BLOOMINGTON — For three Indiana football captains, Saturday’s matchup at rival Purdue (3:30 p.m., FS1) is more than just playing out the string.
The Hoosiers (2-9, 0-8 Big Ten) are looking to avoid their first winless season in Big Ten play since 2011 when they play at Purdue (7-4, 4-3). It’s been a season of unfulfilled expectations, but IU players insist they could salvage something by keeping the Old Oaken Bucket in Bloomington for another year.
“It would mean so much,” IU senior linebacker and team captain Micah McFadden said. “Keeping the bucket here, it would kind of turn the tide for our season, and the feel to finish it off the right way and keep the bucket in Bloomington, that would definitely change the vibe of the season right now.”
McFadden said being a captain on a team that has had to endure injuries and inconsistent play has taught him lessons he will carry for the rest of his life.
“We’ve learned a lot as a team,” McFadden said. “I think the leaders on this team have learned how to show up every day regardless of what happened the week before and just prepare the right way and get everybody else mentally ready for the next opponent. Obviously, it’s not the easiest thing to do, but I think there’s a lot of good players on the team, good teammates that have shown up every week ready to go.”
IU senior linebacker and team captain Cam Jones echoed McFadden’s sentiments.
“We’ve faced a lot of adversity, and Coach (Tom) Allen says you’ve got to finish,” Jones said. “And this game, to me it’s more than just a game. It’s really about history. We’re playing for people that came through IU and have been on the field. It’s a great opportunity for this team, and we’re excited about it and can’t wait.”
The game is personal for IU tight end Peyton Hendershot, a team captain and in-state player from North Salem. Hendershot was recruited by Purdue coach Jeff Brohm shortly after IU’s prior football coaching staff was fired, but based on family connections, with his mom and dad being Hoosiers fans, he decided to accept a scholarship to IU.
“Back then I just shot down Purdue immediately and went to Indiana, and it’s been like that four or five years, and it ain’t going to change,” Hendershot said. “I don’t like Purdue, and it stuck.”
Hendershot has no regrets about his decision, even if what will likely be his final season at IU didn’t go as planned. He’s emerged as IU’s best offensive player with 40 catches for 492 yards and four TDs.
“End of story, I would do it all again,” Hendershot said. “Every day I will choose to be an Indiana Hoosier again. I met so many people here, and it’s been the biggest blessing ever. I never thought I would be a team captain. That’s one of the biggest things for me from being here is just being able to be a captain of a team. The season didn’t go how we wanted it to, but the bonds and relationships you built with your brothers is all it’s about.”
JONES STILL UNDECIDED
Like McFadden, Jones said he’s still undecided about whether he will take the COVID year and return to IU for 2022. Jones has been one of IU’s top defensive players this season with 57 tackles, two tackles for loss and one sack.
“Right now, I’m just focused on this Saturday being able to be on the field with the guys and bring back this ‘W,’” Jones said.
Allen said running back Stephen Carr (ankle), cornerback Tiawan Mullen (foot) and defensive back Josh Sanguinetti are progressing this week.
“Been working out there,” Allen said. “Combination of both extra rehab sessions as well as practice and just trying to get them ready to roll. Don’t know for sure yet obviously only being Wednesday but do feel like we are making progress.”
Allen said safety Devon Matthews, who suffered an injury during the Minnesota game, also is questionable.
“He had the X-Rays done and the MRIs done postgame, so we got the information from that,” Allen said. “He is definitely questionable in that group of guys we’re working through, trying to get them squared away … if at all possible, he definitely wants to play.”
TWO MORE IN PORTAL
Two more IU players – defensive lineman D.K. Bonhomme and defensive lineman C.J. Person – entered the transfer portal this week. Both have been dealing with injuries this season. Allen said the decisions didn’t catch him by surprise.
“It’s just open, honest conversations with guys,” Allen said. “It’s just going to be the reality of the new era of college football with the transfer portal and the way that effects things and once they are injured and not able to play, those conversations happen sooner.”