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OSIPOFF: Purdue progressing, but still ‘a foot away’

Purdue head coach Darrell Hazell during second half an NCAA college football game against Notre Dame  West Lafayette Ind.

Purdue head coach Darrell Hazell during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Notre Dame in West Lafayette, Ind., Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

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Updated: October 20, 2013 7:44AM



Notre Dame had just tied the score at 17-17 early in the fourth quarter, and coach Darrell Hazell headed toward Purdue’s defense on the sideline with the intention of providing “a little juice.”

None needed.

The defense was already fired up. So, too, was the offense throughout the game.

No hanging heads. No long faces. No glazed-over eyes.

The Boilermakers had an air of confidence about them. They had a different demeanor, an adjusted attitude, from their first two games.

Consider it part of a maturation process, part of developing in Hazell’s program.

“Our guys are starting to understand the level that you need to compete at each play,” Hazell said. “They handled some adversity on Saturday night (against Notre Dame) much better. While saying that, I still say that we’re in the business of winning, and that’s the bottom line — don’t ever let that go without saying.”

The Boilermakers did lose to the Irish, 31-24. Hazell said when the team met on Sunday, the players were “down,” as well they should have been after not snagging a game that was within their grasp.

But there also was reason for them to feel more buoyed by their performance in that game than either of their first two.

Now, the chatter that hummed immediately after the Boilermakers’ overwhelmingly underwhelming win against Indiana State that they might not win another game this season probably has abated.

“The Notre Dame game taught us a lot of things — it taught us that we could be passionate, play together as a unit, and that our offense could definitely compete and score on any defense that we come across,” said defensive end Ryan Russell, also noting the way the defense encouraged the offense and vice versa, a topic that had been addressed.

“I can say from week to week every game, I feel like we have progressed. Cincinnati was definitely not a reflection of our talent or our ability. Indiana State, we got the win, but of course there were still major breakdowns against a non-FBS opponent, so that’s big. This Saturday you could see we definitely competed until the very end. We gave it our all. Every game we’ve gotten better, and we just want to continue that trend.”

How that would translate in terms of wins remains to be seen.

Purdue’s schedule hasn’t changed since the beginning of the season. It’s still daunting, continuing this week at No. 24 Wisconsin in the Big Ten opener.

And the Badgers have dominated the Boilermakers recently, with Camp Randall Stadium proving rather inhospitable to the visitors. Maybe Purdue will get blown out again, fall flat on its collective face after seemingly having made strides against Notre Dame.

The perception of the Boilermakers might not have been altered, as they’re heavier underdogs against the Badgers than they were against the Irish (though perhaps it’s not shocking given the lopsided nature of the series, and the location of this game).

But it’s also possible Purdue has turned a corner, though on more than one occasion this week Hazell has referenced only one leg or quarter of four having been completed, and to refrain from evaluating the race until the end.

Given the week-to-week nature of a season, that’s not likely to happen.

“Again, we’re in the business of winning,” Hazell said. “What I told the team on Sunday night, was as you look through the game film, we are a foot off in a lot of different areas, a physical foot — knocking down a ball, we’re a foot away; catching a ball that’s 12 inches in front of us, we’re a foot away; we missed a tackle on a kickoff return that brought the ball back to the 40, the guy is a foot away.

“So we’re physically a foot off in making a lot of plays. I told our football team that we need to find that foot this week. Wherever that foot is, those 12 inches, we have to go find that foot. Because that is the difference.”



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