Where is Indiana's confidence level – What a different a month makes. Four weeks ago, Indiana was coming off a 38-21 loss to Iowa, a game that dropped the Hoosiers to 4-2 overall and 1-2 in the Big Ten. Despite the setback, Indiana dominated the contest in terms of time of possession and gave itself a chance to win in the fourth quarter in one of the league's most hostile environments.
Purdue, meanwhile, was coming off a deflating 34-29 loss at Northwestern, a game that dropped the Boilermakers to 2-4 overall and 0-3 in league play. Boilermaker quarterback Brandon Kirsch was in the process of losing his starting job to Curtis Painter, and the Boilermaker season was spiraling downward.
But as the two 4-6 teams prepare for their season finales, things have changed for both. Indiana has dropped four straight since the Iowa setback, including three games in which they were dominated statistically. Purdue, meanwhile, has won back-to-back contests and desperately wants to win a third straight to head into the off-season on a positive note.
Some of Purdue's swagger is back, and Coach Joe Tiller wants nothing more than to hammer Indiana and reassure his fan base that his program is still clearly top dog in this rivalry. Indiana, meanwhile, has to be a little unsettled after its recent results. If Indiana gets off to a slow start Saturday, one has to wonder if the Hoosiers will have the resiliency and confidence that they can compete with a very solid Purdue team.
Can Indiana Stop Jerod Void? On defense it all starts with stopping the run, and Indiana's efforts in doing so have been futile during its five-game losing streak.
Indiana has allowed four opposing tailbacks to eclipse the 100-yard mark - Iowa's Albert Young (26 carries, 125 yards), Ohio State's Antonio Pittman (26 carries, 133 yards), Michigan State's Javon Ringer (11 carries, 109 yards) and Minnesota's Garry Russell (28 carries, 188 yards). The only team that didn't have a 100-yard rusher was Michigan, and that's because Kevin Grady didn't play in the second half after totaling 94 yards on 14 first-half carries. Indiana is giving up 240 yards rushing/game during the five-game slide, and opposing ball carriers are averaging 5.3 yards/carry.
The bottom line is until Indiana shows an ability to slow down the Boilermakers' Jerod Void, expect Tiller to call the number of the 6-2, 212-pound senior all afternoon.
Indiana might know that Void is coming, but can the Hoosiers stop him? With John Pannozzo out and Russ Richardson hobbled, an already-suspect run defense is even more susceptible to opposing tailbacks. Indiana's tackling has also been a liability in recent weeks, which is another reason to wonder if Indiana can force Purdue into throwing the ball more often than it would like. If Indiana allows Purdue to become the fifth straight team to rush for at least 200 yards, the Old Oaken Bucket will be returning to West Lafayette for a fourth straight season.
Can Blake Powers regain his early-season form an confidence?- There's little question that Indiana will need a big game out of Blake Powers and the IU passing attack Saturday if they are to knock off the Boilermakers for the first time since 2001.
There was a time when big numbers and big plays were a foregone conclusion from the Hoosiers. Powers shattered the Hoosiers' single-season touchdown passing record in just six games, throwing 20 touchdowns during Indiana's 4-2 start. He threw for at least three touchdowns in each of those first six games, and looked like All-Big Ten accolades could be coming once the season concluded.
But as the competition has stiffened, Powers' numbers have dropped significantly. During IU's last four games, Powers has thrown only two touchdowns compared to six interceptions. He's averaging less than 160 yards passing/game, and he's thrown for 200 yards in a game only once – in IU's 46-15 loss at Michigan State.
If Indiana has a chance Saturday, it's going to need to put 30-plus points on the board, so that means Powers is going to have to be productive against a suspect Boilermaker secondary. He'll have the luxury of getting James Hardy back on the field, which should help bring the big-play possibilities back to the IU offense.
What's coming up:
On Monday – Five Numbers to Note
On Tuesday Four Key Matchups
On Wednesday – Three Big Concerns
On Thursday – Two Things IU Must Do to Win
On Friday – One Bold Prediction
On Saturday – Hoosier Gameday
Three Days and Counting...
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