In a soggy slip-and-slide game against Michigan, IU snapped back to reality and were reminded of its place in the Big Ten hierarchy.
After a run of seven strong performances by IU in which they only lost twice — once to then-ranked Michigan State and to No. 8 Penn State — the Hoosiers got smacked around on both sides of the ball, falling 39-14 to the Wolverines.
Just as the mentality has been for IU throughout the season, the Hoosiers have flushed the Michigan game from their minds and are 100% focused on Purdue and bringing the Old Oaken Bucket back to Bloomington.
“We’re not going to be discouraged because of that,” IU head coach Tom Allen said on Monday. “We see the big picture. We know the way we're building here. I told our team today, it's the biggest game of the season because it's the next one. They understand that.”
Saturday’s game is bigger than just being the next one.
IU has already had a historical season winning seven games — the most wins in the past 12 seasons — but a loss in the bucket game may put an asterisk on it.
The Hoosiers have only played three schools that are currently bowl-eligible — Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan — and with wins this weekend, both Nebraska and Michigan State would also break the six-win threshold. Out of the potential five teams on IU’s schedule that may be playing in a bowl game, the Hoosiers’ only win will be against Nebraska who must knock off No. 19 Iowa to keep its season from ending.
If the Hoosiers were to come home empty handed, a great season may still feel a little empty.
Luckily for IU, this year’s game against Purdue is different than the situations they have found themselves in over the past few seasons.
It’s not an all or nothing game for the Hoosiers this season. Their bowl game is secure with just pride and the Old Oaken Bucket hanging in the balance.
In IU’s way, Purdue stands with a lot of question marks to answer as they’ve been marred by injury as they attempt to knock off the Hoosiers.
“We have to get more guys that are willing to bloody their lip every game and play as hard as they can in order to win,” Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm said on Monday. “It also goes to off the field. More guys that understand what they think is hard work and what they're doing is not good enough. We need more. They have to be committed to do more.”
First-team All-American Rondale Moore has only played in four games so far this season after exploding out of the gate with 24 receptions, 344 yards, and two touchdowns in Purdue’s first two games of the season.
Under-center for Purdue is Aiden O'Connell — a sophomore walk-on quarterback. O’Connell had to enter the game in relief for Purdue against Nebraska after redshirt-freshman Jack Plummer went down with an injury and orchestrated a game-winning drive in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter over the Cornhuskers.
“It's actually been very impressive,” Allen said about how the Boilermakers have handled adversity at the quarterback position. “They have a great system in place that they believe in and do a great job with. Kind of next man up, steps in there. He's very accurate, throws a good ball. Just stands in there and runs the offense. It's impressive what they've been able to do in the midst of that.”
IU will look to take advantage of Purdue’s inexperience and injury woes as it tries to rebound from a disappointing performance against Michigan.
“We’re ready to get on the field and go get our bucket back,” senior linebacker Reakwon Jones said. “We preach finish. We want to go get these last two wins because it will be great for the program, great for the guys’ confidence and a great way to end out season.”
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