BLOOMINGTON — Kevin Wilson took the microphone Tuesday night and led Indiana’s basketball fans in a time-honored chant.
“Beat Purdue! Beat Purdue!” the Hoosiers coach shouted.
It’s the only goal left on Indiana’s Bucket list.
“For us it’s the game,” Wilson said this week. “When you’re building a program, you want to have success against your rival and in our time we’ve come up short.”
At Indiana, it’s become an all-too-familiar refrain.
The Hoosiers, who started this season with a schedule that made the postseason look plausible, have lost five of their last six to fall out of bowl contention yet again and things haven’t gone much better in this bitter in-state rivalry. Since 1997, Indiana (4-7, 2-5 Big Ten) is a dismal 3-13 in the Old Oaken Bucket Game.
And winning the trophy hasn’t exactly been a harbinger of good fortune, either. Indiana has changed coaches after three of its last four wins — Bill Mallory was fired after the 1996 season, Cam Cameron was let go after the 2001 win and Bill Lynch was fired the last time Indiana won it in 2010. Purdue also fired Danny Hope following last year’s win, and Joe Tiller retired after getting his hands on the Bucket one last time in 2008.
This time could be different.
A win would give Wilson his first five-win season since taking over as Indiana coach job in 2011, and Purdue coach Darrell Hazell is in no danger of losing his job despite a dismal first season.
The Boilermakers (1-10, 0-7) have struggled to score, struggled to run the ball, struggled to stop opponents and struggled to find playmakers. This week, freshman quarterback Danny Etling is trying to play through a sore left shoulder.
But the disappointment has tainted a trophy game that has been on Hazell’s job almost from the time he started in West Lafayette. Within three weeks of moving into his new office, he put up a clock counting down to this weekend.
“It’s a constant reminder of how important this game is to our football program,” Hazell said. “We want our players to understand that this is more than just a game.”
Here are five more things to watch Saturday.
OFFENSE TO DEFENSE: Indiana and Purdue have allowed the most points of any Big Ten defenses this season. If they continue to play that way, the Hoosiers may have the advantage. Indiana is scoring 36.8 points per game, second only to Ohio State. The Boilermakers, meanwhile, are scoring a league-low 13.0 points per game.
DON’T KNOW MUCH ABOUT HISTORY: Both teams are trying to avoid some dubious records this weekend. The Boilermakers haven’t had a winless Big Ten season since 1993 and are trying to avoid a 10th consecutive loss, which would be the longest streak since Purdue lost 11 straight from 1906-08. Indiana, meanwhile, is on pace to give up the most yards per game in league history. Indiana has allowed 566.6 yards per game in conference play, 43.5 yards per game more than Northwestern did during its futile 1981 season (523.1).
ON THE OTHER HAND: Indiana is chasing some other notable records. It has already scored a school record 54 TDs this season and needs just eight points to break the school’s single-season record for points (412) set in 2007. That was the last time Indiana qualified for a bowl game. The Hoosiers also are on pace to break the school’s single-season record for points per game (33.3 set in 1988) and last year’s record of 442.0 yards per game.
CH-CH-CHANGES: For more than a century, these two in-state schools have been fighting for the same conference prize. All that will change after the season finale. When the Big Ten expands to 14 teams next season, Indiana and Purdue will be sent to different divisions.
THE FUTURE LOOKS BRIGHT: Both teams have relied on a string of young players this season, and it will be glaringly evident Saturday — Indiana’s Senior Day. Two of the Hoosiers most important playmakers, quarterback Nate Sudfeld and running back Tevin Coleman, are both sophomore, and the Hoosiers are starting five freshmen or sophomores on that much-maligned defense. Purdue, meanwhile, started 11 freshmen and sophomores in last week’s loss to Illinois and that’s not likely to change this weekend.