CHAMPAIGN - After Purdue's game Saturday, Ralph Bolden got himself a game ball.
During it, he got himself a bad hamstring. But the latter didn't matter much following the Boilermakers' 20-17 win, which keeps Purdue's bowl hopes alive.
For Bolden, the injuries have been far worse, having overcome three ACL injuries, including one in the 2011 season finale. He's come back big late this season, with 93 rushing yards against Illinois Saturday and 102 the week before vs. Iowa.
Bolden's Boilermaker teammate were happy to give him the ball.
"It was awesome" quarterback Robert Marve said. "We had a Ralph Bolden cheer, that was pretty cool. Just to see Ralph's face smile. I was there after IU last year when it tore it and he's crying and he's sad. I know what he's feeling (when) everyone doesn't talk about you anymore and doesn't expect anything from you, and then he comes back with pretty much two games with 100 yards, back-to-back. It shows how big his heart is."
Bolden's play was huge. After Purdue's offense had got a touchdown on the board with a long pass play to Akeem Hunt, it hit another big play on its next possession. But hamstring pull kept Bolden from scoring on his own, as he instead stepped out of bounds at the 15. The Boilermakers scored two plays later, taking a 20-10 lead in the third quarter.
Although Bolden is a former All-Big Ten running back, few might have expected him to have this kind of impact after his third ACL. But he's looked close to top form.
"I just keep pushing," said Bolden, who averaged 13.3 yards on his seven carries. "This is my last year. I'm going to give it all for my team, for my coaches, for everybody for Purdue."
Bolden will now have to deal with the hamstring injury - his left was iced during the fourth quarter - but it seemed unlikely that anything could keep him out of senior day vs. Indiana.
"This is nothing," he said. "I've had injuries far worse than this. … This won't hold me out."
Bolden's certainly won the respect of his teammates.
"We're so proud of him," Coach Danny Hope said. "His teammates really admire him and respect him and the coaches to as well."
The power gamePurdue's rushing offense took a bit to get going, but it found its footing in the second half, and churned out more than 200 yards for the second straight week.
It didn't look like Purdue would get there at the half, when the Boilermakers had only 59 yards on the ground. But Hope said they wanted to keep trying.
"That was kind of our message at halftime," he said. "We were going to stick with the game plan and try to establish a strong running game."
And they did. Purdue finished with 207 on 37 attempts, led by Akeem Shavers' 99 yards. Shavers' 21 carries were his highest in Big Ten play, and second-most of the season.
"I felt like we found a little something," Bolden said. "One of our keys was to soften them up a little bit on the outside, then kind of came back to the inside runs and it was kind of confusing for them; they couldn't keep up. I feel like we did a good job of mixing it up on them."
Kicks big againFor the second straight week, Purdue's field goal unit was a big part of the story, as the Boilermakers hit two in a three-point win.
But it was a different kicker. Sam McCartney handled the place-kicking duties at Illinois - his duties include the shorter kicks in Purdue's rotation - and came through with makes of 31- and 29-yards to help the Boilers to a 6-3 halftime lead.
McCartney, who watched teammate Paul Griggs hit a 46-yarder to win at Iowa last week, says he's feeling good.
"Ever since I came back in the Minnesota game, I've tried to be more relaxed on the field and have a lot more fun with it than I was at the beginning of the season, just stay loose," he said.
McCartney has had to battle for his job all season. He won it coming out camp, but lost it after missing three of his first 12 extra points. Then it was his again for the Minnesota game, after Griggs struggled the week before.
Now, he and Griggs are splitting duties, with a long-ball and short-ball kicker; Hope equated it to a golf scramble, with a specialist for each shot.
McCartney says he tries to stay ready.
"It's just my job to go out there and do what I do in practice every day," he said.
Purdue had a good day in the kicking department, including punter Cody Webster. He booted five punts inside the 20, with only one touchback, on his eight attempts, with an average of 42.6.
"I definitely like helping the defense out, because when I come off the field they say something nice to me," Webster said. "That's always good."
Defensive recovery continuesPurdue's defense has delivered the last couple weeks, albeit against sub-.500 competition.
But the Boilers allowed only 333 yards of offense vs. the Fighting Illini, and generated three turnovers. Although Purdue didn't score off those, they still marked the first takeaways since the Ohio State game.
We always talk about getting three turnovers a game," said corner Josh Johnson, who forced two fumbles. "I was just trying to do my best to get the ball back to our offense. It was just my luck that he fumbled and the next time on a corner blitz and them calling it for a sack fumble. Those turnovers helped a lot and then we got a fumble recovery. It helped us getting good position for our offense."
Purdue's defense will try to make it three solid outings in a row, when it takes on Indiana next Saturday, but the Hoosiers might provide more of a challenge.
Linebacker Joe Gilliam thinks the Boilermakers might be up for it.
"I think it's just people are applying the game plan more. We're not making many mistakes," he said. "We work hard every week, prepare hard every week, I think it's just everybody is getting more comfortable as the season goes on."
Nord on the roadOffensive coordinator Gary Nord made the trip to Champaign, despite a severe back injury that has limited his mobility.
But wide receivers coach Patrick Higgins was Purdue's primary playcaller, although Nord was by his side in the press box.
"Gary is really having a tough time," Hope said. "His role was to be with us today … as part of the family. I think it's a boost for our players and a boost for Coach Nord."
Nord was injured before the Iowa game, and has tried to attend meetings and practices as much as his condition will allow. But he's on crutches as he attempts to recover. Hope says the ride to Champaign was difficult, so much so that Nord had to stay on the bus while the team ate at the Beef House.
This and that
• Wide receiver Dolapo Macarthy missed the Illinois game following the death of his father nearly two weeks ago.
"He's there with his family at the services today," Hope said. "So our heart is with Dolapo."
• Tight end Gabe Holmes was in Champaign, but only in street clothes. He is out with a back injury. Defensive tackle Brandon Taylor and kick return Raheem Mostert also traveled, but did not dress nor play.
• Antavian Edison's streak of consecutive games with a catch came to an end at 31. He was targeted twice but had two drops.