WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — The Purdue Boilermakers had all the right answers Saturday.
Now they can spend the next week contemplating a new set of about where they may be headed next. It’s about time.
Jackson Anthrop rushed for his first two scores of the season, Elijah Sindelar threw for two more and Markell Jones ran for a career high 217 yards Saturday as the Boilermakers overpowered Indiana 31-24 to reclaim the Old Oaken Bucket and become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2012.
“It means everything. Not just to me but to the entire team and the organization, our fans, our seniors,” Jones said. “This is a huge victory for us, to get to our first bowl since I’ve been here, so it’s just a great feeling overall.”
After four straight losses in this rivalry, the Boilermakers (6-6, 4-5) couldn’t wait to celebrate. A handful of Purdue players sprinted from their sideline across the field to grab the prized trophy, and it didn’t take much longer for fans to spill onto the field, either.
Outside of Purdue’s locker room, few thought such a remarkable turnaround was possible.
But coach Jeff Brohm took the players he inherited, found a way to make his system work and became the first Boilermakers’ coach to make the postseason in his first year since the late Joe Tiller last did it in 1997.
Purdue left little in doubt Saturday, too, grinding out 272 yards rushing in a game it never trailed.
Jones carried 31 times and finished with the fifth-highest rushing total in the series’ 120-game history.
“I couldn’t be prouder of our football team, and really, I couldn’t be prouder of anything we have ever done,” Brohm said. “It was definitely a big win for us.”
For Indiana (5-7, 2-7), it was a tough fate to accept.
After the Hoosiers lost their first six conference games, five to ranked teams, they rallied to win the next two to stay in the postseason hunt. They just couldn’t close out that impressive run in front of the largest crowd to watch the Bucket game since 2008.
“We just let go of ourselves a little bit in the beginning and weren’t able to come out of it,” coach Tom Allen said. “That’s on me.”
The Boilermakers took advantage of that miscue, seizing control almost from the moment Garrett Hudson picked off Richard Lagow on Indiana’s first offensive play. Anthrop scored on a 5-yard run on the next play.
Indiana tied it with a 1-yard TD pass from Lagow to Simmie Cobbs Jr., but a late first-half scoring flurry changed the game.
But after converting a fourth down on a fake punt, Anthrop broke the tie with a 4-yard TD run. The Boilermakers made it 21-7 when Anthony Mahoungou beat Rashard Fant on a jump ball and sprinted to the end zone for a 49-yard score with 53 seconds left.
Indiana closed out the first half with a 22-yard field goal to make it 21-10.
But with Jones breaking tackles, the Hoosiers couldn’t get close until scoring two touchdowns in the final six minutes to cut into a 21-point deficit. Purdue then recovered the onside kick with 60 seconds left to seal the win.
Indiana: The Hoosiers fell short of most of their biggest hopes this season. They didn’t get a breakthrough win, lost the Bucket and probably won’t make a third straight bowl appearance. But there are brighter days ahead for the program.
Purdue: While the turnaround isn’t complete, it’s a good start. After the Boilermakers won nine games in the previous four years, they have six wins this season.
Indiana: Lagow was 32 of 60 for 373 yards with three TDs. Ricky Brookins had two carries for 71 yards including a 64-yard burst. Indiana gained just 60 yards rushing on 31 other carries. Mack had seven receptions for 132 yards and Cobbs had seven for 105 yards. Griffin Oakes moved into a tie for sixth with Michigan’s Garrett Rivas (354 points) on the Big Ten’s career scoring list.
Purdue: Finished with its second-highest rushing total of the season. Sindelar was 15 of 29 for 159 yards. Purdue had three sacks. Hudson’s interception was the first of his career.
THEY SAID IT
Indiana: “I’m really disappointed in our performance today,” Allen said.
Purdue: “Guys just weren’t going to be denied,” Jones said. “The way we played last week at Iowa, we weren’t going to let those guys come in here and beat us in our home stadium again.”
Indiana: Will start looking to next season even though it could be one of the lucky 5-7 teams to make a bowl game.
Purdue: Will watch the bowl projections and may be taking phone calls until selection day.