BLOOMINGTON – It was a late-arriving crowd at Memorial Stadium, but the fans did eventually file in and the 121st edition of Old Oaken Bucket Game has been as hotly-contested and chippy as most expected.
There have been fewer big plays than I expected, with both teams mostly eschewing big shots down the field for a series of short passes that keep them away from third-and-long and keep the chains moving. Purdue dinked and dunked its way to its first score on a 12-play, 85-yard drive in the first quarter, with its longest play a 16-yard completion on the first play of the drive. David Blough found Isaac Zico for an 11-yard touchdown to put the Boilermakers up 7-0, a lead they held through the rest of the first quarter.
Indiana used a similar game-plan to get its first score midway through the second quarter, but got help from a couple of pass-interference penalties that extended the drive, which eventually covered 87 yards. Stevie Scott high-stepped into the end zone from eight yards out to knot the score at 7. After getting stuffed a couple of times early, Scott was a wrecking ball most of the rest of the half. He has 12 carries for 71 yards and the score, despite his longest run being only 14 yards. He's simply battered his way through the Purdue line on carry after carry. If Purdue begins to wear down, he could break some big runs in the second half.
With the exception of the one long touchdown on which the corner guarding him fell down, Indiana has done a decent job bottling up Rondale Moore. When Purdue has tried to get him the ball in the run game, the Hoosiers have swarmed to the ball, just as they need to in order to make sure he doesn't get yards after contact. On one play, he refused to go down, but a half-dozen IU tacklers eventually pushed him backward until the referees finally called his forward progress stopped. The Hoosiers have to maintain that intensity throughout the game (and stay on their feet).
On the other hand, Indiana has struggled against Purdue's other receivers, especially Zico. The Hoosiers are giving the Boilermakers way too much of a cushion on the outside, seemingly trying to avoid getting beat over the top for a big play. Limiting big plays is important for Indiana, but Blough has been content to take the underneath throws for 7-9 yards a pop and the Hoosiers have been powerless to stop it. Eventually, Indiana will have to get up closer to Purdue's receivers. That might lead to some big plays, but the Boilers will just control the ball all afternoon otherwise.
This game has been pretty evenly-matched, although with much less offense than most expected. It's been intense and there have been some big hits, but neither team has really taken control of the game, though the late touchdown to Moore was a gut-punch for the Indiana defense. As usual, it seems the battle for the Bucket could come down to the final minutes.