Purdue football: 5 things to watch during the Bucket game
Purdue will look to get the Old Oaken Bucket back in its hands on Saturday, when rival Indiana comes to Ross-Ade Stadium for the regular-season finale.
The Boilermakers haven’t won the rivalry game since 2018, when they needed the victory to secure an opportunity to play in the postseason. 2019 brought an overtime loss at home and last season’s game wasn’t played due to the pandemic.
The return of the game will bring a lot of storylines, including Purdue being bowl bound with a 7-4 record while Indiana, 2-9, is looking to avoid its first winless record in the Big Ten since 2011.
Let’s take a look at 5 other things to watch.
Since 1997, the start of the Joe Tiller Era at Purdue, the Old Oaken Bucket has resided in West Lafayette 15 years. It’s been in Bloomington, where it sits now, after 8 Indiana victories, including the last one 2 years ago at Purdue. Then, the Hoosiers beat the Boilermakers 44-41 in overtime, marking IU’s second win in Ross-Ade Stadium in its last 3 trips there.
Purdue wanted a chance to reclaim the traveling trophy last season — the Boilermakers would have been a double-digit underdog — but the game was postponed, then canceled because of the pandemic. So after a year-long delay, the rivalry is renewed on Saturday.
But instead of Indiana being favored considerably to win the game for the second consecutive time, it’s Purdue that experts project to come out on top. The line opened earlier this week with Purdue a 15-point favorite.
It’ll be Senior Day for as many as 16 Boilermakers, who could be playing their last games in front of fans in Ross-Ade Stadium, (although many have the option to return due to the Covid year).
But eyes will be on 2 non-seniors, as well. All-Americans David Bell and George Karlaftis might be playing their final regular-season games in Purdue uniforms, depending on whether they decide to forgo their senior seasons and declare for the NFL Draft. Neither has indicated which way he might be leaning, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see either, both likely 1st- or 2nd-round picks, move on to professional football.
Bell, a wide receiver, has been terrific this season, with Big Ten-highs of 87 catches and 1,207 yards, along with 5 touchdowns. A Biletnikoff Award semifinalist, Bell ranks in the school’s all-time Top 10 for receptions (4th, 226), receiving yards (5th, 2,867) and receiving touchdowns (T-7th, 20).
Karlaftis’ impact on the Boilermakers has been greater than even his individual numbers, and the Bednarik semifinalist’s statistics are good, with 4 sacks, 10.5 tackles for loss, 3 forced fumbles, 2 recoveries (one for a touchdown) and a blocked kick.
Ring the Bell
Bell needs only 100 receiving yards to tie for Purdue’s single-season yardage mark.
The record of 1,307 is held by John Standeford, who set the mark in the 2002 season. Right now, Bell’s total (1,207) ranks as the fifth-best in Purdue annals, behind Standeford, Rondale Moore (1,258 yards in 2018), Chris Daniels (1,236 in 1999) and Brian Alford (1,228 in 1997).
It seems likely Bell will get the record vs. the Hoosiers — but if not, he almost certainly will in the bowl game — because he’s surpassed 100 receiving yards in 17 of his 28 career games at Purdue. When Bell passed the 100-yard mark vs. Michigan State Nov. 6, he broke the school record with his 15th career 100-yard game.
Aidan O’Connell’s turnover streak toward the beginning of the season seemed like an abnormality considering his past experience as a generally ball-secure quarterback for the Boilermakers.
Turns out that assessment was correct, as the senior signal-caller has thrown 191 consecutive passes without an interception, dating to his 3-pick performance in Purdue’s loss to Wisconsin on Oct. 23. In that game, O’Connell had one post-interception possession, in which he completed a pass but was then sacked. On the next drive, he was replaced by backup Jack Plummer.
O’Connell has enjoyed one of the best 4-game stretches in Purdue quarterback history since then, throwing for 1,582 yards with 12 touchdowns and no interceptions, while completing 75.3 percent of his attempts. A fifth-year senior, O’Connell is likely to go through Senior Day ceremonies on Saturday, although he could still decide to return to West Lafayette for his super senior season.
Purdue’s coaching staff is familiar with Indiana freshman Donaven McCulley, who is likely to start at quarterback for the Hoosiers.
The Boilermakers recruited McCulley, a former 4-star prospect from Lawrence North, to be part of its 2021 class, but when Brohm took a commitment from quarterback Sam Jackson, McCulley quickly chose the Hoosiers, which he might have done regardless of Purdue’s decisions. (Jackson later reconsidered his Purdue verbal and signed at TCU).
McCulley has been thrust into action far sooner than Indiana wanted, after the rookie was forced to start games following injuries to QBs Michael Penix Jr. and Jack Tuttle. In 6 games this season, McCulley has thrown for 475 yards with 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions while completing less than 43 percent of his passes. He also has rushed for 137 yards and a score.