The motivations might be different, but Purdue and Indiana will both have plenty of them when they face each other for the Old Oaken Bucket on Saturday afternoon in Memorial Stadium.

For the Boilermakers, it’s a chance to earn at least a share of the Big Ten West title, and maybe a trip to Indianapolis if they can get help from Nebraska in its game at Iowa. For the Hoosiers, it’s an opportunity to knock Purdue off the podium while also building their own momentum into the offseason after their upset win at Michigan State last week. And, of course, there’s possession of the Bucket at stake.

As kickoff nears, let’s take a look at 3 keys, plus a prediction:

Forcing the throw

Purdue’s defensive strategy seems straight-forward: slow down Indiana’s running game, which exploded last week in the victory against the Spartans, and force the game into the right arm of quarterback Dexter Williams II.

Williams isn’t an accomplished passer at this stage of his career, having completely only 2-of-7 attempts for 31 yards vs. MSU. And despite limited drop-backs, Williams was sacked 3 times, continuing a theme for Indiana’s dysfunctional offensive line.

It seems unlikely that Williams will be able to take advantage of what’s been the weakness of Purdue’s defense, as the Boilermakers’ secondary has struggled, especially in the second half of the year, to contain big plays down the field. The Boilermakers certainly want to force Williams to try. Last week, the Hoosiers had 257 yards rushing, including 115 and 2 scores from Shaun Shivers and 86 from Williams, with a TD. Josh Henderson added 34 more yards and a score.

Purdue has not faced an option-style attack, at least one with a quarterback as capable as Williams, this season, so it’s likely to put some stress on a Boilermakers defense that ranks 8th in the Big Ten against the run, allowing 120.9 yards per game.

Defense, special teams lead IU

The Hoosiers can gain an edge on the Boilermakers on defense and special teams, the same formula the Hoosiers used to beat Michigan State in overtime in East Lansing Saturday.

Freshman Jaylin Lucas’s kickoff return for a touchdown, followed immediately by an interception by the defense, turned the tide toward the Hoosiers late in the 3rd quarter, as they rallied from a 17-point deficit. It was Lucas’s 2nd kick return for a score this season, as the diminutive, multi-talented running back/wide receiver/return man has proven to be a big weapon. Maybe he can get another score — or big return — that gives IU an edge.

Indiana’s defense should hunt turnovers. Until last week’s win over Northwestern, Purdue quarterback Aidan O’Connell had gone 7 straight games with at least 1 interception. The Boilermakers are minus-1 in turnover margin this season, as they’ve given the ball away 18 times.

The Hoosiers are likely to need an extra possession, or a specials teams score, to make up for an offense that is limited.

The start

Purdue has suffered slow starts for much of the 2nd half of the season, trailing 21-0 and 17-0 in back-to-back losses to Wisconsin and Iowa. It trailed Illinois 7-0 in Champaign, although the Boilermakers rallied to beat the Illini. And even in last week’s victory against 1-win Northwestern, the Boilermakers led 7-0 and 14-3, but struggled to put the Wildcats away.

If Indiana hangs in vs. Purdue, which is a 10-point favorite, either leading or within a score at halftime, then the pressure falls heavily on the Boilermakers. Purdue has the most to play for, with a chance at a West title share. The longer the Hoosiers stay within striking distance, the tighter the Boilermakers might become, and that’s when mistakes are made.


This game has a different feel now than a week ago, mainly because Indiana showed life in its upset at Michigan State. Before that, it seemed like the Hoosiers were ready to play out the season.

But IU will be charged up and ready to go now vs. Purdue, knowing that they can upset the Boilermakers’ West Division hopes. But will that be enough? Probably not. The Boilermakers are more talented offensively, with a quarterback who is capable of putting points on the board in a hurry. It’s likely that Purdue will get a lead, then force Williams to make plays offensively. If it can do that, then the Boilermakers win.

Purdue 35, Indiana 21