Will the Moment be Too Much? - Two weeks ago it appeared the Hoosiers were a lock to earn their first bowl trip in 13 years. At the time they were coming off their best performance of the year in a 46-21 win over Michigan State, giving them five wins and three chances to become bowl eligible. Two of the three remaining foes – Minnesota and Purdue – were struggling, and both looked susceptible.
But following back-to-back losses to Minnesota and Michigan – by a combined score of 97-29 – Coach Terry Hoeppner's team has backed itself into a corner, having one final chance to fulfill the team's season-long goal of "playing 13." They'll have to travel to West Lafayette to get it done, a place the Hoosiers haven't won since Bill Mallory's final game as IU's head coach in 1996. And if that wasn't enough on the line, the Hoosiers are trying to capture the series' traveling trophy – the Old Oaken Bucket – for just the second time in the last 10 years.
Is that too much at stake for a young team like IU to handle, particularly on the road? Time will tell. Purdue has already secured its bowl eligibility with last week's win over Illinois, so they're not battling to keep their season alive. Indiana needs to pick itself up after two poor performances, but if there's one thing IU has been this season it's resilient.
Rodger Saffold's absence- For a second straight week, Indiana will likely be without left tackle Rodger Saffold due to illness. Saffold was progressing rapidly since moving into the starting lineup against Wisconsin, and his loss is a big blow to an offensive line that had shown plenty of progress before last week's performance against Michigan. His absence has forced senior Scott Anderson and sophomore Kyle Thomas to fill in at the spot.
The timing couldn't be worse when one considers IU has been gone up against sure-fire first-team All-Big Ten defensive end LaMarr Woodley last week and probable first-team all-league end Anthony Spencer this weekend. Spencer enters the game with an NCAA-best 26 ½ tackles for loss and 9 ½ sacks, and he'll be a tough match-up for the Hoosier tackles. That's particularly true for Anderson, who has plenty of size but doesn't have the athleticism to keep Spencer under wraps.
Can Indiana create some turnovers? It's hard to imagine that this won't be a wide-open, high-scoring affair. Purdue averages more than 400 yards and 26 points/game, but the Boilermaker defense surrenders more than 400 yards and 26 points/game as well. Indiana, meanwhile, is averaging nearly 24 points per game and is giving up 33 points/contest.
When you combine the fact Purdue quarterback Curtis Painter has been playing some of his best football of the season in recent weeks and that IU's Kellen Lewis should give the Purdue defense fits with his ability to throw it and run, there should be plenty of points put on the Ross-Ade Stadium scoreboard. This could be a game that gets into the 30s on both sides, and potentially even more if big plays are involved.
When that happens, turnovers can often be the determining factor. So can IU force Painter into some mistakes? The IU defense has created only one turnover in the last two games, so it hasn't had the sort of success it will need this weekend. But if Tracy Porter, Will Patterson, Will Meyers, or someone else on the defensive side of the ball can come up with a big turnover or two, Indiana should have a great chance for its first win in this rivalry game since 2001.
What's coming up:
On Monday – Five Numbers to Note
On Tuesday – Four Players to Know
On Wednesday – Three Big Concerns
On Thursday – Two Key Matchups
On Friday – One Bold Prediction
Three Days and Counting
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