There are no bowl games on the line, only an Old Oaken Bucket to display and a link to add. But there's no disputing how big Saturday's Indiana-Purdue battle is for both teams.
While it would be a stretch to say that Indiana could recapture the state in the eyes of football recruits and fans with a win over the Boilermakers, it would be a very big step in that direction. After playing second fiddle to their northern neighbors ever since Joe Tiller arrived in West Lafayette, an IU win would give Terry Hoeppner something tangible to point to when trying to convince anyone who will listen that Indiana is a program on the rise.
That's the last thing Purdue wants to see happen, so Tiller and his staff have all the motivation they need for the 108th meeting between the intrastate rivals. Purdue is certainly aware of some of the positive vibes emanating from Bloomington, and it doesn't want to add fuel to Indiana's fire.
A month ago, Purdue looked like a very winnable game on the Hoosiers' schedule. But as the two teams prepare for the regular season finale, it's hard to overlook the Boilermakers' improved play as of late, and a couple of reoccurring problems that continue to plague the Hoosiers.
While Brandon Kirsch took a great deal of heat for Purdue's early-season struggles, the biggest surprise was the struggles of a Boilermaker defense that returned all 11 starters from one of the league's best units a year ago. But a slew of injuries contributed to a complete meltdown from the unit, and Purdue quickly plummeted to the country's worst against the pass. No game symbolized that more than the 49-28 loss to Notre Dame, when Irish QB Brady Quinn completed 29-of-36 passes for 440 yards and three touchdowns.
During Purdue's six-game losing streak the Boilermakers gave up at least 30 points in every contest. But the last two weeks have been a different story. Purdue limited a very potent Michigan State offense to 21 points in a 28-21 Boilermaker victory, and then kept Illinois out of the end zone in a 40-3 win.
While Purdue has seemingly corrected many of its problems, Indiana hasn't been able to address its deficiencies against the run or its struggles on special teams. Those two items are a big reason why Indiana has given up at least 38 points in each of its last five games, all losses.
Barring a quick Hoosier fix, it's hard to see Indiana picking up its first win in the series since 2001. Indiana will likely be able to move the ball between the 20s, but its struggles in the red zone, coupled with the problems its injury-riddled defense have had, suggest Purdue will win its second straight in Bloomington and its fourth straight over Indiana.
HoosierNation.com Prediction: Purdue 34, Indiana 20
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
On Friday – One Bold Prediction
On Saturday – Hoosier Gameday
One Day and Counting
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