PURDUE: Three Days and Counting

Bloomington - Which match-up will make the biggest difference in the outcome of Saturday's Old Oaken Bucket game? Hoosier Nation looks at three of the most important battles...

PU DE Ryan Kerrigan vs. IU OT Roger Saffold - This weekend's match-up has the makings of a wide-open, high-scoring game. Both offenses have shown the ability to put points on the board, and both defenses have been susceptible to giving up both points and yardage to good offenses. With that in mind, a big play on defense could ultimately prove to be the difference, and the difference maker on the Boilermakers' defense is the 6'4", 263-pound Kerrigan.

"Kerrigan is a great pass rusher," IU Coach Bill Lynch said. "We have to find a way to control him."

Most teams have been largely unable to do that. Kerrigan leads to the Big Ten and ranks eighth nationally with 11 sacks, and he's also forced five fumbles. He's recorded at least one sacks in five of the team's last six games, and he's been at his best in some of Purdue's biggest games, combining for five sacks in wins over Ohio State and Michigan.

The responsibility for controlling him will fall to Saffold, although he'll likely get some help from Troy Wagner at times and either Darius Willis or Bryan Payton at others. Michigan State kept Kerrigan from recording a tackle for loss a week ago by keeping six or seven players providing protection, and Indiana's coaching staff has probably learned from that example and might choose to do the same.

PU RB Ralph Bolden vs. IU RBs Darius Willis and Bryan Payton - Both teams should have the ability to throw the ball with plenty of success. Purdue quarterback Joey Elliott leads the Big Ten with 256.5 passing yards/game, while Indiana's Ben Chappell is second with 243.2. Both have excellent wide receivers to throw to as well. Purdue's Keith Smith leads the league with 86 receptions for 1,015 yards, while Indiana's Tandon Doss ranks second to him in receiving yards (911) and is third in receptions (73). Add in Damarlo Belcher (57 catches, 706 yards, 4 TDs) on IU's side and Aaron Valentin (50 catches, 601 yards, 7 TDs) for Purdue and there's every sign that there will be plenty of passing yards on Saturday.

The difference, though, could be whichever team can produce some balance with its ground attack. Bolden hasn't had a 100-yard rushing performance since the second week of the season, but he's still third in the league with 931 rushing yards, trailing only Wisconsin's John Clay and Penn State's Evan Royster. IU's Darius Willis, meanwhile, has gone over the 100-yard mark against two Big Ten teams (Michigan, Northwestern), but he missed most of the Wisconsin game and all of the Penn State game with an ankle injury.

Both teams are better known more for their ability to throw it as opposed to running it, but a successful ground game will go a long way toward leading one of these two teams to victory.

IU Special Teams vs. PU Special Teams It was just two years ago that Indiana's bowl hopes rested on the foot of placekicker Austin Starr. Starr booted a 49-yard field goal with 30 seconds remaining, securing a 27-24 Hoosier win and the program's first bowl appearance in 14 years.

I'm not suggesting that Saturday's game will come down to a Nick Freeland or Carson Wiggs field goal attempt…but it might. The game's outcome could also be swayed by a big return by either IU's Tandon Doss or Purdue's Aaron Valentin. Or, perhaps, a blocked punt or field goal attempt could prove to be the difference.

Both teams have shown a degree of vulnerability on special teams that the other will likely try to exploit. Indiana's Chris Hagerup has had two punts blocked this season, while Purdue's Chris Summers has had one of his own. Both teams have also given up a punt return for a score this season, and neither kicker has consistently able to consistently produce touchbacks with his kickoffs.

A big play – or a bad play – on special teams could make the difference Saturday, much like it did two years ago.

Coming Up
On Monday – Five Numbers to Note
On Tuesday – Four Names to Know
On Wednesday – Three Key Match-Ups
On Thursday – Two Big Concerns
On Friday – One Bold Prediction

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