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Game of the Year of the Day, 1968: Purdue 38, Indiana 35

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Jack Mollenkopf’s 1968 Purdue Boilermakers: one of the 50 best* of all time.

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Leroy Keyes
Leroy Keyes was amazing.
Purdue athletics

The date: November 23, 1968

The matchup: Indiana (6-3) at No. 12 Purdue (7-2)

The stakes: Winner gets the Old Oaken Bucket and a little bit of redemption after 1968 didn’t play out like it was supposed t.

The back story: 1968 was supposed to be Purdue’s time. With Ohio State and Michigan both in flux, just about everybody else in the Big Ten had gotten a chance at being the Big Ten’s top dog in the early- to mid-1960s, and while the Boilermakers had gone to the Rose Bowl in 1966 because of the Big Ten’s ‘no repeat Rose Bowls’ clause (Michigan State won the conference but had been in 1965), and they had finished in the top 10 in each of the last two seasons. But with what was supposed to be the best backfield in the country -- quarterback Mike Phipps would finish second in the Heisman voting in 1969, and running back Leroy Keyes would finish second in 1968 — they were the preseason No. 1 team in the country.

Things hadn’t quite played out that way. Purdue was awesome, and Keyes was probably the best all-around player in the country. Hell, he may have been the best receiver in the country, only playing the wrong position. Yeah, O.J. Simpson was awesome, but Keyes combined 1,003 rushing yards (he scored 14 touchdowns despite the presence of an awesome short-yardage back in Perry Williams), caught 33 passes for 428 yards, and threw three touchdown passes.

Still, as has been the case so many times through the decades, when the conference’s heavyweight figures things out, nothing else matters. Ohio State surged to the national title, taking down Purdue 13-0 in Columbus. A few weeks later, a distracted Boilermaker team lost at Minnesota, too. But there was still a shot at redemption against the rival Hoosiers, who had been to the Rose Bowl the year before (like I said, everybody took a turn atop the conference in the 1960s) and had beaten ranked Michigan State just a couple of weeks earlier.

The game: From 50 Best*:

On November 23, Purdue and 6-3 Indiana, two teams disappointed in their seasons, played for both bragging rights and the 43-year old Old Oaken Bucket. Hoosier Bob Pernell ripped off a 64-yard touchdown run on Indiana’s first possession, and Keyes responded with a 41-yard score. However, thanks to Harry Gonso’s passing, IU seized control. He threw two touchdown passes to Jade Butcher and a third to Eric Stolberg, and midway through the third quarter, the Hoosiers, 17-point underdogs, were up 28-10.

Indiana had dominated field position, playing with a gusty wind in both the first and third quarters. In the fourth quarter, however, the field tilted in the other direction. Down 35-24, Phipps scrambled away from pressure, planted his feet, and threw a bomb 60 yards in the air. Keyes had drifted behind the defense and was waiting for it in the end zone. 35-31.

With just 96 seconds left, Keyes scored to give Purdue its first lead of the day. The Boilermakers held on, 38-35.

Keyes finished his career (the Big Ten was still sending teams only to the Rose Bowl and nowhere else) scoring four times — on a long run, a long catch, and two short plunges.

Short video (god bless the artificial crowd noise):

Long video:

The box score: From the Muncie Star Press:

1968 Purdue-Indiana box score

This was a damn shootout. The teams combined for 880 yards and 73 points, equivalent to, what, about 1,100 yards and 100 points today? Big pass plays ended up allowing Purdue to overcome turnovers and a slight rushing disadvantage.

This was a last hurrah of sorts for John Pont at Indiana; the Hoosiers were the preseason No. 14 team to start 1969 but finished 4-6, then went just 9-23 over his final three seasons in charge.

Mollenkopf, meanwhile, went out on a higher note, retiring after an 8-2 season in 1969. But he left with some huge what-ifs. Purdue had reached No. 2 in 1965 and 1967 and No. 1 in 1968 but had slipped out of contention each time. Still, this was quite the golden age for the Boilermakers, and Keyes was an all-timer in the backfield.