WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Purdue came into the 2012 season hoping to return to the national stage.
After back-to-back blowout losses at home, the Boilermakers would settle for simply proving this quest isn't hopeless at the midway point.
"Definitely not the way we'd like it (the record) to be, but this is when you find out where you are," quarterback Caleb TerBush said Tuesday. "Look, we're only 3-3 right now, but it's not the end of the world. We've got six more games to play. We've just got to put points on the board and keep points off the board."
Two weeks ago, the Boilermakers (3-3, 0-2 Big Ten) seemed perfectly positioned to make good on those preseason promises.
They were off to a 3-1 start, their best in five years, and a favorable schedule meant they would start league play against demoralized Michigan and struggling Wisconsin in West Lafayette. Winning either game, or both, would have sent a clear signal that Purdue was back.
Instead, the Boilermakers were victimized by too many mistakes.
Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson rushed for 235 yards in a 44-13 victory on Oct. 6, and last weekend, Montee Ball ran for 247 yards and three scores as unranked Wisconsin drubbed the Boilermakers 38-14 in a steady rain.
Coach Danny Hope thinks he can change gears by spending practice this week by focusing on the defensive fundamentals of better tackling, better gap play and better alignments.
The offense hasn't been much better, though. Purdue has managed only three touchdowns in the last six halves and has averaged a measly 3.4 yards per carry in the two losses.
That's certainly not the way the Boilermakers thought they would head to Columbus, Ohio, and that's something they intend to change in their biggest test of the season against the seventh-ranked Buckeyes (7-0, 3-0).
"I'd say we're definitely motivated right now," TerBush said. "It was kind of another wake-up call last week. We came back and looked at the film Sunday, and we didn't like it, but we have to move on."
Purdue has other problems, too, notably in the training room.
Top receiver O.J. Ross is listed as questionable with a turf toe. Kickoff returner Raheem Mostert could miss up to four weeks with a strained knee. Cornerback Ricardo Allen has been hobbled by two sore ankles, backup quarterback Robert Marve continues to play with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, running back Ralph Bolden returned from ACL surgery against Wisconsin and is still trying to round into top form, and defensive tackle Bruce Gaston hopes to play his second straight game with a bad hamstring.
Outsiders also have started to question Purdue's continuing quarterback saga. On Tuesday, Hope acknowledged he may have yanked TerBush too early against Wisconsin, a mistake he doesn't expect to make again in Columbus, Ohio.
"Obviously, Caleb TerBush will start and we'll let him stay in the game for a sustained amount of time," he said. "Then we'll make a determination about whether to rotate or alternate quarterbacks."
The most worrisome part may be going up against an angry group of Buckeyes, who have plenty to prove after losing 26-23 at Purdue last season and barely escaping with a 52-49 victory at Indiana last weekend.
"I'm sure they'll be ready," TerBush said. "I'm sure they're not too happy about getting beat last year. I guarantee that."
What can be done to help the troubled Boilermakers get out of this funk?
"On Sunday, we spent a lot of time in the locker room together and a lot of guys took a good, hard look at their performance," Hope said Tuesday. "Each and every one of us has to look at ourselves and get it done. I think that's been addressed."
These sorts of losing streaks are hardly unprecedented at Purdue, which has lost three straight games in seven of the last 10 seasons.
But the blowouts are a rarity. No Purdue team has lost three straight games by 21 or more points since 199, when the Boilermakers lost four in a row by 25 or more.
Hope's team has no intention of joining that club this week — or this year.
"Winning is never easy, and the last three years have never been easy," Hope said. "This is big-time football. This is Big Ten football and this is no place for the faint-hearted. This is Purdue football and you have to be tough, and we take a lot of pride in that."