The last time Purdue played in a competitive game was in week three of the season, when it hung tough with Notre Dame. The Boilermakers have seen blowout after blowout since. But the story was different on this Saturday, and the topic of moral victories made its first appearance in a while.
"You never want to be that way," Hazell said of the subject. "But I think it gives our guys a little confidence that if you do things right, you've got a better chance to be successful."
This game wasn't decided by 30-plus points, but rather, just a few missed opportunities.
The pair of missed field goals from Paul Griggs would haunt Purdue. Same with the two would-be touchdown passes that Etling overthrew. The Boilermakers were close in this one, but the miscues were too much.
"We were shooting ourselves in the foot way too much," said Etling, who completed 14 of 25 passes for 160 yards and an interception.
If not for a stout effort from the Boilermakers' new-look defense, it would have been another ugly loss. Michigan State was held to under 300 yards and got its only offensive score on a trick play, when receiver Tony Lippett found Andrew Gleichert on reverse pass.
After allowing 140 points in its last three games, Purdue put together a strong showing defensively. The key is in the changes. A simplified game plan combined with a new three-man front has the unit playing with confidence.
"We were communicating and getting to the ball," said safety Taylor Richards, who posted six tackles on the game. "Last week, some things were out of place—a little cloudy. But the difference today is we were able to make our checks, we knew where we were supposed to be, and we ran to the ball full speed."
Added Hazell: "They played with a tremendous amount of energy in the game. There are good players over there."
The Boilermakers were in it until the end. They battled with one of the Big Ten's best—on the road, no less—and came up just short.
Inside the locker room after the loss, there was the inevitable feeling of gloom, but it was a bit more upbeat.
"It's definitely a different feeling when you're playing a team into the fourth quarter, as opposed to when you're getting your butt beat pretty bad," explained kicker Paul Griggs.
"I think everyone on this team learned something about this team."
For Purdue, the moral victory comes with the harsh reality that it was so close. A couple plays could've changed it. This one was oh so bittersweet.