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Has quality competition steeled Purdue?

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For more on Purdue athletics, follow Pete DiPrimio via Twitter at pdiprimio.

Boilers aim for strong finish

Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - 6:24 am

So there is a silver lining to Purdue's 3-4 record, 0-3 in the Big Ten. Well, there is if you look hard enough.

And if the Boilers tap into that, buy into it, improve because of it, there's a chance for a strong finish, a solid record and, perhaps, a Florida or Texas bowl opportunity.

A chance.

Purdue has lost to Notre Dame, Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin. They are a combined 26-4, with Notre Dame and Ohio State ranked in the top 10.

The Boilers played the two ranked teams tough on the road, losing by a total of 10 points, including the overtime defeat at Ohio State after blowing an eight-point lead in the final seconds of regulation.

The Boilers' final five opponents, starting with Saturday's trip to Minnesota (4-3), are a combined 17-18.

“I hope the quality of competition early in the season has developed our team to allow us to play well against the quality of competition that's left on our schedule,” coach Danny Hope said. “I would hope it works that way, that we draw a little confidence even though we didn't win those games, we played against the best teams in the country and in two of those games we raised our level of play.”

Purdue did everything but beat Ohio State last Saturday. It beat up the Buckeyes and knocked quarterback Braxton Miller out of the game with an apparent neck injury.

“I believe we improved,” Hope said. “Even though we didn't win, we took the game down to the last play. We came out with a little more confidence, and maybe a little more self-respect and gained some pride in taking a top-10 team right down to the wire. I thought that was a big step for our team.”

The next big step, perhaps the biggest one, is showing the consistency you'd expect from a veteran team.

“You strive to be consistent,” Hope said, “and that's why we practice, and we practice well. Sometimes it's a mystery to me why we don't execute some of the things in the games as well as we do in practice. Obviously, the competition picks up in games. I recognize that. But we do practice well, as well as any team that I've been around.”

Purdue needs to win three of its last five games to become bowl eligible. It's almost certainly out of the running for a Leaders Division title and a berth in the Big Ten title game (Wisconsin has, in essence, a three-game lead on the Boilers), but bowls such as the Gator Bowl and the Outback Bowl, both in Florida, remain options.

“We're excited about winning and hungry to win,” Hope said. “We have to practice with a great sense of urgency. We have everything in the world to gain. We're in a one-game season. Even though we've slipped up big, we have a chance to win eight or nine games, and that will be the best we've done around here for a long time.

“There's a lot to play for. There's not a lot of margin for error. I feel like we'll do very

well.”

Will they do it with standout cornerback Ricardo Allen? Hope isn't sure. A lingering ankle injury -- he initially hurt it against Notre Dame -- kept Allen out of the Ohio State game, snapping his streak of 31 straight starts. Monday's MRI didn't show anything serious, Hope said, but Allen's playing prospects for Saturday are uncertain.

“He's had a couple difficult ankle sprains, and practicing, hobbling and limping on them has created some shin issues and some calcium deposits,” Hope said. “We're hoping as the week goes on things will cool off and he'll be ready to play. Right now it's a wait-and-see thing.”

Minnesota is apparently done waiting to see if MarQueis Gray is its quarterback answer. After dealing with injuries earlier in the season, he's been moved to full-time receiver. Freshman Phillip Nelson, a dual-threat player, takes over. He threw for 149 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions last Saturday against Wisconsin. He also rushed for a team-leading 67 yards.

Still, Hope indicated the Boilers will prepare for all possible options.

“They have employed three different styles of offense in some ways, so there's a lot for our defense to prepare against.”