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Backups, Burke, buyouts, and basketball: A Bucket Game Q&A

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Travis Miller of Hammer & Rails answers our questions about Purdue football, leading up to the Bucket Game. As you can probably guess, he's not happy about the team's performance this season, or the future under Darrell Hazell. He's much more optimistic about basketball though.

Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

1. For the second straight week, the Hoosiers look to be facing a backup QB from a two-win team on the road on Saturday. With David Blough likely out for the Boilers, what can IU fans expect from Austin Appleby in relief?

Appleby wasn't too bad last week against Iowa and if not for a critical drop on a sure touchdown by DeAngelo Yancey he would have led Purdue to a 20-20 tie in the third quarter.  Think what benefits Appleby the most is that he has a lot of experience as a backup. This is a guy who has started before and has been through the battles. Yes, he has struggled with interceptions, most notably at Indiana last year and at Marshall this year, but he is tested and should be better than a raw freshman who has never played. Last week was his best game of the season aside from the Indiana State game. When you consider it was surprise playing time for the first time in two months and it came on the road against the No. 4 team in America that's not bad.

I think Appleby will be fine. John Shoop is who concerns me.

2. Purdue freshman RB Markell Jones has put up a solid season on offense, with over 1,000 total yards. The Hoosiers are not exactly the strongest team on defense, so should we expect a big day from the Columbus East alum?

If we are smart enough to use him properly, yes. Jones set virtually every single season rushing record in Indiana last season and has emerged as the one consistent threat on offense for Purdue. He has had a great year and I would love for him to evolve into a Tevin Coleman-like back. He has the spread to break away for big runs and the strength to get tough yards between the tackles. I could see him having a solid day like he did at Michigan State when he almost single-handedly brought us back for a win.

3. On the defensive side of the ball, who should Nate Sudfeld and the Hoosiers watch out for?

Dropped passes and receivers tripping over the 35 yard line. Really, those are our best defenses. Purdue's top defender has been out most of the year with a torn ACL and Greg Hudson has had the other two, Anthony Brown and Frankie Williams, constantly playing out of position. If Indiana is facing a critical 3rd and 5 expect Brown and Williams to be lined up 10 yards off the receiver. That is what they did against Bowling Green, the most similar offense to Purdue.

Oh, and if Howard is healthy he is going to shred our run defense. That is pretty much a universal constant.

4. Your blog has not been shy about voicing their opinions on both Darrell Hazell and Morgan Burke. It's been reported that Hazell will return for a fourth season, but if things go badly on Saturday, could Burke change his mind? Or is Burke determined to stand pat with all the vacancies already in college football?

I think he is determined to stand pat because Hazell's buyout is $6.7 million. With the recent $60 million commitment to improve facilities (which is badly needed) I would be shocked to see him move against Hazell even though his entire tenure has been an abject disaster. With that in mind, I would like to see what Hazell can do with new coordinators. Greg Hudson on defense gets a little leeway because his units have had some moments of success. They can often compete for about a half until the offense causes them to collapse because of repeated three-and-outs.

5. You guys have also especially been critical of OC John Shoop. If Hazell is definitely back, would coordinator changes in West Lafayette appease the Purdue faithful, or is the situation so dire that a full-blown change needs to happen?

On offense John Shoop needs to be fired. If we could go back in time in fire him 6 weeks ago, before the season, two years ago, I would. He has been nothing short of a complete and utter failure. He never fails to see a weakness that he cannot exploit. For instance: Indiana is statistically the worst passing defense in the nation. I have zero confidence we can throw for 250 yards on Saturday because of Shoop. He is the antithesis of football intelligence and while I would worry about his safety and well-being as a person, I would not be disappointed if he were abducted by crazy fans and kept safely away from Ross-Ade on Saturday as long as Sunday meant his release both as offensive coordinator and from captivity.

6. Last year, IU suffered through a rough season without Nate Sudfeld for most of it, but the Hoosiers salvaged it (in my opinion) thanks to a last-minute Bucket Game victory on a Zander Diamont QB sneak. Does beating Indiana salvage this season, or is it too late?

It is too late. It is maddening that Purdue has played good teams on the road in five games and played them relatively well, but at home they have completely fallen apart in every aspect against mediocre teams in Virginia Tech, Minnesota, and Illinois. This should have bene a bowl team the team that looked so good for more than three quarters at Marshall, in the second half at Michigan State, for most of the Northwestern game and more had no business getting absolutely annihilated at home by Virginia Tech, Illinois, and Minnesota. It is the same old story with Hazell. There is no consistency and no identity at all. The few good players we do have seem to be regressing and recruiting is subpar even for the MAC. Exciting times!

7. Okay fine, let's talk basketball. I saw the Boilers play a couple weeks ago in Mackey and was especially impressed for two reasons: 1) Caleb Swanigan, and 2) improved outside shooting. A lot of B1G teams have struggled early, but Purdue hasn't - what's the ceiling and a reasonable expectation for this team?

I am still reserved because we still haven't played a really good team, and won't until we face Butler and Vanderbilt in late December. If the Boilers get through those games undefeated, watch out. Against Vermont Purdue showed it can shoot the lights out and I think the offense has shown that, like when Keaton Grant and Chris Kramer were here before Lewis Jackson, it can do just fine without a true point guard. Even then, Johnny Hill and P.J. Thompson have been solid to very good.

Of course, I am still reserved. I have been a Purdue fan a long time and I have seen way too many flameouts in March when the team should have gone further in the tournament. Really, that's all that matters too. It is the lone difference between Indiana and Purdue historically. The two are dead even when it comes to the Big ten, but Indiana has gotten it done when the world is watching in March and Purdue hasn't. Just four years ago I saw Purdue make an excellent Ohio State team wilt in Mackey Arena, then completely fall apart just two weeks later in losses to a bad Iowa team, a Michigan State team it beat by 20 in east Lansing, and that VCU game in Chicago. As fun as it can be right now, I know it can fall apart very quickly (say a certain player's knee twisting in Minneapolis). That's the lament of a Purdue fan and it goes beyond basketball. We all know it can come crashing down in a heartbeat with, say, a Fumble against Wisconsin, an injury at Minnesota, a dropped fly ball leading to a critical 5-run inning in the NCAA Tournament in 2012, or even a knee injury up one set in an Elite 8 volleyball match. I feel like we will always be reserved and almost expecting that heartbreak because it has happened so many times before.

Except in Women's Golf and Men's Diving. We're awesome there.

8. Score prediction for the Bucket Game?

Points, points, points! Indiana has an excellent offense and the defense is so bad I think even Shoop can score against it. I do think Shoop will have too many three-and-outs, however, and Indiana probably wins something like 48-35.