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October 9, 2012
As a captain, Caleb TerBush said he's focused on not letting last week's lopsided loss to Michigan linger, and he's tried to stay positive and optimistic with his teammates to keep them looking forward.
Some players used the term "down but not out" after the game, TerBush said, and he agreed with that message.
"We were down for that one day. We had to look at our mistakes and learn from them. But we're not out," he said. "We know the potential that we have and we've just got to keep moving forward and keep getting better and the pieces are going to fall where they will."
The same sentiment is coming from the head coach, and Danny Hope said he has no concerns his team could carry over any frustration from the previous week.
"Obviously the potential magnitude of this game will get our team's attention and we'll need all of our focus geared toward getting ready to play Wisconsin," Hope said. "I'd be disappointed if we were so weak-minded that we would let a loss linger and affect the outcome of our season. I believe we've weathered the storm.
"We'll bounce back as a football team. I don't have any reservation about that part of it. We have to play better, that's for sure. We're capable of doing so. We're excited about the opportunity this weekend and that's where our focus is at."
The Boilermakers simply can't afford any loss of focus against the Badgers.
The matchup is Purdue's first against a Leaders Division opponent, and many think it could go a long way in determining which team represents that division in the Big Ten championship game.
Wisconsin (4-2, 1-1 Big Ten) gets perhaps its two toughest remaining opponents (Michigan State, Ohio State) at home. The Badgers already have a victory over division opponent Illinois.
Wisconsin has won six consecutive games against Purdue and hasn't lost in West Lafayette since 1997.
After the Badgers, the Boilermakers have back-to-back road games against Ohio State and Minnesota.
Hope is quick to point out, though, that Purdue still has plenty of games remaining after this weekend.
"I would hate to think that any one particular game makes or breaks a whole season," Hope said. "But this certainly is a game that could springboard our football team and our program and put us in position to really do some great things as a team and as a program. The magnitude of the game and the opportunity is huge. We all recognize that.
"There's still a lot of great football left to be played. A win this Saturday would be huge for our football team but only if we continue to follow it up with a win the next Saturday and the next Saturday and the bulk of the time throughout the course of the season."
Running back Ralph Bolden was close to seeing the field against Michigan Saturday.
That's a sure sign that he might be ready to go.
"Odds are we'll probably find out this weekend," Hope said. "We weren't exactly sure last weekend; we knew that he was close, or maybe ready. But we (knew we) would feel a little bit better after seeing him get a few more reps in practice and I thought he got some of that done last week."
Bolden, a former All-Big Ten running back, is returning from an ACL injury, his third, suffered in the season-finale last year. He's practiced since the start of training camp, but is only now starting to take on linebackers in pass protection during practice.
Because he's not being tackled, that's his only form of contact, and he's holding up fine.
"We feel a lot more comfortable about playing Ralph this weekend and I think Ralph is a lot more comfortable, as well," Hope said.
Bolden's playing time, however, is likely to be capped. The Boilermakers are settled with their running back corps of Akeem Shavers and Akeem Hunt and to a lesser extent wide receiver Raheem Mostert. Perhaps, however, Purdue's inability to establish a running game the last two weeks, when it's averaged less than three yards per carry, has opened the door.
"Don't anticipate putting Ralph in for 25 or 30 plays, or for 20 carries, that would be a lot for a guy that hasn't played in a game in almost a year and hasn't had that many live reps," Hope said. "But he does look fast and quick and confident and sure in practice.
"So I'm comfortable with Ralph going in and sure he can help us win. But the number of plays is yet to be determined."
Defensive tackle Bruce Gaston was limited vs. Michigan Saturday, after injuring a hamstring the final defensive play the week before against Marshall.
But Hope says the junior seems better now than a week ago at this time.
"We were able to get some play out of him last week, so I'm optimistic that we'll get play out of Bruce and hopefully better and more than last week," he said.
Hope says he thinks the offensive line played well against Michigan, echoing the sentiments of offensive coordinator Gary Nord a couple days ago.
Purdue's line allowed only two sacks, but the rushing offense gained only 56 yards on 26 carries for 2.2 an attempt.
"Still a lot of room for improvement," Hope said. "Michigan is a very big, physical defensive front and we're going to play against another very big, physical defensive front this Saturday. But I thought they did some things technically better, which allowed them to have better success protecting the quarterback.
"There's five guys there playing at one time, and those five guys have to block someone most of the time. Sometimes, there's a bit of pressure so you think 'Well, they're not doing a very good job of protecting the quarterback.' But if the other four guys are blocking the best they ever did, and one guy is on the edge, then you've made some improvement. I saw a lot of guys on the offensive line who have played better than they had."
Senior left guard Peters Drey is in that group, Hope said. The fourth-year coach singled Drey out as having his best game of the season.
"Graded in the high 70s," Hope said, "and he played against a very good, physical player.
"Peters has had some struggles this season coming off his back injury, but Saturday was his best day."
Still, run blocking needs improvement. Hope says Michigan tweaked its front, taking away some of Purdue's inside-zone runs. And, in hindsight, he says, the Boilermakers didn't adjust properly.
Hope says experience is a factor on the line, insinuating that a lack of it has affected consistency.
"Even though we have some guys who have started some while they were here, we don't have a whole lot of starts on our offensive line," Hope said. "We behind a little in reps and continuity-wise."
Hope doesn't think the Boilermakers collective head got too big this past week, after national experts had picked them as the Big Ten's representative in the Rose Bowl.
"I follow social media, what's out there, and kind of keep a handle on it," Hope said. "Obviously, we knew that when the season began, people considered us pretenders, then we became a dark horse, then contenders and all the sudden were favorites and we hadn't played but three games or so.
"We have to take all that with a grain of salt and that was addressed throughout the week, but you never know what is in the minds of young people these days. But it was addressed and I don't think that we got fat and sassy as a result of reading their press clippings. I think we played a very good football team and they played better than we did."
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