on the basis of homefield.  On the other hand, Purdue has twice won in the Big Ten, including on the road against Northwestern.  The Boilers' only loss to a team worse than IU came to Toledo, back in September.  It's equally true that IU hasn't lost to anyone worse than Purdue, but the Hoosiers' season is utterly without accomplishment at this point.  Arkansas State, now 4-7, is IU's best win of the season.

Finally, I have to at least mention the talk about Bill Lynch.  Lynch's contract expires after 2011.  That means that simply treading water isn't an option.  IU either must fire him or give him a contract extension (or cripple recruiting).  I don't mean to evade the issue.  I've been busy this week, and I expect to address it more fully on Sunday.  Suffice it to say that the decision to retain Lynch after 2007 has failed.  Lynch was retained for continuity's sake, but the progress of 2006 and 2007 did not continue.  Does that mean that the best decision for IU is to terminate him now?  Well, as I said, I'll discuss it further on Sunday when we have a complete picture of the season.

This is IU's best chance since 1996 to win at Ross-Ade.  It's not impossible, and it wouldn't be shocking, but I'll believe it when I see it.  IU's performance in close games over the last couple of years, combined with a horrible 15 years in the Bucket game, make me quite pessimistic.  I'll be ecstatic if I'm wrong, but...Purdue 45, Indiana 17.

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