WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) — Indiana had a chance to recapture the Old Oaken Bucket on Saturday. It all slipped away in the blink of an eye — just like the end of this season.
Purdue's Akeem Shavers scored three times in 4½ minutes during the fourth quarter, leading the Boilermakers to a 56-35 victory and stealing any chance the Hoosiers had of salvaging a season-ending victory in the traditional trophy game.
"We turned the ball over four times on the road, you're not going to win," coach Kevin Wilson said. "We've been pretty good all year, but ... 11 turnovers over the last three weeks is not winning football, especially on the road and the way we are defensively."
For the Hoosiers (4-8, 2-6 Big Ten), it's been that kind of season. They opened November on a two-game winning streak, spurring talk of playing in the Big Ten title game, but closed with big losses to Wisconsin, Penn State and finally Purdue, thanks in large part to a continual series of miscues.
Purdue (6-6, 3-5) took advantage every time.
"It's very disappointing. Like I told them, you can't win football games when you're turning the ball over, especially in the second half," quarterback Cameron Coffman said after throwing three interceptions. "You can't win football games turning the ball over that many times."
Nobody created more havoc for Indiana than Shavers, who ran 27 times for 126 yards and one touchdown — a 1-yard plunge that sealed the victory with 6:14 to go. He also caught two passes for 99 yards, a 73-yard tackle-breaking TD reception that broke a 35-35 tie with 10:40 left in the game and a 26-yard scoring pass that made it 49-35 with 7:55 to go.
By closing the regular season with wins at Iowa and Illinois and now over the hated Hoosiers to retain the trophy in the highest-scoring game in the 115-game series, Purdue (6-6, 3-5) is now bowl eligible. The 91 combined points broke the previous record of 87 in 2004, a game the Boilers won 63-24. And it was enough to make Purdue bowl eligible in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2006-07.
But in West Lafayette, the postgame discussion was all about coach Danny Hope's future.
There has been rampant speculation about Hope's job since a once-promising season unraveled during a five-game losing streak that started with blowouts against Michigan and Wisconsin at home. Then came a late-game collapse at Ohio State and two more blowouts — at Minnesota and at home against Penn State. There was so much debate that athletic director Morgan Burke even issued a midseason statement saying he would wait until the end of the season before making his decision.
Since then, all the Boilermakers have done is win, and the strong finish could make the case that Hope should stay. But was it enough at a school that has struggled to fill seats for its home games?
Even Hope doesn't seem to know. After the game, he paced slowly from the Purdue sideline to the middle of the field, shook hands with Indiana coach Kevin Wilson and hugged one of his players before walking to the student section where he pumped his fist and led the traditional singing of the school's fight song. Then he raised both hands as players hoisted him briefly on their shoulders for the first time in his career.