WEST LAFAYETTE — Markell Jones described the Purdue locker room atmosphere leading up to the Old Oaken Bucket game against Indiana University as the quiet before the storm.
Jones was the storm on game day when he wrecked the Hoosiers defense on his way to racking up a career-high 217 yards in a 31-24 victory, the first against IU in his collegiate career.
The junior running back and former Columbus East standout earned the Big Ten’s Week 13 Co-Offensive Player of the Week award for his performance.
“It was something I’ve been working on, trying to get to that 200-yard (mark) in my career since I’ve been here,” Jones said. “It feels good to be able to get that, and I think the offensive line just did a heck of job, though. I couldn’t have done it without those guys, so kudos to them.”
More importantly, Jones ran his way into Levis Stadium in Santa Clara, California, where he will play in his first bowl game. Both Purdue and IU were just one win shy of receiving a bowl berth, and the Boilermakers’ sixth win of the season earned them a bid in the Foster Farms Bowl.
Purdue (6-6) will play Arizona (7-5) at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday. In his first year with the Boilermakers, coach Jeff Brohm has led them to their first bowl game in five seasons.
Jones couldn’t even make it back into the locker room after the bucket game because of the fan celebration immediately after the game clock hit all zeros.
“It was something crazy the way the fans rushed the field,” Jones said. “I’ve never seen that before. We were all running around looking for the bucket, and once we found the bucket, we were just taking it around for everybody to see and everything. It was an awesome feeling. That’s how it should feel to be a collegiate athlete.”
Jones has battled injuries for much of his collegiate career, including a knee injury during the first quarter of the season opener against Louisville that sidelined him for the remainder of that game, plus the next three games. He was averaging just under nine carries a game in his next seven games.
The 31 touches to end the season against the Hoosiers marked another career high for Jones. Running backs coach Chris Barclay said Jones was pretty fresh heading into the regular-season finale.
“It was good to see him, in a reserve role who kind of had some injuries, to step up and make some plays for us,” Barclay said. “It’s important to have guys play at a high level, regardless of who it is. Whether it’s the first guy, or whether it’s the eighth guy, whoever is in has to know what’s at stake, and they have to play at a high level.”
Jones will try to repeat his most recent performance when he plays on the biggest stage of his career to this point against the Wildcats. More than a month has passed since the IU game, and Jones said the team has been doing heavy conditioning to keep their bodies in order.
“The Arizona running back had actually hit me up just kind of congratulating me and everything,” Jones said. “We were talking a little bit. It’s kind of cool just getting to play a team we’re not used to playing and going to California. It’s going to be a great opportunity for us to show what we really can do.”
Foster Farms Bowl
Teams: Purdue (6-6) vs. Arizona (7-5)
When: 8:30 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Levis Stadium, Santa Clara, California