WEST LAFAYETTE – One win has kept hope alive at Purdue.
Two more and the Boilermakers could go down as the nations most improbable bowl-eligible team, with a roster of players and coaches who have routinely defied the odds.
Were in a playoff situation, said sixth-year quarterback Robert Marve, who is playing with a torn ACL in his left knee. It just kind of hit me today, we cant lose a game right now.
Actually, under new NCAA rules, if there arent enough bowl-eligible teams to fill all the slots, the Boilermakers could still make it in at 5-7.
But why try for the long shot when Purdue can still take care of things itself?
The Boilermakers understand what theyre up against.
A year ago, they needed to win two of their last three regular season games to snap a three-year bowl drought. They did.
Now if they can win these next two and finish the regular season on a three-game winning streak, they would likely make it back despite all of the things that went wrong this season – a five-game losing streak that left Purdue out of the Big Ten title chase, four blowouts that had many pondering whether this team had quit on the season, rotating quarterbacks that may have contributed to a lack of continuity, and, of course, the persistent speculation about coach Danny Hopes future in West Lafayette.
Saturdays 27-24 win at Iowa not only gave Purdue (4-6, 1-5) respite but a new perspective on this season.
Suddenly, the Boilermakers are talking about winning at Illinois (2-8, 0-6) this weekend and again when rival Indiana (4-6, 2-5) visits Ross-Ade Stadium the following weekend in the annual Old Oaken Bucket game.
A bowl game is a big deal to us, Marve said Tuesday. This team feels like thats a successful season. No, its not the season we wanted, but it would be one that Boilermakers Nation could look back at and say we bounced back.
Judging from what Hope saw last weekend and through the early part of this week, this looks like a rejuvenated team.
Marve, who replaced Caleb TerBush in the starting lineup the previous week, threw for 266 yards and two scores.
The Boilermakers topped 200 yards rushing for the first time since September and only the second time all season. A healthier defensive front held Iowa to just 2.4 yards rushing per carry, and Paul Griggs ended the losing streak with a 46-yard field goal as time expired.
Somehow, Purdue stayed calm despite playing without offensive coordinator Gary Nord, who was out with a back injury.
I think we went into that game relaxed and thats not really been the case this season, Hope said. I think we were a lot more loose this past weekend. We just kind of let it all hang out and we had a lot of fun.
Hope isnt sure whether Nord will be calling the plays this week. His gut-feeling is that Nord likely wont travel to Champaign, Ill.