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January 2, 2013
After winning the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl last season, Purdue players spoke of the momentum it gave them heading into the offseason, to train harder, to set goals higher, to believe they could become champions.
So what does the worst loss by a Big Ten team in bowl history do?
Especially when that 44-point defeat came with future head coach Darrell Hazell watching from a suite in the press box?
That's a different kind of motivation.
"I want him to take this as a snapshot and we never come back to this spot again," said cornerback Ricardo Allen, who vowed he would return for his season senior after the Boilermakers got thumped 58-14 by Oklahoma State in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
"He keeps it in his head this can happen. When you go against this kind of competition and these kind of players, you want to practice for the worst, and this was the worst right here."
Though Purdue will need to replace a lot of key pieces - quarterback Robert Marve, running backs Akeem Shavers and Ralph Bolden, receiver Antavian Edison, defensive tackle Kawann Short and cornerback Josh Johnson, to name a few - many of the Boilermakers who spoke to reporters after the bowl said they think there's still talent to build on.
But they also know there's work to be done.
That was evident in Tuesday's game.
Though the Boilermakers had nearly one month to prepare for the Cowboys, it didn't show. On defense, they often looked confused and disjointed when trying to figure out personnel groupings and assignments. That led directly to big plays, open receivers and touchdowns. On offense, they were scouted well, running plays that Oklahoma State seemed to expect, Marve said. It didn't help, obviously, that the offense gave the ball away five times and allowed the Cowboys to seize short fields.
Still, interim coach Patrick Higgins insisted the team did positive things in the game, though he didn't mention them and said he'd have to watch film. And players said the same - they needed to draw positives out of the loss.
Hazell likely will search for them as well.
Perhaps it'll be sophomore Ryan Russell's play. After being injured and underperforming much of the season, Russell was active against the Cowboys with a team-high seven tackles including one for a loss.
Perhaps it'll be in redshirt freshman Robert Kugler's effort. After moving from tight end to center, Kugler was switched to guard and inserted into the starting lineup midseason and grew into one of the line's most productive players.
Perhaps it'll be in senior-to-be tight end Gabe Holmes, who fell short of the coaches' "best tight end in the nation" praise but still has the tools to become a productive player and showed up to catch four balls against Oklahoma State.
For now, though, with the sting of a crushing loss still fresh, players are hoping Hazell takes the bowl game for what it's worth: To make this team better.
"As a head coach, you have to come to the realization of what's not working, who maybe isn't playing the right position or whatever. I just want him to come away with the truth," Russell said, "and see the things we're good at and expand on those and see the things we're bad at and face those head on instead of cowering from it. You have to face it. You're on national TV, so there's no running from this."
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