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IU football prepares for historic Old Oaken Bucket matchup with Purdue


Senior quarterback Richard Lagow runs the ball against Wisconsin on Nov. 4 at Memorial Stadium. Lagow will play his final regular season game with IU this Saturday in West Lafayette, Indiana, against Purdue.  Bobby Goddin Buy Photos

When IU and Purdue meet for the 120th time on a football field at 12 p.m. this Saturday at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Indiana, something new will be on the line.

Both the Boilermakers and Hoosiers have automatic bowl eligibility at stake in the game, in addition to the annual Old Oaken Bucket.

The two schools both own 5-6 overall records, one win shy of the cutoff to automatically qualify for college football's postseason. It marks the first time in the IU-Purdue rivalry each team needs a win in the Bucket game to reach a bowl.

"Being raised in this state and seeing this game for many, many years as a younger person," IU Coach Tom Allen said. "I know so much is on both sides. We fully understand the magnitude of the game."

The two teams took different paths to reach their 5-6 marks this season. 

Purdue has been revitalized under first year Coach Jeff Brohm, posting its highest win total since the 2012 season. Despite losing three Big Ten Conference games in a row to finish October, the Boilermakers have won two of their last three games, including a 24-15 upset win at Iowa last weekend.

"Ton of respect for Coach Brohm and what he's done at Purdue in a very short time," Allen said. "He has really transformed them."

The improvements have come on both sides of the ball for Purdue. Brohm's offense has cut down significantly on turnovers, as Purdue's two starting quarterbacks — junior David Blough and sophomore Elijah Sindelar — have thrown 15 fewer interceptions this season.

Blough was lost for the season Nov. 4 after suffering a right leg injury. Sindelar has thrown for more than 500 yards and five touchdowns since taking over behind center, although he and Blough both played extensively while both quarterbacks were healthy.

On defense, the Boilermakers have engineered an improvement reminiscent of the one IU experienced last season. Purdue has gone from allowing an average of more than 40 points each Big Ten game in 2016 to under 20 points in 2017. 

Nick Holt and Anthony Poindexter are each in their first seasons as co-defensive coordinators with Purdue.

Part of Purdue's success on defense comes from running different defensive schemes during games, something IU offensive coordinator Mike DeBord said IU had to contend with on offense during last weekend's victory against Rutgers.

"This is going to be an adjustment game as well," DeBord said.

DeBord's offense, which has struggled running the football this season, had a breakout game on the ground against the Scarlet Knights. Freshman running backs Morgan Ellison and Cole Gest combined for 253 rushing yards and three touchdowns in the game.

It was IU's best team rushing performance in conference play since last October, and the Hoosiers ran the ball 27 straight times to end last Saturday's game.

"To be able to do that is what you want to do as an offense," DeBord said. 

IU's rushing game was effective largely due to the play of the offensive line, which didn't commit a false start or a holding penalty during the game.

DeBord credited IU's preparation in "miserable weather" for helping the offense stay on track during the storms that descended on Memorial Stadium during the game.

The forecast in West Lafayette doesn't call for storms this Saturday, which means IU's passing attack will take center stage. Senior quarterback Richard Lagow has posted consistent numbers since returning to the starting role three weeks ago.

Lagow has averaged 250 yards passing and two touchdowns per game during the stretch. He also has at least one turnover in each of those games, something that plagued him during his time as starter earlier this season.

Last year's Bucket game featured a three-interception performance from Lagow, who also threw for less than 120 yards in a 26-24 IU win.

However, from the on-field participants to the off-field implications of the game, not much remains the same in this year's game compared to last year's.

"I know for sure this year everything we're saying is what the environment is going to be and the circumstances for the game," Allen said. "So that makes it really extra special."

Allen said he's blessed to be a part of the IU-Purdue rivalry, which he said was "one of the top rivalries in the entire country."

This will be Allen's first Bucket game as head coach of the Hoosiers. 

During his weekly radio show, "Inside IU Football with Tom Allen" on Monday night, he responded to a question about what he's looking forward to most about the game with just one word.

"Winning," Allen said. 

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