By STEVE HERMAN
AP Sports Writer
INDIANAPOLIS -- As recently as two weeks ago, Purdue was in position for a possible New Year's Day bowl game. Now, reeling with two straight losses, the Boilermakers' chances for any postseason game could depend on a victory over Indiana on Saturday.
The annual Old Oaken Bucket game, dominated by Purdue in recent years, could also determine whether the Hoosiers get a bid to their first bowl game in 14 years.
"I'm not sure there's an all-or-nothing deal," Boilermakers coach Joe Tiller said Tuesday of the notion that it's a must game for either team. "It's a significant game in the sense that it's a rivalry game, a trophy game. You have to be cautious you don't build it bigger than life. The last thing you want your team to do is press or be uptight about the game, and yet you want to be ready for the game.
"So it's always a fine line you're walking, trying to balance playing at a high emotional pitch with not being out of control," Tiller said.
Purdue (7-4, 3-4 Big Ten) will visit Memorial Stadium in Bloomington, where Indiana in 2001 notched its only win in Tiller's first 10 years as the Boilermakers' coach. It will be the first Bucket game as head coach for Bill Lynch, who took over at Indiana (6-5, 2-5) after the death of Terry Hoeppner last summer.
"It's difficult," Tiller said of Indiana's transition under a new coach. "But knowing Bill the way I know him, it's not surprising he's handled it as well as he has. ... He understands about team management and how to keep the focus away from that (Hoeppner) issue and onto football. He's done an outstanding job."
Purdue started the season strong, winning its first five games before consecutive losses to Ohio State and Michigan. But the Boilermakers won their next two to stay alive in the hunt for a major bowl bid before losses to Penn State and Michigan State the past two weeks.
Purdue beat Indiana 28-19 last year in West Lafayette, but the improvement of Indiana quarterback Kellen Lewis and his favorite target, James Hardy, poses a big problem for the Boilermakers, Tiller said.
"I'm going to try to institute my Canadian Football League rule and add the 12th guy out there. ... That's about the only way to slow him down," Tiller said of the speedy Lewis, who has thrown 25 touchdown passes this season and, still just a sophomore, is only three behind Antwaan Randle El's career-record 42 TD passes.
"Your team just has to rally and find a way to pursue and get to him when he breaks out there running or running an option," Tiller said. "He's very, very good with the broken play, and therein lies the problem."
Hardy, a 6-foot-7 junior, already has Indiana career records for receptions, yards receiving and TD catches.
"The difference that separates him from other top receivers is he really has it all," Tiller said. "He looks faster this year than he did last year; he has outstanding hands. The thing showing up now is his football mind is really kicking in; he has a much better awareness on the field where he is."
And that makes Indiana no pushover, he said.
"I don't know if it's because it (the Bucket rivalry) is more intense, but certainly the two teams are more closely balanced," Tiller said. "The intensity's been strong in the past. the game we lost down there and certainly some of the games we won, but I just think the two teams are more equal to each other than they have been in the past."