West Lafayette, Ind. — Indiana coach Kevin Wilson gave Nate Sudfeld a five-star rating.
Sudfeld’s teammates were impressed, too.
In the most important game of his college career, the Hoosiers senior quarterback delivered his most memorable performance. Sudfeld threw for four touchdowns, ran for another, became the school’s career passing leader and ended the Hoosiers’ eight-year bowl drought in a milestone 54-36 victory at rival Purdue.
“He’s awesome,” Wilson said. “Maybe got a chance to be the best quarterback in this league although there are a couple of great ones.”
It’s a game Indiana (6-6, 2-6 Big Ten) won’t soon forget.
As the competitors shook hands, three Indiana players carried the Old Oaken Bucket from the sideline to near midfield where their teammates reached out to touch the prized trophy. Running back Devine Redding and linebacker Dameon Willis Jr. did a few dance steps on the outside of the huddle and then the team marched over to the end of the bench where they held up the Bucket for the fans to see.
Inside the locker room, players shouted, “We’re going to a bowl.”
But all Sudfeld really wanted was an opportunity for a December encore. The official announcement will come sometime next weekend.
“This is why we came here,” Sudfeld said. “Looking back on the season, it’s a little frustrating because we felt like we could have a lot more wins. But, ultimately, we made it to the postseason, or at least are bowl-eligible, which is a huge accomplishment for this program.”
How monumental was this victory?
The Hoosiers won their third straight Bucket Game for the first time since a four-game winning streak from 1944-47.
They scored a school-record 54 points in West Lafayette, breaking the previous mark set in a 52-7 victory in 1988.
They finished the season by winning two straight conference road games — something they hadn’t done since 1993.
They have likely ended the speculation that surfaced about Wilson’s future in Bloomington during a six-game losing streak, virtually assuring him of getting a chance to finish the rebuilding project he started five years ago.
And thanks to Sudfeld, Indiana wrapped it up in style.
Sudfeld finished 18 of 29 with 350 yards, giving him 7,490 career yards — enough to surpass Antwaan Randle El (7,469) on Indiana’s all-time list.
Running back Devine Redding started in place of the injured Jordan Howard (knee) and ran 22 times for a career high 144 yards and one score on a day he hurdled one defender on a 27-yard run in the first half and a zigzagged for a 57-yard pickup to set up Sudfeld’s 3-yard TD run to open the second half. That made it 31-14.
Defensive end Nick Mangieri had three sacks to give him 15, tied for the ninth-most in one season in school history, and Griffin Oakes made two field goals to break Austin Starr’s single-season record of 21. Oakes has 22.
But it wasn’t the numbers that mattered most to Indiana. It was the result.
“I think a bowl game is like some other things I can mention, like cold beer — there’s not any bad ones,” athletic director Fred Glass said. “We’ll be happy wherever we end up.”
Purdue (2-10, 1-7) put up big numbers, too.
Austin Appleby reclaimed the starting quarterback job with David Blough out because of a concussion and went 36 of 57 with 332 yards, two touchdown passes and two scoring runs. Markell Jones ran 16 times for 96 yards and broke the school’s freshman rushing record, finishing with 875 yards.
But the Boilermakers lost their fourth straight because they gave up 659 total yards, lost four turnovers and had six personal fouls — so many that coach Darrell Hazell lost count.
“We had way too many penalties,” he said. “At least three of those were personal foul penalties after the play was over. That can’t happen. The other thing was we gave up too many big plays, especially on third down.”
The most devastating came shortly after Appleby scored on a 1-yard plunge and then threw a 2-point conversion pass to Danny Anthrop to finally get the Boilermakers within a score — 44-36 with 11:21 left to play.
Three plays later, Purdue blew its coverage and Sudfeld hooked up with a wide open Andre Booker for a 72-yard TD pass to make it 51-36 with 10:15 to go. Purdue never got close again.
“Those fourth and fifth-year guys, to me, they’ve already done a lot — win, lose or draw,” Wilson said. “And they have a high esteem in my world. I’m just glad we get a chance to spend a few more weeks together, a chance to practice a little more football.”