WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind.—Purdue coach Danny Hope doesn't know what matters more -- the Boilermakers' strong starts in their past three games against good teams or the poor finishes that have resulted in three losses.
He does know that he sees progress.
The Boilermakers have gone through four starting quarterbacks and have had significant injuries at receiver and running back, leaving the offense unable to consistently help their solid defense.
"We've competed against some great football teams on our schedule when we were handcuffed and limited," Hope said. "So, I like the spirit of our football team, and I think there's a lot of young rising stars on our football team."
Purdue (4-7, 2-5 Big Ten) has lost five straight, and wants to close the season with a complete effort Saturday against Indiana (4-7, 0-7) for the Old Oaken Bucket.
"We want to win," senior tight end Kyle Adams said. "Your last game, you want to go out with a victory, so I'm just focusing on the win. After the game, I'll get all sappy."
Hope said the 27-16 loss to Michigan and the 34-13 loss to Wisconsin fall into different categories than the loss to Michigan State. True freshman Sean Robinson got most of the action against Michigan and Wisconsin while Rob Henry recovered from a cut finger. With an inexperienced passer throwing to young, reserve receivers because of injuries, the Boilermakers couldn't sustain their early momentum in either game.
"The Wisconsin game, and then the Michigan game as well, I think it became evident to the opponent after the half that our passing game was really limited," Hope said. "I think that really minimized our play-calling efficiency, or our play-calling potential. And we were trying to deal with injuries that were happening in the game and quarterbacks that weren't there, that were there, and you know how that unfolded."
Henry, best known for his speed, had his best passing game against Michigan State. He completed 16 of 26 passes for 189 yards and two touchdowns. The Boilermakers gained 378 total yards and nearly pulled one of the biggest upsets of the college football season.
"Now that we are balanced again offensively ... I think last Saturday shows what we can do again," Hope said.
Purdue's strong starts come from a confident approach that is unusual for a team on a losing streak.
"You only get so many opportunities to play football," defensive end Ryan Kerrigan said. "You only get 12 games a year, so we try to remind the guys of that, that we struggled last week, but this week could be better. What happened in the past is the past, and we can only focus on what we can change in the future."
Hope said cornerback Ricardo Allen should be an All-Big Ten honoree. The freshman had interception returns for touchdowns against both Michigan and Michigan State.
"I think he's the best corner I've seen on film this season," Hope said. "The type of plays he makes, where he bursts and closes and disrupts passes, and all the opponents he's matched up against -- we've matched him up against their best players in some of the big games."
Hope has said for weeks that his team is on the verge of a breakthrough. He wouldn't mind it coming against the Hoosiers.
"You can go on and on about the importance of this game this weekend, but it's down to it, it's Purdue versus Indiana," he said. "That's what it's all about."