James Hardy Must Star - IU Coach Terry Hoeppner will have his biggest weapon back on the field Saturday when James Hardy returns after missing the Michigan game with an injury. Nagging ailments have limited Hardy's effectiveness for the last month, but the hope is that the week off has allowed the 6'7", 215-pounder to get back to near 100 percent.
Hardy must do more than play on Saturday, though, if Indiana is going to emerge victorious. He'll need to dominate his matchup, produce the sort of big plays he did in the first half of the season, and be the best player on the field, someone that the Boilermaker secondary simply doesn't have an answer for. Without a 100-yard receiving day from the Big Ten's leader in receiving yardage, Indiana will be hard pressed to keep the Old Oaken Bucket from returning to West Lafayette.
The good news for Indiana is that Hardy is more than capable of doing just that. He'll have a decided size advantage over either Zach Logan (5'11", 174) or Ray Williams (6'2", 193). He'll also have chances to make big plays against a Boilermaker secondary that gave up eight touchdown passes of 30 yards or more in Purdue's first seven games, but none in the last three.
Hoeppner wants quarterback Blake Powers to involve all of IU's wideouts in the passing game, but Hardy needs to be the player Powers can turn to on critical third downs and on big plays downfield. Do that, and Indiana can prevail.
Make Curtis Painter Beat Them -The special teams and defensive mistakes that have plagued the Hoosiers in recent weeks can't crop again this weekend.
That's particularly true in the kicking game, where Indiana's coverage teams have been horrid. Indiana gave up punt returns for touchdowns against Wisconsin and Ohio State, while a Michigan State kickoff return for a touchdown on the game's opening play set the stage for a long day in East Lansing. Michigan didn't produce any returns for scores, but a pair of big returns by Steve Breaston gave the Wolverines short fields to work with, and they capitalized quickly.
What Indiana can't do is make it easy on first-year starter Curtis Painter. Indiana doesn't want to get itself in a hole with special teams miscues, or by an inability to stop Jerod Void and the Purdue ground game. While Void figures to put up good totals Saturday, IU has to be successful and stopping him on occasion and forcing Purdue's offense into some 3rd-and-longs where Painter has to try to keep drives alive by throwing the ball downfield.
While Painter is a blossoming talent who figures to be a very good quarterback in the future, he's yet to have to shoulder the load for the Purdue offense. A native of Vincennes, Painter will certainly be feeling some pressure as well while participating in his first Old Oaken Bucket game.
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
Two Days and Counting...
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