WEST LAFAYETTE -- Kawann Short remembers. Boy, does he remember. It's hard to forget when your biggest rival takes what you have and does it in a way that lingers two years after the fact.
Short was an up-and-coming Purdue sophomore defensive tackle when IU beat the Boilers in Ross-Ade Stadium in November 2010. The Hoosiers stormed the Purdue sideline in the immediate aftermath to take the Old Oaken Bucket, the longtime symbol of this rivalry. Short said some Hoosiers directed a few inappropriate gestures toward Boiler fans while doing so.
Rivalries, you see, aren't always about love, peace and goodwill to all.
“They're our rivals and we want to kill these guys as bad as they want to kill us,” Short says. “We're fighting to go to a bowl game. They're fighting to get the Bucket and stop us from getting to a bowl.
“It's no-holds-barred. It will be a dogfight. They'll come out with a bang. They become a great team when they play us.”
Purdue won last year at Memorial Stadium, so it once again has the Bucket. As usual, the stakes couldn't be higher, and if the Boiler defense remains banged up (although coach Danny Hope said the defense is healthier than it's been in a while), that's no excuse, Short says.
“A lot of us are still injured, but that doesn't affect anything,” he says. “We still have to go 100 percent. This weekend we should be a lot better.”
For Robert Marve, this is the way it should be. It's an Oaken Bucket game with everything at stake -- a bowl game, a potential winning season, a chance to, perhaps, save his coach's job -- and the Purdue quarterback gives thanks.
“Naturally it comes down to Purdue and Indiana,” Marve says. “It's going to be nice to play one last game at Ross-Ade. Hopefully we'll go out with a bang.”
The Boilers (5-6) spent the last two weeks setting up this bang, winning cliffhangers at Iowa and Illinois. That couldn't take all the sting from an 0-5 Big Ten start that jeopardized Hope's long-term job security, but it helped.
Beat IU on Saturday and they become bowl eligible, with a potential trip to Dallas as part of the Jan. 1 Heart of Texas Bowl or to Houston for the Dec. 28 Meienke Car Care Bowl of Texas.
“We knew we had to win some games,” Marve says. “We won two, and we're looking to win our third.
“We knew it would be a tough road. We need to focus on IU and get ready. The guys are real pumped. We're blessed to be in this position. We have to keep fighting and scrapping.”
Purdue has dominated the rivalry, winning 12 of the last 15 games, with a 71-37-6 record overall.
Last year the Boilers needed a victory at Memorial Stadium to become bowl eligible, and they won 33-29. This year it figures to be another nail-biter. IU is 4-7 but has shown dramatic improvement. Purdue has regained its health and has settled on Marve as the quarterback, scrapping the rotation with Caleb TerBush.
“This will be a huge game,” Marve says. “It's a must-win game that we have to fight to win. We have to have the same mindset we did against Illinois -- scratch, fight and win. Scratch, fight and win.
“When your backs are to the wall, you have to keep swinging. We're not done by any means. We know how good IU can be. We have to step up on offense. I know that's what I can control. We have to score more and keep fighting. The defense is playing phenomenal.”
Purdue is starting to capitalize on its team speed, busting a pair of 63-yard plays against Illinois, one on a past to tailback Akeem Hunt, the other on a 63-yard run by tailback Ralph Bolden.
“We keep going, keep pushing, until something pops,” says Bolden, whose status for Saturday is uncertain because of a hamstring injury. “When it does, we build off of that.”
That the Boilers have built a two-game winning streak comes after a team meeting that made an impact.
“It was a chance to look in the mirror,” Hope says. “It was, what can I do to impact the team? We rededicated ourselves. We stayed the course. We played much more relaxed.”
Now, Hope adds, it's time to have fun.
“This is a great game. It's the most exciting game on our schedule. It's one of the greatest sporting events in the state of Indiana.
“I know the magnitude of this game. It's very exciting and passionate. I've been a part of some great rivalry games in my coaching career, and this is special. It's one of the reasons why you want to come to Purdue.”