Offensive lineman Greg Long transferred to Purdue from Texas-El Paso before the 2020 season. His inaugural year in West Lafayette saw the cancellation of the Old Oaken Bucket Game against Indiana for the first time in a century.
After missing out on his team's rivalry matchups at UTEP because of injuries, Long, an All-Big Ten tackle, is excited to finally play in a rivalry game, especially one that has been festering for two years since the last meeting.
“It means everything,” Long said. “For us to do this for Purdue, all year (the fans) have been yelling, 'IU sucks!' Let's see if we can keep that same energy and get that (Bucket). ... We expect this to be their Super Bowl and our Super Bowl.”
The teams will meet for the 123rd time in the regular-season finale Saturday at Ross-Ade Stadium. The matchup was canceled last year because of coronavirus outbreaks in both programs, allowing the Hoosiers to keep the Bucket after capturing it with a double-overtime victory in 2019.
That year, it was Indiana finishing off a charmed season – the Hoosiers' win pushed them to 8-4 and a spot in the Gator Bowl – while Purdue's loss ended a disappointing 4-8 season.
The roles are reversed this year. The Boilers (7-4, 5-3 Big Ten) are in the midst of their best season since Joe Tiller patrolled the sidelines in West Lafayette and can win eight regular-season games for the first time since 2006 with a victory.
The Hoosiers (2-9, 0-8) are trying to simply salvage some pride. Indiana has lost eight in a row.
“There is mutual respect even though it is a huge rivalry, huge game for both programs,” said Hoosiers coach Tom Allen, who is 1-2 against Purdue. “It's very intense. Sometimes it's more ugly than others in those situations. I do think there's a professionalism here between both universities, especially with the staffs in football.”
Purdue receiver Jackson Anthrop grew up in West Lafayette and has been aware of the importance of the rivalry as long as he can remember. His father, John Anthrop, played on Purdue's 1979-80 basketball team that reached the Final Four.
“Dad would always be down at St. Lawrence (the school where the elder Anthrop has spent time as athletic director) doing some basketball tournament and he'd always have his old office where he'd turn the TV around (during the Bucket Game), so everybody could see out of the old ticket booth,” Jackson Anthrop said. “And I'd be sitting there watching it, seeing (Purdue running back) Kory Sheets have big games. ... It's a cool experience.”
Anthrop is part of a Purdue receiving corps that could give the Hoosiers significant trouble. Top target David Bell is one of three finalists for the Biletnikoff Award as the best receiver in the country. He's just 101 yards shy of setting Purdue's single-season receiving yardage record.
Even if the Hoosiers blanket Bell, No. 2 receiver Milton Wright has proven more than capable of carrying the load. He had 213 yards and three touchdowns in a win over Northwestern last week.
Indiana may have trouble covering anyone. The Hoosiers are depleted with injuries in the secondary: All-American cornerback Tiawan Mullen and All-Big Ten safety Devon Matthews, plus corners Josh Sanguinetti, Reese Taylor and Chris Keys have all missed games. Only Taylor is probable to play. Mullen, Sanguinetti and Matthews are questionable, as are quarterbacks Jack Tuttle and Michael Penix Jr. and top running back Stephen Carr.
That's the way the season has gone for the Hoosiers: injuries have piled up.
“I'm going to call it what it is, playing way too many snaps, which has led to even later in the game more fatigue, more mistakes,” Allen said. “Just kind of wearing down physically and mentally. That to me has been frustrating because I know how hard the guys are playing, how hard they work each week.
“It's been an unfortunate set of circumstances. You look at our roster, where we're at right now, based on how we started. ... No doubt, football is a numbers game, always has been, always will be. ... Unfortunately as this has gotten to the end here, we've gotten decimated in spots.”
Much of the hurt of a lost season could be erased by a win in the season finale.
Notes: Purdue defensive tackle Lawrence Johnson, a Snider graduate, continues to deal with an undisclosed injury, coach Jeff Brohm said. He played through the injury the last two weeks. ... Long said he will return for another season if he can get a hardship waiver from the NCAA. The 2022 season would be his seventh in college.
When: 3:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Ross-Ade Stadium, West Lafayette
Records: Purdue (7-4, 5-3 Big Ten), Indiana (2-9, 0-8)
TV: Fox Sports 1
Radio: 1380 AM, 100.9 FM