BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) — Each time Jason Spriggs looks at the Old Oaken Bucket, he figures it’s in its rightful place.
Indiana’s massive left tackle wants it go on permanent display in Bloomington. The Hoosiers can take a giant step toward making that a reality Saturday — if they can win at Purdue.
“We take it as our Bucket,” Spriggs said. “It pains us every time that thing leaves. Hopefully, it doesn’t leave. We don’t want to see it out of the stadium.”
Purdue has held the trophy more often. Of the 117 games played in this series, Purdue has won 72, including a record 10 straight from 1948-57.
Now the Hoosiers (5-6, 1-6 Big Ten) are making a push for the upper hand.
They’ve won the last two, both in Bloomington, and head back to West Lafayette with a chance to clinch their first bowl bid in eight years — by winning the Bucket for the third straight time. That hasn’t happened since Indiana won it four straight times from 1944-47.
“This game is everything, make no mistake,” Purdue quarterback Austin Appleby said. “That is why you come to Purdue, to play in games like this. There is a lot riding on it. It’s huge for us to get the Bucket back home where it belongs.”
But that will be a challenge for the Boilermakers (2-9, 1-6).
Appleby is likely to reclaim the starting job he lost earlier this season if redshirt freshman David Blough can’t go after leaving a game last weekend with a concussion.
The Boilermakers’ defense has allowed 34.9 points per game — slightly more than the Hoosiers’ conference-leading offense has scored (34.5) — despite playing in the weaker West Division. And Purdue has allowed a league-high 206.4 yards rushing, too.
That’s not the ideal game plan for a team trying to play spoiler.
“If we win Saturday, at least it will feel good and mean a lot to finish on a high note,” Boilermakers center Robert Kugler said. “I definitely would like to carry that Bucket off the field in my final college game.”
But so is Spriggs, who thinks another win in this series could be the start of something a lot bigger.
“The thing that’s crazy, is that if we got it would be the third in a row,” Spriggs said. “And the next year, the guys could go for four in a row and then five in a row after that.”
Here are some other things to watch in Saturday’s game:
STRUGGLE AT HOME: Purdue has played its best games outside West Lafayette. On the road, they challenged Michigan State, hung with Wisconsin, went toe-to-toe with Northwestern and stayed with Iowa for a while. At home, Purdue is just 2-4 and has been outscored 244-162. They’ll have to play much better to beat the Hoosiers.
SUDFELD’S QUEST: Senior quarterback Nate Sudfeld comes into the weekend as Indiana’s career leader in TD passes (54), second in completion percentage (60.6), third in completions (547) and third in yards passing (7,140). Sudfeld trails Ben Chappell and Antwaan Randle El in yards and needs 330 of them to become the school’s career passing leader.
KEEPING UP WITH JONES: Purdue freshman running back Markell Jones was heavily recruited by the Hoosiers, and there’s little doubt as to why. Despite splitting time with other backs this season, Jones rushed 152 times for 779 yards and has lost a total of five yards all season — the fewest of any back with 150 or more carries in the FBS.
HOWARD’S STATUS: Indiana’s offense is much more fearsome when running back Jordan Howard is healthy. He rushed for 412 yards against two of the nation’s stingiest defenses, Iowa and Michigan. But after Howard hurt his knee at Maryland last weekend, the Hoosiers haven’t said whether he will play this weekend.