WEST LAFAYETTE – Purdue finished off one of its more successful seasons in recent memory Saturday, stifling rival Indiana in the battle for the Old Oaken Bucket and winning 44-7 in front of 61,320 at Ross-Ade Stadium to reach eight wins in the regular season for the first time since 2006.
The Boilermakers (8-4, 6-3 Big Ten) had already clinched bowl eligibility heading into Saturday's game and gained little that is tangible with the win, but wide receiver David Bell insisted the victory was monumentally important, on the level of Purdue's top 5 victories over Michigan State and Iowa this season.
“To win the way that we did today was an exciting feeling for those fans, just being able to win for them is a huge honor,” said Bell, an Indianapolis native. “The whole week (wide receivers) Coach (JaMarcus) Shep(hard) was saying, 'No matter what we did against Michigan State, no matter what we did against Iowa, if we don't win this game today, the whole season is trash.'”
Purdue recaptured the Bucket after losing it in double overtime in 2019. The Boilermakers have won 3 of 4 from the Hoosiers and last season's game was canceled because of coronavirus outbreaks in both programs.
Indiana (2-10, 0-9) finished its season with a ninth straight loss and went winless in the Big Ten for the first time since 2011.
“Just a tough conclusion to a really tough season,” Indiana coach Tom Allen said. “A lot of tears in that locker room. My heart breaks for them. Guys have worked hard, sacrificed a lot. It's just, kind of a microcosm of what we've had here lately, just not getting enough production on offense.”
Purdue outgained Indiana 447-205.
Bell, who received his degree from Purdue in May, participated in the Senior Day festivities though he is only in his third season with the Boilermakers. Fellow junior (by eligibility) George Karlaftis also participated in the pregame ceremonies. Both are eligible to depart for the NFL draft after the season and would likely be early-round draft picks.
Bell said he has not yet made a decision about his future.
The Purdue wideout, who is a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award given to the best receiver in the country, did not practice all week after getting hurt near the end of Purdue's victory over Northwestern on Nov. 20.
Despite the injury, he piled up six catches for 79 yards, leaving him with 1,286 receiving yards this season, 22 short of setting a Purdue single-season record.
“David's one of my favorite people of all-time,” teammate and fellow wide receiver Jackson Anthrop said. “This guy has a million-dollar career coming. He could've easily said, 'You know what? I'm not playing this game.' But this dude's banged up and he came in here and played his tail off for everybody. That's a guy who has left his mark as arguably the best receiver ever at Purdue.”
The first Boilers touchdown of the afternoon went to running back Zander Horvath, who powered in from a yard out on the game's opening possession to make it 7-0. The Hoosiers answered with a 75-yard touchdown drive capped by a 2-yard quarterback run from Donaven McCulley to make it 7-all.
O'Connell later found tight end Paul Piferi, a former quarterback, for a 33-yard touchdown pass down the left sideline, the first score of Piferi's career.
O'Connell went 26 of 31 for 278 yards and four TDs and has thrown for more than 400 yards per game over his last four contests with 10 touchdowns and no interceptions.
“It's crazy, I talk to my teammates and I think if we would've won more games, he could be in consideration for the Heisman,” Bell said of O'Connell. “Just the solid games he's put in and the consistency.”
The margin of victory was the largest in the series since Purdue beat IU 62-10 in 2008.
See a video
To see a video from the Old Oaken Bucket game, go to https://vimeo.com/650762270