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December 4, 2012
Purdue took the practice field for the first time in more than a week Tuesday to start preparing for its Heart of Dallas Bowl matchup with Oklahoma State.
It was the first time the Boilermakers and the staff were on the field without Danny Hope, who was fired a day after Purdue beat Indiana and became bowl eligible.
And in part because of that coaching change, interim head coach Patrick Higgins has a different approach to the team's 15 bowl practices. Usually, teams utilize the extra time to get young players more snaps and to allow coaches to evaluate that talent against talent other than the scout team.
That won't be the case for the Boilermakers.
"Right now our main focus is the coaches on this staff is to put our best foot forward for the bowl season," Higgins said. "I could give you the rigmarole, yeah, we want to work the young kids, but, to be greedy, that doesn't help the staff try to promote themselves to get more work.
"(The young players will) get some work, yes. Will they get the work they would normally get? No."
Higgins said he knows the next month is serving as an "audition" for he and his staff, culminating with the bowl on Jan. 1.
Not to say that it's all about the coaches. It's not.
"Regardless of our situations, it still boils down to the kids," Higgins said. "We want to help the young men that are going to be graduating and are going to be juniors that are going to be into their senior year next year through a coaching transition to enjoy the bowl game as much as they can and to win that bowl game. That's our main focus right now. We're going to go down and win that game, do everything we can."
And it could take a great effort to upset the Cowboys (7-5).
They're No. 4 in the country in points per game (44.7) and fifth in the FBS in yards per game (549).
Already, Purdue is an 18.5 point underdog for the game.
Not that they're concerned too much about that.
"That plays really good" in our plan, junior Ricardo Allen said. "This whole year, when we went down to 3-6 and everybody was like, 'We won't make it to a bowl game,' we had nothing to lose. We have nothing to lose (this game), and we've got everything to win for. We can just go in there and swing all night. Everybody doubts us already. Who cares?"
Perhaps Purdue can take advantage of how happy it is to be in a bowl for the second consecutive season, regardless of the destination.
The Heart of Dallas Bowl was the second-to-last Big Ten tie-in. It was the final bowl tie-in for the Big 12.
The Boilermakers don't seem bothered by that. The same can't be said for the folks on the Cowboys, who seemed perplexed at how they dropped down to Dallas.
"I've been to a bowl game the last seven years and I know when you have a motivated team that wants to go to the bowl game and is happy to be in the bowl game and wants to prove something, they do a lot better than if you have a team that thinks, 'Man, we should be in a better bowl game,' " Higgins said. "(Those teams) come in and (say it's) just another bowl game and find all the negatives about it. The team that is happy to be there, that wants to go prove something, that's the team that you're scared about."
Higgins said Ralph Bolden was back on the practice field in "limited fashion" on Tuesday. Defensive tackle Brandon Taylor (ankle) was not. But with a month until the game, Higgins suspects the team will be healthy by kickoff.
Higgins did a quick calculation and came up with 145 practices - that's how many Hope was on the sidelines for during his tenure.
That made Tuesday a bit "weird," Higgins said.
"We miss him," Higgins said.
Higgins will be on the sidelines for the bowl. He'd spent the last two seasons as Purdue's receivers coach in the press box, including the final three games this season when he called played.
Offensive coordinator Gary Nord is "still struggling" with his back injury, Higgins said.
Nord recently had a procedure on his back and is set to have another one soon, Higgins said.
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