Preview of the Old Oaken Bucket Game

It’s another great weekend to be an Indianapolis sports fan. Indiana High School semistate play gets underway Friday night, and the Pacers play host to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers at Conseco Fieldhouse on the same night. On Sunday, the Colts travel away from Lucas Oil Stadium to take on the Baltimore Ravens, and you can bet the Indianapolis bar scene will be packed with fans wearing the Blue and White. Saturday however, concludes the season for two Indiana college football teams, and anticipation for the game is as high as it’s been in several years. Let’s take a look at what Saturday holds in store for the two rivals.

It was a disappointing season for both the Indiana University and Purdue University football teams. Disappointing, but not without brief, but exciting moments of optimism.

Indiana opened the season with three straight wins before losing to Michigan 36-33 in a game in which they dominated for the majority. Defeats at the hands of Ohio State and Virginia evened IU’s record at 3-3, but a 27-14 victory over Illinois had Bill Lynch’s squad two wins away from a bowl bid with four games left to play. They blew a 25-point lead against Northwestern the following week, and then allowed Iowa (with the help of the referees) to come back from a 14 point 2nd half deficit, effectively ending all hopes of playing football after November.

Purdue began the year by dropping 52 points on Toledo, but then proceeded to lose five straight, including heartbreaking losses to Oregon and Notre Dame. They offered fans a glimmer hope when they knocked off highly ranked Ohio State in West Lafayette, but a 37-0 shellacking by Wisconsin two weeks later killed their postseason dreams. They rebounded with a thrilling 38-36 win in Michigan’s Big House, but couldn’t pull the feat off twice in a row, losing 40-37 last week to Michigan State.

Both teams enter the Old Oaken Bucket game with identical 4-7 records, and nothing but pride and bragging rights left to play for.

Similar records aren’t the only thing the Hoosiers and Boilermakers have in common though. When looking at the stats, the first thing that jumps out is the potency of both passing attacks. Purdue’s quarterback, Evansville native Joey Elliot, leads the Big Ten in passing yards, and receiver Keith Smith is tops in both receptions and receiving yards. IU’s QB, Ben Chappell, is second behind Elliot with 2,675 yards, and Ben Davis High School alum Tandon Doss ranks second behind Smith in catches and yards as well.

In the running game, Purdue possesses the conference’s third leading rusher in Ralph Bolden. He’s averaging nearly 90 rushing yards a game and has scored nine touchdowns. The Hoosiers top ball carrier, Franklin Central’s Darius Willis, is averaging just 58.1 rushing yards per game, but that number is deceiving. IU’s used a quadruple-headed rushing attack to average over four yards a carry on the season, and with Willis expected to be fully healthy — he’s missed the past six quarters with a bum ankle — Indiana should have enough firepower to match the Boilers yard-for-yard on the ground.

Defensively, neither team can be considered particularly good, in fact, neither team can even be considered mediocre. Purdue is surrendering a league-high 29.8 points a game, while IU has been only slightly more stingy, giving up 28.7 points. With similarly high-powered offenses and remarkably poor defenses, this year’s edition of the Old Oaken Bucket game figures to be much more competitive than last year’s 62-10 beating the Boilers delivered. In fact, many in the Indianapolis media are predicting this could be one of the most exciting games in Bucket history.

If you’re planning on attending the game down in Bloomington on Saturday — and really, if you’re a fan of either team and you live within the Indianapolis area, why wouldn’t you go? – the game kicks off at 3:30, but tailgating festivities will begin much, much earlier. Actually, they may already under way.

Tickets are going fast, so if you’re planning on making it into the newly renovated Memorial Stadium at a reasonable price, you’ll have to act fast. For seating information you can contact the IU Athletic ticket office at 1-866-IUSPORTS. As for me, I’ll be on the scene – most likely at one of the many campus bars – taking in all the action with a frosty beverage by my side and an IU stocking cap on my head. It may not mean much to outsiders, but in the state of Indiana, this is the biggest college football game of the season.