For all of the progress that this year's Hoosiers made, close games brought nothing but heartache. IU lost close games against Penn State and Northwestern because of mistakes. While Marcus Thigpen's late fumble let Purdue tie the game, the offense moved the ball down the field and allowed Austin Starr to kick a 49-yard winner with 30 seconds remaining. Starr missed an earlier 42 yard attempt that likely would have sealed victory. IU led 24-3 in the third quarter. Purdue finally began to move the ball and IU's offense sputtered, but I'm not going to complain too much. The points count the same whenever they come. Purdue has a formidable offense, and it was nearly inevitable that they would begin to produce at some point.
Here's the box score. IU outgained Purdue 435-359 and average 5.4 yards per play to Purdue's 4.7. Consistent with the teams' season stats, IU's offense was balanced (219 rushing, 216 passing) and Purdue's was not (78 rushing, 281 passing). It's unfortunate that the oh-no image of the fourth quarter fumble will be seared into the memories of Hoosier fans, because Marcus Thigpen, who had struggled a bit as a traditional running back, had his best game of the year, gaining 140 yards on 19 carries (that's 7.4 per). Kellen Lewis was 23-39 and IU didn't have to pay for an awful throw in the first half that resulted in an interception. James Hardy, likely playing his last game in Bloomington, wasn't his flashy self but functioned as a possession receiver, especially on the crucial last drive. Hardy caught 10 balls for 87 yards with a TD but with no reception longer than 13 yards. For Purdue, Curtis Painter generated lots of yard and completed well over 50 percent of his passes (28-45), but the Hoosier pass rush generated 4 sacks, and obviously Painter couldn't get Purdue on the board (in terms of touchdowns) until late in the third quarter. By the way, 2.5 of those sacks belonged to sophomore Greg Middleton. On the strength of his Bucket game performance, Middleton is now the nation's sack leader. When Middleton changed his commitment from Purdue to IU, he was blistered by Joe Tiller on Tiller's radio show. Reportedly, Middleton wanted to be a defensive end while Purdue envisioned him as a DT. I guess Greg was right about his national position, but Coach Tiller can take some consolation that his efforts to defame Middleton's character succeeded. The Purdue fans sitting next to me were under the impression that he was at IU because he failed to qualify academically at Purdue. In any event, a great game by the defense. Purdue gained only 117 yards in the first half.
For the first time in eons, IU came up big in an important game. The atmosphere was great, the team played well for most of the game, and didn't give up after allowing Purdue to tie. The team will be rewarded. After watching so many great players and team leaders--Adewale Ogunleye, Antwaan Randle El, Levron Williams, unfortunately too many to name, play four years without a bowl game--it's nice to know that this current team will get a postseason opportunity.