Indiana hoping Bucket comes with end to postseason drought
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Now that Indiana’s six-game losing streak is history, the players can focus on ending a much longer drought.
For the first time in eight years and only the third time in the last 21, the Hoosiers are playing for the Old Oaken Bucket and a bowl bid at the same time.
"It would mean everything to me," left tackle Jason Spriggs said Monday. "Being a senior, I wanted to be part of the team that turned this program. Going bowling would really be a nice end on that."
Getting there won’t be easy. It never is in this intrastate rivalry.
The last time Indiana (5-6, 1-6 Big Ten) had a chance to earn a postseason bid against Purdue, it took a 49-yard field with 30 seconds left to secure a 27-24 victory that sent the Hoosiers to the 2007 Insight Bowl.
A year earlier, in a similar scenario, Indiana couldn’t get it done. A 28-19 loss on the Boilermakers’ home turf turned out to be the final game the late Terry Hoeppner coached.
This time, Indiana appears to have the upper hand.
It has played well against four top 15 teams — Ohio State, Michigan State, Iowa and Michigan — but lost all four games.
The Hoosiers got their second road win of the season last weekend at Maryland by rallying from an 18-point deficit to match the third-biggest comeback in school history. A win at Purdue (2-9, 1-6) on Saturday would give Indiana two road wins in conference play for the first time since 2001 and three straight wins over the Boilermakers for the first time since 1945-47.
Purdue has not played well at home this season. The Boilermakers are 1-5 at Ross-Ade Stadium, where they’ve been outscored 244-162.
Even a loss might not completely eliminate the Hoosiers. There’s a long-shot chance that if not enough teams are bowl eligible, Indiana could make it based on its Academic Progress Rate score.
Indiana doesn’t want to be watching scoreboards, though.
And the team could be missing its top player. Running back Jordan Howard left last weekend’s game after the first series with a knee injury and did not return. Coach Kevin Wilson said Howard was limited in practice Monday and a decision wouldn’t be made until later this week.
"We’ll always be smart with it," Wilson said. "So we’ll go through the week and see. Fortunately, we’ve got the same line."
Howard has rushed for 1,213 yards and nine touchdowns this season despite missing two full games and parts of two others.
Without him, the Hoosiers still have run effectively. At Maryland, Howard ran three times for 14 yards. Indiana finished with 45 carries for 170.
That’s not how the Hoosiers wanted to go into their most important rivalry game in eight years. But it’s just one more obstacle they’ll have to overcome if they’re going to earn their second postseason bid since 1994.
"It would be something new," center Jake Reed said. "It would be something we’ve never experienced before."