When you strip the game down to its most primal state – throwing away the bowl games, recruiting implications and the dollars and cents of the business – it’s about pride in yourself and your team.
It’s about earning that pride from your enemy, an enemy that has beat you handily and has been the object of your comparison.
For both IU and Purdue, the buck stops Saturday. They’ll play like there’s no tomorrow, because there isn’t.
Both at 4-7, the Hoosiers and the Boilermakers will be forced to watch December games from home.
It’s rivalries like IU-Purdue that make the most mundane and seemingly meaningless games worth watching. On the national scale, this game means nothing, but the battle for the Old Oaken Bucket hits home every year.
For 21 Hoosiers this time around, it means one last shot at raising bandaged hands in the air and showing whatever teeth are left after four grueling years with a euphoric grin.
“I always see a rivalry game as a game for seniors,” IU coach Bill Lynch said. “That is why this game is tucked at the end of the season because if it is in the middle of the season, then it loses some of its flare.”
You don’t have to be a football guru to see the rivalry in play. During practice, the scoreboard indicates “Purdont” as the visiting team. Flyers reading “Punt Purdue” and “Take the Bucket” litter campus.
Other words directed toward West Lafayette simply can’t be printed.
And the seniors, like tackle Roger Saffold, have given this game a bump in importance.
“This is almost like our bowl game, to tell you the truth,” Saffold said. “Going against Purdue is just real excitement. It excites everybody around you.
“You’ve got friends from the other side talking trash to you, and all you do is take that, bring some more energy into practice, get prepared better and see how it works out on the field.”
The seniors’ intensity, and how the younger players will feed on it, will be the determining factor in Saturday’s outcome.
It worked in IU’s favor in 2007 when a field goal was propelled by the collective will of IU fans, Terry Hoeppner’s survivors and believers of fate.
It worked against the Hoosiers when Purdue, driven by former coach Joe Tiller’s desire to finish his career on top, put 62 points on the board in 2008.
There are the proverbial X’s and O’s to consider when looking at this game, but the teams are so similar it’s irrelevant. This game should be about the subtleties of college football, not the grand schemes.
It should be about the throngs of IU students who will cloud Memorial Stadium’s east side to, if nothing else, rub victory in the face of their friends that traveled down Interstae 65 to Bloomington.
It should be about a group of young men trying to etch their names in the record books while hanging a gold “I” on the Bucket.
When the Hoosier seniors are introduced, their mothers will hold the only roses they’ll smell this season, and the only bowls they’ll see after Saturday will be filled with stuffing.
Yet this game puts everything both teams have worked for on the line. It will end with pride, bragging rights and a sense of accomplishment in one locker room and disappointment, heartache and a sense of longing in the other.
But that’s what rivalries are, and forever should be, about.
The Big Ten’s worst passing defense (IU) and rushing defense (Purdue) headline Saturday’s matchup. Purdue is poised to shred the IU secondary, as quarterback Joey Elliot is No. 1 in the conference in passing, right above junior IU quarterback Ben Chappell.
IU, meanwhile, would appear to have trouble exploiting the Boilermakers’ weakness with the 10th-ranked rushing offense in the Big Ten, but freshman running back Darius Willis is finally healthy again, and he should be able to break big runs.
Also healthy is junior wide receiver Mitchell Evans, and the Hoosier passing game, led by Chappell and sophomore wide receiver Tandon Doss, is always dangerous.
It’s the last game of the year, so expect to see some creative Wildcat packages, reverses and maybe a fake kick or two. It will be another high-scoring affair, but this time, it shouldn’t be so slanted toward Purdue.
IU 38 – PU 35
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