Purdue’s path to its first Big Ten West Division title is relatively simple: defeat the host Indiana Hoosiers on Saturday and hope Iowa falls at home to the Nebraska Cornhuskers on Friday.
The Boilermakers (7-4, 5-3) head to Bloomington, Ind., trying to defeat the Hoosiers (4-7, 2-6) and claim the Old Oaken Bucket trophy for the fourth time in five years.
“You have a lot that you’re playing for,” Purdue quarterback Aidan O’Connell said. “A lot of people talk about postseason stuff, whether it’s a bowl game or whatever it is. We preach it’s a one-game season. It’s not that we’re blind and we don’t see it, but it’s to make sure we’re locked in.”
Purdue is coming off a 17-9 win over Northwestern in which O’Connell went 16-for-25 passing for 159 yards and two touchdowns. It was the Boilermakers’ second straight victory, returning them to contention after they were left for dead upon losing to fellow West contenders Wisconsin and Iowa.
Indiana, meantime, ended a seven-game losing streak when Shaun Shivers’ 1-yard run in the second overtime — followed by a two-point conversion and a defensive stand — lifted the Hoosiers to a 39-31 win at Michigan State.
The biggest question facing Purdue is the availability of leading rusher Devin Mockobee. He suffered a concussion in the first quarter against Northwestern and his status for Saturday is uncertain. Mockobee has rushed for 750 yards and seven touchdowns on 150 carries this season.
Purdue’s O’Connell leads the Big Ten with 283.4 passing yards per game (20 TDs, 11 interceptions) with Charlie Jones third nationally in receptions (93 for 1,056 yards) and touchdown catches (11).
Indiana coach Tom Allen will wait until later in the week to announce who will start for the Hoosiers under center.
Connor Bazelak was benched against Michigan State in favor of the more mobile Dexter Williams II, who went 2-for-7 passing for 31 yards, in addition to rushing for 86 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. Bazelak has completed just 54.9 percent of his passes for 2,111 yards with 12 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
Shivers leads the ground game, rushing for 534 yards and six scores.
“I said this is the biggest game of the season. Why? Because it’s the next one,” Allen said. “I get it. We understand we’re playing for a trophy and a trophy that means a whole lot to this university.”
It will be the 124th meeting between the in-state schools, with Purdue leading the series 75-42-6. It’s the 97th game for the Old Oaken Bucket, with the Boilermakers holding a 61-32-3 edge.
–Field Level Media