Purdue coach Darrell Hazell sees progress.
His team has scored 37 points over the last two weeks, after producing only 21 in its previous four games. Last week, the defense forced four turnovers and kept the Boilermakers close enough to having a shot at beating Illinois. All they need now is a win.
"There's a lot of promising things that are happening that a lot of times you can't see as an outsider," Hazell said Tuesday.
It is a start, given the depth of the problems Purdue has faced during this historically bad year:
— The Boilermakers are trying to avoid their first one-win season and first winless conference season since 1993.
— They still have not beaten a Football Bowl Subdivision foe.
— They have the Big Ten's worst scoring offense (13.0 points) and the second-worst scoring defense (36.4).
— They changed quarterbacks and have been hit by a bevy of injuries.
— They scored just one touchdown during a three-game span and failed to take one red-zone snap in any of those three games.
— Their nine-game losing streak is already the longest in two decades, and if they lose Saturday, Purdue will have its first 10-game losing streak since an 11-game skid from 1906-08.
— Quarterback Danny Etling expects to play with sore left shoulder.
That's not what anybody expected when Hazell took the Purdue job 11 months ago, and it's certainly not the way anybody — including the seniors — want to finish 2013.
But if the Boilermakers retain the Old Oaken Bucket for one more year with a win Saturday at Indiana, their most bitter rival, they will have salvaged something out of this horrendous season.
"I try to play hard, play fast, joke around and have fun as much as I can," cornerback Ricardo Allen explained. "Sometimes, it's tough when you get down a lot. But you've got to take it for what it is. I just say 'Have fun.'"
Having fun hasn't been easy. Purdue has played home games mostly in front of sparse crowds that have found little to embrace.
But over the last two weeks, things have changed.
Etling, a true freshman, has started to get his footing and the offense has started to finally show it can move the ball and reach the end zone, giving everyone a glimpse into a potentially brighter future.
"I think we've made a lot of strides in just the last couple of weeks," Etling said. "It's the little things that have stopped us and they turn into big things. It's just something every single drive that seems to kill us."
The question, of course, is whether Purdue has done enough to win for the first time since early September?
Purdue may finally get a break Saturday.
The Hoosiers are on pace to break the league's single-season record for yards allowed.
For Indiana (4-7, 2-5), the game is one last chance to improve on last season's victory totals. For Purdue, it's a chance to finish one of the worst seasons in school history with a little momentum heading into the offseason.
"It's huge. I think (winning) does so much for everybody," Hazell said. "It's not a die-or-not situation. But it's a game that you have to find a way to play as well as you can possibly play to give yourself a chance to win."