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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Purdue is making progress. The Boilermakers already have won twice — one more than in 2013 — and have beaten an FBS school, something they did not achieve during coach Darrell Hazell's first season as coach.
Next on the list? How about beating Iowa on Saturday during homecoming to give Hazell his first Big Ten victory?
Hazell made no attempt to downplay the game's significance on Tuesday.
"This is a big game for our program for a lot of different reasons," Hazell said. "Being able to play a good opponent in our stadium - play them well - and try to get the desired outcome is huge. I think we're playing with a lot more confidence right now. They feel pretty good about themselves."
Since playing poorly in a 38-17 loss on Sept. 6 to Central Michigan, Purdue (2-2) performed admirably in a 30-14 loss to unbeaten Notre Dame and then scored the game's first 25 points in a 35-13 victory against previously unbeaten Southern Illinois.
After failing to win a Big Ten game in 2013, including a lopsided 38-14 loss to Iowa, senior linebacker Sean Robinson notices a more mature, eager pulse to the way this Boilermaker team is performing. A victory against the Hawkeyes (3-1) would only boost the confidence level around Purdue.
"I think it can snowball when guys find other guys in the locker room and say, 'I am going to put it all on the line,'" Robinson said. "I think we can have something special when we do that."
After back to back solid performances, sophomore quarterback Danny Etling is closer to where he wants to be as a leader, although he is hobbled a bit after rolling an ankle against Southern Illinois.
"For me, I think it is just about getting more comfortable," said Etling, who is 42 of 66 passing in the past two games. "The coaches have faith in me, and that really means a lot."
This will not be an easy test for Purdue. The Hawkeyes have rallied in the fourth quarter twice already, coming from behind to beat Ball State 17-13 and Pittsburgh 24-20. And Hazell remembers last season's 24-point loss to Iowa only too well.
"Iowa is a team that has been well coached for years," Hazell said. "I have a lot of admiration for their staff. They don't do a whole lot of different things, but they want you to beat yourself. They are not flashy. They are going to line up and run in the ball."
But this is not the same Purdue team that could not handle the Hawkeyes physical style in 2013.
"We're improving in every phase, and that is the key," Hazell said of his 2014 team. "As long as we can continue to get better in every element, it will serve us well as we continue to move forward. I like this team's closeness. They enjoy being around each other, and they are hungry."