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lndiana football 2021 opponent profile: Purdue

Indiana begins one of the most important seasons in the history of its football program on Sept. 4. The Hoosiers are coming off a 6-2 campaign and an Outback Bowl berth in 2020 and are expected to be a preseason Top 25 team. We are profiling each of the 12 teams Indiana will face this season as they try to build on that momentum

Opponent: Purdue

Date/Time/TV: Nov. 27, time and television TBA.

Location: Ross-Ade Stadium, West Lafayette 

2020 record/bowl result: 2-4 overall, 2-4 in the Big Ten. No bowl game. 

Returning Starters, Offense (9): QB Aidan O’Connell / Jack Plummer, RB Zander Horvath, WR David Bell, Milton Wright, TE Payne Durham, LG Spencer Holstege, C Sam Garvin, RG Gus Hartwig, RT Greg Long

Starters Lost, Offense (2): WR Rondale Moore, LT Grant Hermanns.

Offensive Outlook: Purdue led the Big Ten in passing with 309 yards per game despite the fact that Rondale Moore played in just three of the Boilermakers’ six games and that quarterback Aidan O’Connell suffered a season-ending foot injury three games into the season. Jack Plummer was actually slightly more effective, throwing for 938 yards and eight touchdowns in three games to O’Connell’s 916 yards and seven touchdowns. David Bell finished second in the conference with 53 receptions, sixth in yards with 625 and tied for the league in touchdowns to earn first-team All-Big Ten honors from the media and second-team honors from the coaches. Milton Wright broke out with 24 receptions and 305 yards and two touchdowns, and running back Zander Horvath rushed for 5.0 yards per carry to be named third-team All-Big Ten. O’Connell and Plummer will still be battling for the starting job, but they’ll have an experienced offensive line to protect them, and most importantly, Bell to throw to. The run game as a whole needs to be better, as the Boilers finished last in rushing yards per game and 12th in yards per rush, but Bell and Wright should be enough to put points on the board.

Returning Starters, Defense (8): DE George Karlaftis, DT Branson Deen, DE Damarcus Mitchell, LB Jalen Graham, LB Jaylon Alexander, CB Dedrick Mackey, CB Cory Trice, CB Cam Allen. 

Starters Lost, Defense (3): DT Lorenzo Neal, LB Derrick Barnes, FS Brennan Thieneman.

Defensive Outlook: The Boilermakers were a middle of the pack defense despite losing George Karlaftis for three games with injury and a positive COVID-19 test after he managed 7.5 sacks in 2019 as a freshman. Karlaftis is back and projected to be one of the best edge rushers in the conference this season, but the losses of Lorenzo Neal, Derrick Barnes and Brennan Thieneman are significant. Barnes led the team in tackles last season and was a fourth-round pick of the Detroit Lions and Neal signed a free agent contract with the Saints. The Boilermakers have some talent coming back in the back seven, but they finished 12th in the Big Ten against the pass last season, ahead of only Michigan and Ohio State.

Special Teams Returners (2): P Brooks Cormier, LS Nick Zecchino.

Special Teams Losses: (1): K J.D. Dellinger

Special Teams Outlook: Purdue brings back both of its punters, but it finished last in the category in 2020, averaging just 31.6 yards in net punting. In Dellinger, they lose an efficient kicker who drilled seven of his nine attempts last season and 40 of 54 attempts for his career, however the Boilermakers’ kickoff team ranked 13th in the Big Ten last season at 37.8 yards per kickoff so that wasn’t much of a strength. In T.J. Sheffield, the Boilermakers have one of the best kickoff returners in the Big Ten, but they were one of the worst punt return teams in the conference.

Overall outlook: Purdue finished with a .333 winning percentage in 2020, so it’s hard to remember how close the Boilermakers came to having a special season. They opened the year with a win over a promising Iowa team and went to 2-0 with a win over Illinois before everything changed due to injuries and COVID-19 and every other imaginable malady. But the Boilermakers were never truly overwhelmed. Each of their four losses came by 10 points or fewer and their four losses came by a grand total of 27 points, less than a touchdown per loss. After a 4-8 season in 2019, the Boilermakers still seem to be on a downward trajectory since their inspiring 2018 season, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be a dangerous team in 2021 with David Bell and George Karlaftis appearing to be surefire all-conference players on each side of the ball. The Hoosiers will almost assuredly be the favorite to win the Old Oaken Bucket, which has been in their possession since 2019 thanks to the fact that no game was played in 2020, but that doesn’t mean its out of the question for Purdue to pull off the upset.

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