Hoosiers want the Bucket back

The showcase inside Indiana’s locker room has been noticeably empty the past 12 months.

It’s where the Old Oaken Bucket is supposed to sit and spin for all to see. That changed last November, when a poor performance at Purdue ended IU’s four-year ownership of the classic rivalry trophy.

“It’s weird not having it,” receiver Luke Timian said. “I’ve had it my first two years here and, having it taken away — well, you want it back. That’s the bottom line.”

From Nov. 30, 2013, through Nov. 25, 2017, Indiana players saw the Bucket every day they walked into their locker room, where it was positioned adjacent to the players’ drink station. Over the past 359 days, they’ve come to understand what they lost.

In defeat, the Hoosiers have learned to appreciate the Bucket even more than they did when they claimed possession of it during those previous four seasons. So entering today’s annual rivalry showdown with the Boilermakers, which doubles as a postseason play-in game, Indiana is intent on winning it back.

“Last year, they ran to our sideline and took it from our sideline,” receiver J-Shun Harris said. “That alone was just like your heart dropped. We have (said) all offseason, we have to do all these things to build up right back to this game. Coach (Tom) Allen did a great job of making sure everyone was locked in, like ‘What are we doing to beat Purdue.’ That’s been his motto ever since we lost it last year. Now, the opportunity has presented itself and we have to take advantage of it.”

For Harris, a win would be doubly special since Saturday’s game falls on his 23rd birthday.

For others, it would mean a third bowl bid in four years.

Most of all, no matter who you ask, everyone just wants that Bucket back.

“I think when you look back at last year, you rewatch the game, it hurts even a little bit more than it did last year because we’re a year removed from the Bucket,” quarterback Peyton Ramsey said. “It’s been something that we’ve thought about. We made a point throughout the facility — Coach Allen made it a point — to talk about how important it is and put up signs. Now that we don’t have it, now that it’s the week of, I think we really realize the importance of the trophy.”

Indeed, even a year later, last year’s game has left an imprint on the Hoosiers for all the wrong reasons.

In that must-win game at Ross-Ade Stadium, IU came out flat, struggling to gain offensive traction and saw Purdue gash its defense with 272 yards on the ground.

IU, which trailed 31-10 at the start of the fourth quarter, totaled 227 of its 497 total yards during the final period and scored a pair of touchdowns, but it was still too little, too late.

“Coach Allen really didn’t let it go,” safety Jonathan Crawford said. “So throughout spring, we kept it in our heads, just really understanding — older guys understand, but getting younger guys to understand. We have a lot of young guys, and they really weren’t here. So really just keeping it in their heads (has been important).”

Crawford, a Florida native, didn’t grow up with the rivalry. But during his four years in Bloomington, he’s come to appreciate its impact on the state.

Meanwhile, for defensive tackle Jacob Robinson of Westfield, the series has always been personal.

“I look forward to it every year and I take it to heart,” Robinson said. “Last year, it felt horrible losing it. I do have some family ties on both sides. My dad and my brother both went to Purdue. My mom went to IU. Obviously, I’ve converted my dad and my brother now to IU. For me, being an in-state guy and growing up watching it and having family ties to both schools, it’s extra special.”

Robinson said the Hoosiers are on a mission. During the two weeks since IU’s bye, the Hoosiers have played more aggressive offensively, locked down on teams in the red zone and played with the drive of a team eager to prolong its season.

They want another month together, they want to end Purdue’s season and they want to end the regular season on a high note.

Most of all, they want that Bucket.

“You know what’s on the line here,” Timian said. “I still have a bitter taste in my mouth from last year.”