FORT WAYNE – Purdue was a foot away from a win against No. 22 Notre Dame in Week 3.
That, coach Darrell Hazell said, was the message Sunday as he spoke to his team about its 31-24 loss to the Irish.
Knocking down a ball, we’re a foot away, he said Tuesday. 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’s a foot away. We’re physically a foot off in making a lot of plays, and I told our football team that we need to find that foot this week.
The Boilermakers (1-2) open Big Ten play Saturday against No. 24 Wisconsin (2-1).
The Badgers are fresh off a controversial 32-30 loss to Arizona State and will look to make a statement as first-year coach Gary Andersen opens the conference slate.
Purdue can’t afford to be a foot off.
Wherever that foot is, those 12 inches, we have to go find that foot because that’s the difference, Hazell said. That makes the difference in your world.
Hazell said there were plenty of positives to draw off the loss to the Irish as the Boilermakers prepare for the Badgers.
We’re obviously excited about this challenge on Saturday, he said. We’re gonna go out and play like crazy and give ourselves every chance we can to win this football game. It’s a big, big game for this program.
Wisconsin sophomore running back Melvin Gordon is averaging 12.9 yards a carry and leads a run game that averages 8 yards an attempt and has three players averaging more than 6.5 yards a touch. Wisconsin is fifth in the nation with 337 rushing yards a game.
They’re so consistent with it and they’re patient with it, Hazell said of the Badgers’ rushing attack. They’ll lose a yard, come back with the same play and get 4 yards.
Wisconsin’s defense, led by linebacker Chris Borland, gives up 10.7 points a contest. The 5-foot-11, 246-pound fifth-year senior might be the best linebacker in the country, Hazell said.
He’s never off his feet, and he plays with such great energy, Hazell said. I don’t think we’ll see a better linebacker than No. 44.
For Hazell, it all comes down to coming up with 12 more inches of effort if Purdue is to end a seven-game losing streak against Wisconsin.
They know that they’re a good football team, and they know if they can find that one foot in their play – each individual – then they got a chance to be pretty successful at the end of the year, Hazell said. Some of it is anticipation, some of it is physical, some of it is know your assignment. All of those things. But that foot is so critical for us right now.