On the Bimel Practice Complex turf this week, there was intensity, passion, and signs that the Boilermakers are committed to this season. Everything Purdue was lacking in its loss to the Badgers was coming through. The offense was moving the football; the defense was playing with aggression. They took what went wrong in Madison and worked to make it right.
This is what happens when players believe in their coach. The Boilermakers are committed to Darrell Hazell and his staff. They want to make it work—even in what's clearly a rebuilding year. The fight to improve, even in the smallest ways, is the sign of a healthy program.
Minus some flashes in the Notre Dame game, Purdue's play hasn't been too pretty through four weeks. But to the credit of a young team, it's working hard to get things fixed. Saturday's contest with Northern Illinois could be the start of better performances.
I believe that Rob Henry can lead the Boilermakers offense better than he has. Akeem Hunt has what it takes to be a quality tailback. Purdue's receivers and its offensive line can be a lot better than what they've shown.
A date with the nation's 115th-ranked defense is just what the Purdue offense needs. The Boilermakers can put up some points on Northern Illinois. Looking at it long-term, this could get them so momentum moving forward.
As for the Boilermakers' defense, that's a different story. Northern Illinois' offense is lethal, led by Heisman hopeful Jordan Lynch. Their senior quarterback has tallied 1,066 yards in three games; or, 84 more yards than Purdue has posted in four games. As Darrell Hazell said, you just try to slow him down.
But the Boilermakers do have a plan in place, and it's a good one. Led by defensive coordinator Greg Hudson—part of the Florida State staff which orchestrated a near-perfect performance against Lynch in the Orange Bowl—the Purdue defense is poised to contain its foe.
The plan with Lynch, as Hudson detailed, involves staying disciplined up front, keeping the linebackers on Lynch's tail and reading his run (dive, option or sweep). In the secondary, you must stay sound to your assignment and don't let him beat you deep.
Above all, Purdue must execute—much, much better than it did last Saturday. The Boilermakers must play smart and fast. That's the mark of a Darrell Hazell defense.
This is a critical game for the Boilermakers to win. Their bye week is looming, and they'd much rather go in with a 2-3 record and some momentum on their side, as opposed to a 1-4 mark and a brutal slide.
Purdue understands the challenge it faces. It put in a solid effort to get better. I believe it rebounds with a win this week. At the very least, you'll see a stronger showing.
In facing early adversity, the Boilermakers have not backed down. A productive week brought them one brick higher.