WEST LAFAYETTE – In football parlance, the dog days refer to two-a-days under a blistering sun with no end in sight. For Purdue, August’s training camp provided a step toward restructuring a consistent winner that took a leap backward last season.
Inside the football program, 2013 is viewed as a blip during an overhaul. The first glimpse of tangible evidence came in a 43-34 season-opening win over Western Michigan on Saturday. It’s the element of growth the Boilermakers have wanted to see.
The validation is good for the players because they need to know what they’re doing is the right thing, head coach Darrell Hazell said Tuesday. As coaches, you really feel like you’re doing the right thing, but for the players, until they get that validation, it’s hard for them to understand. To get it the way we got it will only help us in the long run.
How they did it was not buckling under pressure, a downfall in last year’s humbling season. Purdue let a 37-21 third-quarter lead shrink to three points late in the fourth quarter. But instead of anxiety and a wide-eyed demeanor enveloping the Boilermakers, the offense calmly went 75 yards in eight plays while the defense held the Broncos on downs.
Last year, I don’t think we would have handled that situation nearly as well, Hazell said. I never felt panic out of the defensive players when I walked over to their side. The offensive players were upbeat the entire game, and I thought that they felt like they could run just about anything and execute it well enough to be able to move the football.
The news wasn’t all good, however. Sophomore linebacker Jimmy Herman broke his thumb and is expected to miss at least a week of practice and Saturday’s game against Central Michigan. His status will be re-evaluated next week. Starting in Herman’s place will be senior Joe Gilliam.
Herman’s absence is a blow to the defense – he recorded four tackles against Western Michigan – but defensive coordinator Greg Hudson spoke of the unit’s depth during fall camp as a positive. His goal was to have 24 dependable players at his disposal.
Now Purdue attempts to win consecutive games for the first time since November, 2012. It’s a three-point favorite in Saturday’s home game against Central Michigan, though Hazell doesn’t view it – or any other a game – as an opponent that should be defeated. He’s from the school of preparing each week as if Purdue were playing the No. 1 team in the country.
Momentum and confidence are powerful yet fragile. After a 1-11 season filled with growing pains, the Boilermakers have seized good feelings. The task becomes controlling that energy and allowing it to proliferate.
It’s huge, senior linebacker and captain Sean Robinson said. I don’t know how many weeks it’s been since we won a game. (Linebackers coach Marcus) Freeman brought the linebackers together after the game and the first thing he said was, I want you to harness this feeling of winning and remember what it feels like.’
I think our team has a really good opportunity to have a snowball effect. If we can keep winning and go on the road and get a win we aren’t suppose to, look out. I think the sky’s the limit if we just keep doing our job.
Said Hazell: The thing we have to do is continue to build confidence.