Facing the end of his career and an uncertain postseason picture, Jacob Bailey stood in front of his teammates this week and made a request.
“Hey,” the Indiana offensive guard said, “I just want one more month.”
There were moments in Saturday’s regular season finale when it wasn’t clear whether Bailey and his teammates would get it. Turnovers and offensive inefficiency were once again hurdles that IU’s offense forced itself to overcome against a punchy Purdue team fighting on its last breath.
But Indiana did, indeed, manage to overcome those issues, and it was rewarded handsomely.
Running back Devine Redding dove into the end zone for the go-ahead score with five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, while the defense held strong to lift the Hoosiers to a 26-24 win over the Boilermakers on Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
The victory clinches bowl eligibility for IU (6-6), which retains possession of the Old Oaken Bucket for the fourth consecutive season.
Yet for a time, that possession was in question. So was the immediate future of IU’s season.
“It’s just really good to overcome a lot of the adversity we had in that game,” senior receiver Mitchell Paige said. “We had a lot of turnovers, things we can fix — need to fix — for whatever we have in the bowl game. A lot of turnovers, a lot of bad things that happened for us on offense. It was nice that we kept coming and stayed positive on the sidelines.”
It was a mostly flat and conservative performance from Indiana’s offense, which saw quarterback Richard Lagow throw three interceptions and backup Zander Diamont throw another. There was little flow to the offense, which was concerning given Purdue’s season-long struggles stopping the run and defending the pass.
Running the ball was a particular focus for Indiana, which produced two of its three touchdowns on the ground via one-yard runs by Diamont and Redding. At one point midway through the third period, IU had merely five completions to balance four interceptions in 15 passing attempts.
The Hoosiers carried the ball 54 times for 152 yards, averaging 2.8 yards per carry — a figure generated in part by three Purdue sacks and some backwards ambling.
“We thought today going into the game, we had to run the ball, and if we didn’t, it would have been a hard deal,” IU coach Kevin Wilson said. “One of our big difference, I kept showing games the last couple days: Thursday night, look who won the game, look at the turnovers, look at the rush. Friday, look who won the game, turnovers and rush. I didn’t like those turnovers we had, but I thought we had to run the ball and stop the run.”
Defensively, that’s generally what was done.
Purdue posted 42 rushing yards and averaged 1.2 yards per carry. On at least one occasion, however, one yard was all the Boilers required.
Lagow was intercepted on the game’s opening drive, throwing the first of two picks to Purdue linebacker Markus Bailey — the first of which Bailey returned to the IU 1, allowing running back Markell Jones to punch the ball in for the day’s first score.
Lagow made up for the mistake with a pretty throw over the middle on the ensuing possession, finding Paige for a 27-yard touchdown pass. Later in the opening quarter, Diamont’s keeper put the Hoosiers ahead 14-7.
From there, Purdue charged back, feeding off IU’s offensive stagnancy and conservatism. By halftime, the Boilers trailed 17-16.
They eventually overtook the Hoosiers on a well-executed, 31-yard throw and catch between David Blough and top target DeAngelo Yancey early in the third quarter. After Purdue’s two-point attempt failed, IU was staring at a 22-17 deficit.
Indiana’s commitment to the run eventually paid off, and on its final scoring drive, it used 39 rushing yards — and a Purdue pass interference flag — to reach the end zone on Redding’s one-yard dive.
“Come from behind to get the rival win, to get a win to get to six, have a meaningful game in November,” Wilson said. “When you don’t play well, (it’s good when you) still play good enough to win.”
And extend the season for the second year in a row.
Crisis averted, seniors rejoice.
“I just love the guys,” Paige said. “I’ve said that before. I came back because I love all the dudes that are in the locker room. It is easy to come in here, go to practice and go to practice. Obvious no-brainer for that, but it is nice just to get another trip somewhere, wherever it is at.”