INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Purdue Boilermakers need one win to become bowl eligible. The Indiana Hoosiers are on the verge of being eliminated.
It's a reversal of fortune few anticipated when the season began, one everybody understands the final month of the season begins with both teams facing highly-ranked Michigan schools on Saturday.
“They know, we don’t have to talk about it a lot," Indiana coach Tom Allen said Monday. “The captains mentioned it when I met with them, and they understand what’s at stake. It's just trying to find a way to compete at a high level and play at a high level and win Big Ten football games. So to me that’s the whole goal."
For the Hoosiers, it's been a brutal first two months.
Two of their top running backs entered the transfer portal since August. Starting quarterback Michael Penix Jr. struggled even before he injured his throwing shoulder at Penn State. He hasn't played since early October though Allen said Monday that Penix has been throwing.
Jack Tuttle, Penix's replacement, sat out last weekend after injuring his right foot in the 54-7 loss to No. 5 Ohio State and it's not clear he'll return Saturday. Additional injuries challenged the Hoosiers, too.
Indiana is 0-5 against teams that have appeared in the top 10 this season and next up is a trip to No. 9 Michigan, just days after rival No. 5 Michigan State derailed the Wolverines' perfect season.
Still, Indiana may have found its quarterback of the future in last weekend's 38-35 loss at Maryland. Donaven McCulley, a true freshman, went 14 of 25 with 242 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
“Donaven is the healthiest right now, and he is the guy that we’re getting ready to play," Allen said. “To me, he showed a lot of positive signs, things I expected him to be able to do. I know not everybody saw that against Ohio State so that was kind of frustrating because I knew he was a different quarterback than he showed."
Meanwhile, Purdue has won two straight road games — at No. 2 Iowa and at Nebraska — and appears to be getting stronger as the final month begins.
Running back Zander Horvath returned last weekend after missing five games with a broken fibula. In an effort to replace his productivity, coach Jeff Brohm introduced a three-quarterback rotation that he mostly scrapped against the Cornhuskers.
Still, a completely revamped defense — and a softer schedule in the Big Ten West — has helped the Boilermakers change directions.
Now if the Boilermakers can protect their home field against the Spartans on Saturday, they'll be heading back to the postseason for the first time in three years thanks in large part to a 3-1 road record.
“I think some games you play better than others and some games the luck goes your way," Boilermakers coach Jeff Brohm said. “We’d obviously like to win more home games. It’s a goal of ours to win all of our home games, we just haven't been able to get that done."
But even if Purdue doesn't punch its bowl ticket this weekend or next, at No. 6 Ohio State, all it needs is a win at Northwestern or at home against the Hoosiers.
“I’ve felt all along that if we can somehow get in an advantageous situation, at least by the second half, and have a lead, our defense will play much better if a team has to throw the football," Brohm said. “If we’ve got to play catch-up the entire game, it’ll be a dogfight until the end, and we’ll have to scrap and claw and try to hang in there."