If you were compelled enough to make an argument between two 5-6 teams, you could have a case in stating that Indiana vs. Purdue is one of the better upcoming games of the college football weekend. Not only is the Old Oaken Bucket up for grabs, but also a 13th game of the season for one of these teams as a bowl berth is at stake.
It was smooth sailing for the Hoosiers this past Saturday as they racked up a little more than 500 yards of total offense in the 41-0 shutout over Rutgers. Purdue, meanwhile, pulled a shocking upset over an Iowa team who looked to be on the highest of highs just two weeks ago after beating Ohio State.
With a trophy and bowl game ticket on the line Saturday, this is one of the bigger matchups in the history of this in-state rivalry.
Indiana at Purdue
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 25 at 12 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN2
Spread: Purdue -2.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Stabilized at QB
The Purdue offense has not materialized as we originally thought it would in the first season under head coach Jeff Brohm whose Western Kentucky teams averaged over well 40 points per game in 2014-16. A large part of that has had to do with the shuffling at the quarterback position this season with David Blough and Elijah Sindelar rotating in and out of the lineup. Due to the season-ending injury to Blough after the Illinois game, Sindelar has started the last two weeks and performed well, throwing for 376 yards and two touchdowns against Northwestern, and then followed that up with three touchdowns and 229 yards last week against Iowa. The Boilermakers will need Sindelar to perform well again Saturday as the running game continues to underwhelm.
2. Running game resurgence
During Indiana’s modest two-game winning streak, the ground game has really taken off. After combining for 131 yards and a touchdown against Illinois last week, freshmen Cole Gest and Morgan Ellison both topped 100 rushing yards while also finding the end zone three times in the blowout victory over Rutgers. What is the reason behind the reemergence of the ground attack of late? Health. Both Gest and Ellison have been in and out of the lineup for portions of the season, but both are at full strength headed into the home stretch and the production on the ground has reflected that. The Hoosiers offense is at its been when it is balanced and that is what it has been the last two games.
3. What is at stake?
We already touched on this briefly, as both teams need a win to become bowl eligible. There also is the Old Oaken Bucket Trophy, which has gone to Indiana four straight years. This Purdue team would like to change that, which also means the Boilermakers would be going to a bowl game for the first time since the 2012 season. With a win at home on Saturday, Purdue could check off a number of items.
With no clear edge to either team on defense, and the passing games performing equally as of late, this game likely will come down to which team can establish the running game in what will likely be a cold-weather atmosphere. Looking at recent trends, that favors the Hoosiers. Look for Indiana to ride the combo of Morgan Ellison and Cole Gest, and get just enough from quarterback Richard Lagow (above, right) to edge out a narrow victory on the road.
Prediction: Indiana 26, Purdue 24
— Written by Mike Bainbridge, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bainbridge is a graduate of Northern Illinois University. Follow him on Twitter @MBainbridgeCFF.